There have been a surprising number of vehicles throughout the decades with "Hornet" in their name, most infamously the AMC Hornet. That Hornet morphed into the AMC Gremlin, the AMC Spirit, the AMC Concorde, and, finally, the AMC Eagle. You probably don't have any of these vehicles in your garage. Predating that was the Hudson Hornet, made famous in the animated series Cars as, inevitably, the gruff old guy. Dodge bought American Motors (AMC) quite a while back but didn't utilize the Hornet trademark. Until now. As of 2023, Dodge has introduced a slick new compact SUV with the same name: The Dodge Hornet. The first Dodge Hornet concept car was unveiled at the 2006 Geneva Auto Show, so the company's been noodling with the design for quite a while.
This latest version of the Hornet comes courtesy of a surprising manufacturing and design partner: Alfa Romeo. In fact, it's essentially identical to the Alfa Romeo Tonale, a car I had a chance to drive at the most recent Rocky Mountain Drive Experience [see my writeup]. At the time I felt the Tonale had a wonderfully sleek and sexy exterior and really fun drive, but its interior design felt terribly dated. The interior is one of many areas where the Hornet improves on its Italian cousin, though the Alfa's front grill is still way sleeker than anything from Dodge. I had a chance to spend a week driving the 2023 Dodge Hornet GT Plus in a lovely "Q Ball" white:
I'll be honest, the hornet badging on the side looks a bit odd, but otherwise, there's lots to like with a typical Dodge front design and a roomy and comfortable interior designed for people who don't want to lay down to drive their muscle cars (I'm looking at you Dodge Challenger). It's also clearly a compact SUV which is a very crowded segment at this point. It's also incredibly popular, so strategically it made complete sense for Dodge to have a strong contender in the category. And I have to say, the Hornet GT Plus, with its turbocharged 2.0L I4 Hurricane 4 Engine and 9-speed automatic transmission is really fun to drive.
One of my favorite parts of the car is the "Sports" mode button, just under the driver's left thumb on the steering wheel:
It's so Fast and Furious that I suspect there's a secret option to have it say "NOS" to really get into the spirit of Toretto and family. Even while actually driving a kid-friendly SUV. It's possible the designers have watched those movies a few times too many!
The overall cockpit design is a great mix of modern - with a big infotainment screen - and traditional - a classic shifter that allows you to shift to a manual gear up/gear down driving style if the 9-speed automatic transmission is insufficient. Remember, a lot of the drive experience of the Hornet GT Plus is pure Alfa Romeo too, so it's peppy and nimble in a different way than the Charger or Challenger. In fact, the Hornet is actually built in Milan, Italy, in the same plant that is churning out those Tonales. Not a lot of American car manufacturers are building vehicles in Italy for the US market, that's for sure.
The well behind the shifter is a Qi wireless charging spot, coupled with both USB-A and USB-C ports, a very modern approach to supporting smartphones. That's coupled with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all standard. In fact, the vehicle I drove had few optional add-ons, just the Blacktop Package (badging, different wheels and tires) and the Tech Pack (driving safety and assistance technology, a better camera system, and ParkSense parking assist).
I did find the air vents a bit tricky to adjust to my liking, something that I've found in a lot of modern cars, actually. Designers are so busy trying to minimize the actual vents that they can end up too small to have decent airflow, leaving the driver to sweat when it's toasty out. The climate control themselves, however, are exemplary in their design and simplicity:
I appreciate designs that let you quickly identify what buttons to push to attain your desired climate and this is one of the best. Yes, there are a lot of buttons, but it's very logical in both layout and iconography, meaning that new owners instantly know how to adjust their vehicle temp. Notice hiding underneath is a 12V cigarette lighter. Do people still use those?
The center console and gear shift area also had another slick interface element:
The rolling knob on the top right is a mute/play button and volume adjustment control too, something that made it a breeze to adjust the volume of your music without taking your eyes off the road. Way better than having to lean forward to reach a small knob on the dashboard, that's for sure. The audio system is also quite good, particularly since it was the stock stereo, not an upgrade or option.
The one control that confused me, however, was the wiper control stick:
It's already overloaded, as all the symbols indicate, but remember it's also behind the steering wheel so you can't really see the labels anyway. For controlling the front wiper, it was an okay experience, but the rear wiper blade is a two-stage toggle: one push turns it on, another push turns it off again. I spent a fair amount of time having the rear wiper going as I kept turning the front wiper on and off as I tried to figure out the secret code. This is something that Dodge can easily improve in the next iteration of the Hornet, perhaps for 2024 or 2025, but I predict it will stymie you on first use too.
Finally, for a car with less than 7,000 miles on it, I was quite surprised to see some noticeable wear and tear on the cover of the driver's seatbelt:
Did they forget to field test that before including it on the vehicle or is it actually a cover included for shipping purposes that was accidentally left on the Hornet GT Plus I drove? Either way, it was surprising to notice this in an otherwise shiny new car.
Before we leave the interior, I'll note that the main gauge display was surprisingly minimalist:
Notice the weird way that it shows both the speedometer (on the left) and the tachometer (on the right), where numbers higher than the current are blanked out. Unsure why they would make that choice - and whether I could change it with a setting somewhere - but it was a curious design choice. For that matter, don't American cars generally have the tach on the left and the speed on the right? Note: I did not confirm that it tops out at 160mph, so no worry about that, Team Dodge!
One of the criticisms people have had of the Hornet (and the Alfa Romeo Tonale) is that the back seats are a bit cozy. That's a fair criticism because the overall back seat feels a bit narrow, even for the compact SUV form factor. The legroom is pretty typical of "toss the kids in the back" design, there really isn't sufficient space for two adults unless the driver and front passenger are ready to shimmy up their seats:
Swing around to the back, however, and there is ample cargo and storage space for a car this size:
The Hornet also might be one of the most fuel-efficient of the entire Dodge lineup, with an estimated EPA of 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. I saw about 25.5 mpg overall, which I felt was good given how often I was zipping along the highway in Sport mode. By comparison, the Dodge Charger is rated at 18/27 and the Dodge Challenger, with its bigger engine, is 16/25. Where this gets exciting is with the upcoming Dodge Hornet R/T, which will be a PHEV plug-in hybrid. Now that's going to be a sweet drive!
All in all, there's a lot to like with the Dodge Hornet GT Plus. It's surprisingly powerful and a fun, nimble drive and while it's not going to cause people to stare, it has a very attractive appearance, particularly for its class. The rear seats are a bit cosy, but if it's mostly just you, or you and your partner with an occasional kid in the back, there's plenty of room. If you're in the market for a compact SUV, hold off on the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV-4, and give this Alfa Romeo, uh, Dodge Hornet GT Plus a test drive before you make your final purchase decision!
2023 Dodge Hornet GT Plus with 2.0L I4 DOHC Hurricane 4 Engine and 9-speed automatic transmission. BASE PRICE: $34,995. Options Included: Blacktop Package, Tech Package, and Sunroof Delete Credit. AS DRIVEN: $40,215.00.
Disclosure: Dodge loaned me the Hornet GT Plus for a week in return for this candid write-up. Thanks, Dodge!