Review: The 2023 Dodge Hornet is a real buzz model


The Hornet has lived many lives. The Hornet name, that is.

It was first used on the Hudson Hornet, which became one of the most famous stock car racers of the 1950s and was later immortalized in the animated film “Cars” as the Doc Hudson character voiced by Paul Newman.

It returned on an AMC compact car in the 1970s, Hudson having merged with Nash-Kelvinator to form the American Motors Corporation in 1954, but the model was discontinued in 1977 and the name put on hiatus. Chrysler bought AMC in 1987 and Dodge revealed a sporty compact hatchback Hornet show car in 2006, but never put it into production.

Now there is a new Hornet in showrooms, but it’s a very different vehicle than those that came before it.

The Dodge Hornet GT compact SUV that shares its platform with the also-new Alfa Romeo Tonale and is built alongside it at a factory in Italy, making it the first Dodge imported from the country.

The Hornet GT is smaller than most of the models in its class like the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, but Dodge likes to think it is in a class of its own.

It has been injected with a heavy helping of the brand’s attitude, drawing inspiration from the Dodge Charger and Dodge Durango that includes steely-eyed headlights, a mail-slot grille and full-width taillights.

Starting at $31,590, the Hornet comes standard with all-wheel-drive, a 268 hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a nine-speed automatic transmission. Despite its slightly awkward-looking high-riding stance, it is very much a street utility vehicle and the most-powerful SUV for the price.

There will be an even more potent Hornet R/T model with a plug-in hybrid powertrain that is also good for 30 miles of all-electric driving added to the lineup soon, but for now, we are focused on the Hornet GT.

The interior is very much Dodge. It has a curvaceous dash, lots of chrome trim and seats with throwback rib-patterned upholstery. The rear seats are not the roomiest in the segment, but six-footers will fit. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster brings it into the modern day along with a 10.3-inch touchscreen display on the dashboard.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is standard along with a blind spot monitor and adaptive cruise control. An optional tech package adds an updated 360-degree parking camera and a lane-centering cruise control.

It takes one stab at the gas pedal to learn the Hornet GT actually lives up to its image. The turbo engine provides a big 295 lb-ft of torque kick that helps it accelerate to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds.

The steering is very responsive, and the chunky wheel has a meaty feel to it. The ride is firm, but not punishing, with most of the roughness that is there chalked up to its relatively low-profile tires. On a smooth road its perfect and the cabin quiet. Fuel economy is rated at 24 mpg combined, which is not great for this class, but that is the price you pay for the power.

Along with a Track Pack upgrade that adds higher performance shocks, brakes, wheels and tires, Dodge will be offering even more parts through its Direct Connection catalog to amp things up even farther, just like it does for the Charger and Challenger muscle cars.

The compact SUV segment is both the biggest and most competitive today. Dodge has clearly tried hard to stand out and has succeeded at that.

The Hornet may not be the perfect compact SUV for everybody, but that was exactly its very sharp point.