An exciting look at Dodge’s sleepy four-wheel drive vehicle
As a muscle car geek, I’m probably the wrong person to review a compact SUV like the 2024 Dodge Hornet R/T, yet when the folks at Dodge quickly asked me to try it out, I was intrigued enough to try one out. For the record, I don’t care nearly as much about the Hornet R/T PHEV’s hybrid status — I live in the desert, which means I’ll drain all 40 miles of electric reserve power before returning from the grocery store — but I still get it. Some people who charge it daily will be able to drive the Hornet R/T as a city car and never have to put gas in it. For those more open to the market for a compact SUV, I turn to my colleagues at Motor Trend, who track all the infinitesimal differences between SUV models. I’m a die-hard Dodge guy and a daily user of the 807-hp Super Stock Challenger, so what you’re about to read is 100 percent biased. Consider yourself warned.
What originally raised my heart rate when I heard about the Hornet last year was the PowerShot — the 25-horsepower boost from the Hornet R/T’s 1.3-liter twin-turbo electric powertrain. It’s like nitrous, only it has electrons, and the bottle empties after 15 seconds of use. Pull back the dual paddle shifters, and bang! -See you later, you idiot! Dodge quotes 288 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque (gas and electric combined) from the small four-wheeler, and also says it can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds. Once I discovered the PowerShot, my first observation was that it was broken because I didn’t notice any difference in the seat. Not even a little. When my wife pointed out that the little electron turbo icon at the top right of the dash was actually lighting up when I pulled the paddles, we realized the PowerShot was active.
In my opinion, there is too big a gap between what I expected from Dodge and what I got. As an isolated performance brand within Stellantis, Dodge has a high-performance mission. As Dodge’s entry-level vehicle in this segment, the high-tech, twin-turbocharged, direct-injection 25-hp PowerShot hybrid practically screams performance, but the Hornet R/T isn’t the quickest in its class, nor is it the least expensive (not that I’d buy an SUV primarily integrated). I was expecting more with the Dodge badge on it, but as we know, the Hornet is a badge-designed Alfa Romeo, a brand with less performance-intensive luggage to carry.
Putting my non-HOT ROD hat on for a moment, there’s nothing wrong with the Hornet R/T being an SUV. There’s room for four adults and a child, there’s plenty of technology in the navigation and entertainment category, and there’s a decent-sized cargo area with a hatch. The seats in this Alcantara-equipped interior were comfortable and there’s enough quirkiness in the design to satisfy those who would never consider another brand. My wife liked the dashboard design and complimented the HVAC vents, commenting on the nice feel of the touchpoints. For those more familiar with compact SUVs than high-performance Dodges, the Hornet R/T has much to recommend it, and its aggressive cornering and big brakes will find favor with a sportier crowd.
If you try to treat the Hornet like a Dodge man, be prepared to sacrifice some of the performance you’d expect from Hemis and Hellcats — or even from the VNT 2.2L Turbo Shadow CSX for that matter. Dodge has a long history of building entry-level performers dating back decades. Besides the Shelby-spec Shadow CSX, there was the Dodge Omni GLH and GLHS, the Dodge Daytona Turbo Z, the Dodge Dakota R/T, the Neon-based SRT-4, and most recently the Dodge Nitro Detonator. Dodge’s entry-level affordable performance was the result of tough choices by engineers and accountants who sometimes eschewed quality or features in one area (interior trim and ride quality for example) for amazing performance in the area that mattered most to the Dodge guys. And girls. The Hornet R/T is not one of those cars. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on the audience, and in HOT ROD, it’s probably a bad thing.
Despite the PowerShot feature, the Hornet R/T doesn’t feel that fast, though I was spoiled by a Dodge that does the 0-60 dance in about half the time of the Hornet. There’s a lot of button-pushing involved in getting the act done, starting with remembering to put the Hornet in ‘Sport’ mode before leaving the house. If you’ve remembered to do this, you also need to remember to pull both of the Hornet’s oversized paddle shifters when it’s time to add your e-juice. (They’re three times the size of the paddles in my Challenger.) When operating in Sport mode, the Hornet R/T exhibits a fairly reliable tug, but there’s no smoke show and not even a significant exhaust note. You won’t be picking fights with today’s range of less expensive compact sports cars from Toyota or Honda, that’s for sure.
If there’s one easy improvement Dodge could make to the Hornet R/T it’s to convert the Sport mode button on the console to an Eco mode button. This way Sport mode will be the default and Eco mode will be the optional mode. I say this because the default hybrid mode has some quirks that my performance calibration head has issues with. I won’t mince words: Hybrid mode feels downright lazy and at one point I dragged the Hornet out of a parking lot and onto a busy street so slowly that I almost side-scrolled. The lesson I learned was to turn on Sport mode every time I rode the Hornet. In Hybrid mode, the steering is so numb that the wheel doesn’t feel connected to the chassis – Sport mode adds just the right feel to the steering wheel.
On the open road, the Hornet’s ride is reasonably smooth, but you can feel the short wheelbase as it dives and sways on road undulations. Normally, I’d say the Hornet R/T’s suspension is a bit over-tuned for its task, but it may actually be in its sweet spot, given its high center of gravity, short wheelbase, and 4,140-pound curb weight. Dodge probably didn’t have as much wiggle room to smooth things out, though I suspect a more compatible 18-inch wheel/tire combination would be a start — not to mention it would be less expensive that way.
Speaking of expenses, our 2024 Dodge Hornet R/T was priced at $52,405, which came as a sticker shock. (For reference purposes, the base price of the 2023 Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi is just $41,305.) If someone asked me to take it for a spin and guess its price, I would peg it somewhere in the mid- to high-$30s. I’ve since checked how much similar compact SUVs cost and I can tell you they’re all in the same range at this trim and power level. I suppose if I only relied on it for local driving and never planned to fuel it, I might be able to justify the cost in the long run, especially since I already have solar panels and the electricity would be free to me. With so much technology available, cost is inevitable, but therein lies the problem. As a baby boomer of a simpler age, I generally don’t like these kinds of iPad-studded interiors with too many icons screaming at me. Once the “off screen” button was detected, systolic blood pressure dropped by 10 points. So, on my doctor’s advice, I will need to accept this.
Dodge Hornet 2024 specifications
- engine: 1.3L I4 Turbo PHEV engine
- Horse power: 288
- Torque: 383 ft. lbs
- moving in: Aisin F21-250 PHEV six-speed automatic
- Wheels: 20″ amateur finish
- Tires: 235/40R20 for all seasons
- Brakes:4-piston Dodge Brembo
- Exterior color: Blue Steel
- Interior color: Black Alcantara seats with red accents
- Front suspension: Four-wheel independent McPherson front, Koni FSD shock absorbers, two-stage valve shock absorbers for adaptive damping with selectable modes (Automatic, Sport, Ride Compatible, Sport mode with firm and maximum control, included with Track Pack)
- Rear suspension: Chapman suspension with rear stabilizer bar, Koni FSD shocks, and dual-stage adaptive damping shocks with selectable modes (Auto, Sport, Coupled Ride, Sport with Stability, and Maximum Control included with Track Pack)
- Blacktop Package – Gloss Black painted mirror caps, dark “Hornet” badge, dark R/T badge, and gloss black moldings
- Technology Package – Intelligent Speed Assist, Active Driving Assist, Surround View Camera System, Drowsy Driver Detection, ParkSense, Front/Rear/Side Park Assist
- Track Pack – Black Alcantara seats with red accents, aluminum door sills, leather sport steering wheel, dual-mode suspension, bright pedal, red-painted Dodge calipers, 20×8-inch wheels, 235/40R20 all-season tires
(marks for translation) Dodge