2024 Dodge Hornet GT Plus crossover utility

Dodge's all-new compact crossover
a performance stand out in its segment

By Jim Prueter

(November 9, 2023) When Dodge first launched its all-new compact crossover utility vehicle the Hornet last year it was with gleeful anticipation that I really wanted to get behind the wheel of the first all-new vehicle in more than a decade from the Detroit automaker self proclaimed as the muscle car provider for the industry.

Not only is it the first new vehicle since the now discontinued and failed Dart's demise in 2016 after initially launched for 2013. It was at a time the market for passenger cars began to shrink giving way to the booming popularity of the sport utility market. Also working against the Dart was the brand's lack of a reputation for building small cars after the unloved and failed Caliber and Neon name plates some 15 years earlier.

Now at the peak, if there is a peak, of sheer popularity and massive volumes of compact and subcompact utility vehicles flying out of dealer showrooms, Dodge arrives, albeit late to the compact crossover segment looking to garner attention and sales to stand out in perhaps the most crowded and competitive segment in the auto industry with the Hornet, an all-new entrant in the Dodge lineup sitting well below the mid-size Durango. Formidable competitors include rivals such as the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-50 and Toyota RAV4. The compact crossover segment is almost a third of the total U.S. new vehicle sales market.

For 2024 the Hornet sticks with the brand's muscle car nomenclature offering five trim levels: GT, GT Plus, R/T, R/T Plus and R/T hybrid. Before we get into the details of our tested Hornet GT Plus driven here, a bit of background. You may be aware that Dodge is now is part of the Stellantis group of 14 different auto brands including Chrysler, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Jeep, Ram, Peugeot, Dodge and others after completing a merger announced in 2020.

That partnership affords the ability for the different brands to share vehicle platforms, engines and other technology. As part of that shared capability is the introduction of the Dodge Hornet which in reality is exactly the same vehicle as the Alfa Romeo Tonale. Both vehicles are built in Italy, on the same assembly line and virtually share every nut and bolt except the Hornet has a few styling and marketing tweaks of the Dodge brand.

Both the Hornet and Tonale are powered by a 268-hp turbocharged four-cylinder with all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic transmission as the standard setup but a 288-hp plug-in hybrid R/T model with more than 30 miles of electric driving is now available for the 2024 model year. Dodge is pitching the Hornet, to no surprise as its entry level muscle car behind such monikers as Charger, Challenger and Durango.

Visually when viewed from the front, the Hornet borrows heavily from the aggressive styling of the Dodge Charger. Yet, as the eye glances across the smooth, sloped hood and soft side of the Hornet ending at the rear where definite DNA of the Tonale makes a strong showing.

Our test GT Plus Hornet came equipped with the GT Blacktop package that adds 18-inch Abyss Finish wheels, gloss black painted side window moldings with black mirror caps and black GT and Hornet badging. The added Track Pack includes black Alcantara seats with red accents, aluminum door sills, sport leather steering wheels, bright pedals, red painted Dodge brake calipers, dual mode suspension and larger 20-inch Abyss wheels that replace the 18-inch in the Blacktop package. An optional red leather interior option is available. You'll also notice the Hornet is absent roof rails or racks nor is Dodge planning to offer one. Dodge execs did suggest an accessory roof rack through its Mopar division could be in the offering in the future. We'll look to see how owners fasten their Christmas tree in the coming months.

Inside, the Hornet's cabin is snug with a bit more room for the front-seat but tight for those riding in back. We also found the door openings smaller and lower than normal and as a taller driver had to duck into the driver's seat to avoid banging my head.

Further, with the seat fully adjusted to the lowest setting allowed, the seating position is high with minimal headroom. And, to no surprise, the interior is nearly lifted complete intact from the Tonale's too, and uses the same steering wheel only with the Dodge logo replacing the Alfa Romeo logo in the center. Overall, the interior is attractive, functional, and intuitively laid out but a roomy cabin isn't part of the package.

Regardless of trim level all come with a 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment setup with a 12.3-inch digital operational gauge display. The brand's excellent Uconnect 5 interface system which is widely used on other Stellantis models includes information such as Adventure Guides and GPS Trail Logs for those looking to find off-road trails. Other features include built-in navigation with TomTom's Traffic & Travel Services, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto wireless applications and expanded Alexa "Car to Home" function.

Firing up the engine and our Hornet certainly sounds the part of a Detroit muscle family member and heavy acceleration delivers a surprisingly and refreshingly quick departure and pulls hard all the way to redline.

But all isn't perfect here even though the Hornet encourages sporty driving very noticeable and annoying turbo lag and torque steer results in a buzz kill with wheelsman from the front tires an indication of power reluctant to be sent to the rear tires. The nine-speed transmission was equally reluctant to downshift until you're well into the throttle, then over reacting by grabbing a lower gear with a bang. There is a selectable drive mode and choosing Sport did help somewhat and manual shifting mode makes it better but steering wheel paddle shifters instead of a shift selector makes more sense but isn't part of the package.

What was impressive is the excellent handling and ride quality thanks to the tuned suspension with Toni FSD (Frequency Selective Damping) shocks that seamlessly change based on the movement of the vehicle reducing and controlling body roll and twisty canyon roads.

While all-wheel drive is standard with our GT Plus riding with eight inches of ground clearance anything more than two-track unpaved trails without larger rocks and boulders and void of deeper ruts can be handled without anxiety. Still, it's best to limit it to snowy road conditions and more graded gravel throughways.

Overall, the Dodge Hornet is a near stand alone vehicle in the compact crossover segment whose styling clearly outclasses and outshines competitors like the Jeep Cherokee, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and nearly every other. It also is the only compact crossover that puts its driving proposition on performance yet surprisingly delivers a home run for comfortable on-road driving and handling. But know that it isn't a crossover for those who place off-roading high on their list of must haves but will easily handle twisty roads and comfortable around town driving.

We think most drivers will be well pleased with what the Hornet has to offer especially when compared to the look-alike competitors in its class. But for me, the excessive turbo lag and torque steer renders the Hornet a deal breaker for me.

Vital Stats

Base Price: $34,995
Price as Tested: $43,230
Engine/Transmission: 268-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline turbocharged 4 cylinder paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive.
EPA Fuel Economy: 24/21/29 mpg Combined/City/Highway
Seats:  5 passenger

Where Built: Pomigliano d'Arco, Italy

Competes With:
Ford Bronco Sport
Jeep Cherokee
Honda CR-V
Lincoln Corsair
Mazda CX-50
Nissan Rogue
Toyota RAV4

Crash Test Safety Ratings: The Dodge Hornet has not been crash test rated by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as of this writing.

Quicker, sportier, drives better than class competitors
Visual styling a home run
Standard all wheel drive

Cramped cabin, very tight rear seat
Excessive torque steer and turbo lag
High starting price