Electrification, The Dodge Way: Power, Performance and Fun in the 2023 Dodge Hornet Plug-in Hybrid SUV

The Author And The Dodge Hornet In The Woods.
Dodge Hornet Featured Image

Don’t worry. There’s still a lot of muscle.

In the age of the electric car, what’s a performance brand to do with all that internal combustion power? That has been the question for Dodge, which, as a company, has always been known for performance.

In the face of early electrification, Dodge seemed to keep throwing their high-horsepower, V8 Hellcat engine into anything they could get their hands on. When other companies focused on efficiency, Dodge continued to focus on power and speed. In an ever-changing car market, though, we all knew the time for Dodge’s electrification was coming. And with the new Dodge Hornet, it is finally upon us.

Related: “Last Call” Dodge Charger and Challenger Models Nod to Their Muscle Car Heritage

Dodge Hornet R/T. Photo: Annika Carter

Dodge Hornet R/T. Photo: Annika Carter

Dodge does electrification differently, though.

As a brand with only performance vehicles (the Challenger, Charger, and Durango), Dodge sought to find a way to use electric motors to increase their vehicle’s performance in the historically non-sporty compact SUV market. With the new Hornet, Dodge has created the quickest, most powerful compact SUV in its price point. Which is $30,000-$40,000.

And get this: The R/T plug-in hybrid model has paddle shifters that do exactly what paddle shifters should do: Boost your power. Dubbed “Power Shot,” put the Hornet R/T model in sport mode, pull both paddles at once and you’ll get an instant boost of 30 HP from the battery (that is, if the battery isn’t drained).

Related: Billie Eilish’s Dodge Challenger : A Teenage Dream

Dodge Hornet R/T And It'S Cool Scoops! Photo: Annika Carter

Dodge Hornet R/T and its cool scoops! Photo: Annika Carter

It Does Look Like a Dodge – and It has a Classic Dodge Icon: a Hornet Badge

Designed to be a fun, sporty compact SUV, the Hornet’s performance heritage begins in its exterior styling. The aggressive front end features large grilles and headlights reminiscent of the Charger, finished off with twin heat extract scoops in the hood. The sleek styling carries on to the rear of the car with a LED taillight bar running the width of the tailgate, giving the car a look much more indicative of a muscle car than a compact SUV.

On the inside the Hornet is sporty-ish, but I wouldn’t call it race car-inspired. The R/T trim has some cool details like red stitching and brushed silver details that suggest a sporty look, rather than scream it.

And on the front exterior side panels there is a Hornet logo. This is a heritage detail; Dodge is known for adorning all its models with icons – HellCat, Demon, Super Bee – and now the Hornet, a modernized version of the original AMC Hornet from the 1970’s.

Related: 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat: A Hellcat for All Seasons—and then Some

Dodge Hornet Cockpit Has Lots Of Fun Tech. Photo: Annika Carter

Dodge Hornet cockpit has lots of fun tech for drivers. Photo: Annika Carter

In the Cockpit, Dodge Aims to Continue its Legacy of Driver-Centric Controls

All the interior controls, including the central multimedia screen, are tilted, ever so slightly (7 degrees, to be exact) towards the driver. The largest display on the interior is the 12.3” gauge display which is fully digital. The digital display allows for customization so you, as the driver, can choose what information to display front and center. In a vehicle without a heads-up display, the customizable gauge display is a helpful tool to keep your eyes on the road.

Dodge Hornet Navigation System. Photo: Annika Carter

Dodge Hornet navigation system. Photo: Annika Carter

A Lot of Tech for a Little Money

The central multimedia system offers touchscreen controls with all the technology features expected in a $30,000 vehicle. Wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play allow for easy integration between the Hornet and your phone, with wireless charging available with the Plus package. Navigation is available on the Plus trim level.

The Dodge Hornet Has A Digital Instrument Cluster. Photo: Annika Carter

The Dodge Hornet has a digital instrument cluster. Photo: Annika Carter

The Hornet Includes Dodge’s Level 2 Autonomy. What is That?

That means the Hornet has traffic sign recognition, driver attention assist, and adaptive cruise control. The Hornet’s speed assist function can sense when a speed limit is detected lower than your set cruise control speed and, with the touch of a button, adjusts your set cruise control speed to this new speed limit. This function is a huge help to help avoid speeding when the limit changes, but can also pick up conditional speed limit signs, such as school zones or minimum speed signs, which can get confusing.

Related: 2023 News From Chrysler and Dodge Is Creating Quite the Buzz

Dodge Hornet Seats Are Cool. Photo: Annika Carter

Dodge Hornet’s microsuede and leather seats are cool. Photo: Annika Carter

An Issue With the Interior…is it a Deal-Breaker?

The interior of the Hornet, overall, is comfortable with leather seats available in the Plus trim and Alcantara-trimmed sport seats available in the Sport trim. The seat sits a little high inside the cockpit for a driver like me, at 5’11” who likes to sit relatively upright and close to the steering wheel. While I was not hitting my head on the ceiling by any means, I did feel closer to the ceiling headliner than I do in most SUVs. And, I noticed that the right side pillar between the windshield and door was a little in the way of the right side mirror in my seating position.

While I acknowledge that shifting my seating position could have fixed this, and many women sit too low in their cars for optimal control, I like driving where I am comfortable, and typically do not have issues in other vehicles. This is an adjustment for any driver; for me, allowing the seat to sit just an inch lower would fix this for me.

Dodge Hornet Rear 3/4 Angle. Photo: Annika Carter

Dodge Hornet GT rear angle. Photo: Annika Carter

The Main Focus of the Dodge Hornet, Though, is its Electrification

With a plug-in hybrid model available, the Hornet represents Dodge’s entrance into the world of electric cars. The Hornet is available with two drive trains: a 2.0L 268 horsepower 4-cylinder gasoline engine (the Hornet GT), or a 288 horsepower plug-in hybrid (the Hornet R/T). Both the GT and the R/T are a joy to drive. They feel peppy for a car of the size, and, for a compact SUV, feel very at home on the Blue Ridge Mountain roads where we tested  them.

The standard brakes are nothing to write home about, but the upgraded Brembo brakes, available on the Track Pack on the GT and standard equipment on the R/T, give the braking a bit of an extra oompf. The frequency selective dampening keeps the ride comfortable and smooth, even on rough roads. Basically, this means that the suspension automatically adjusts to be softer or stiffer to maintain your comfort. In the R/T model, you can select it yourself.

Overall, the Hornet is one of my favorite compact SUVs that I have driven. I liked driving both models more than I expected, especially at the $30,000-$40,000 price point. I respected and appreciated a great balance between comfort and sport.

The Dodge Hornet Gt Was A Kick To Drive! Photo: Annika Carter

The Dodge Hornet GT was a kick to drive! Photo: Annika Carter

Which Hornet Should I Pick?

Between the Hornet GT and the Hornet R/T, I was surprised to like the driving feel of the GT a little more. The R/T is deceptively quick, with its near-silent drive train, but, despite higher horsepower and torque numbers, felt a little more sluggish when accelerating in standard drive mode.

That being said, the R/T is equipped with “Power Shot,” a feature enabling a quick burst of extra power from the electric motor that reduces the 0-60 time by 1.5 seconds, bringing it in at a blistering (for a CUV) 5.6 seconds. The R/T does have two additional drive modes that the GT, with standard and Spot, lacks: all-electric (pretty self explanatory) and E-Save Mode, which favors the gas motor in order to recharge the battery. With what I assume will be a large increase over the GT’s 24 average MPG (fuel economy for the R/T is not released yet), the R/T would still be my trim of choice.

I Love The Dodge Hornet Logo. Photo: Annika Carter

I Love the Dodge Hornet logo. Photo: Annika Carter

The Dodge Hornet Has Simplicity in Mind

While Dodge has been known in the past to offer a multitude of packages on their vehicles, they simplified the available packages on the Hornet to make the buying process a little simpler for the consumer. On both the GT and the R/T, buyers can choose to add the Plus Package, Blacktop Package, Track Package, or Tech Package.

The Plus Package adds leather interior, sunroof, keyless liftgate, lane keep assist, and blind spot monitoring. The Blacktop Package adds dark badges, black 18” wheels, and black mirrors. The Track Package offers 20” wheels, Alcantara lined seats, Brembo brakes on the GT, and selectable dual zone suspension. The Tech Package adds advanced safety features and a 360 degree camera.

The Red Paint On The R/T Model I Tested Looked Great With The Led Light Bar Across The Back. Photo: Annika Carter

The red paint on the R/T model I tested looked great with the LED light bar across the back. Photo: Annika Carter

The Hornet is Exciting Because it’s Fun, and Also, a Hint of Things to Come

This is a car for someone like me – a driver who likes a car that offers a fun, peppy drive, but who also needs something practical with a little extra space for passengers or storage. The Hornet checks these boxes, and brings a little excitement to an area of the car market that has, in my opinion, been a little bland. And, most importantly, the Hornet is a hint of things to come, with all of our eyes set on the all-electric Challenger and other electric sports cars we hope to see from Dodge in the future.

The Dodge Hornet GT will be available in Spring 2023 starting at $29,995 and the R/T will be available as a 2024 year model in Summer 2023 starting at $39,995 (although keep an eye out for available tax credits, with it being a plug-in hybrid).

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Disclosure: I was a guest of Dodge’s at their event to test the new Hornet. Travel and accommodations were paid for, all opinions and impressions are my own.

Annika Carter has over four years of performance driving experience, both with and without professional instruction. She has driven... More about Annika Carter