DETROIT – The 2023 Dodge Hornet doesn’t have a Hellcat under the hood, but CEO Tim Kuniskis said the Hornet will carve out its own power niche in a place with lots of growth potential.
The five-seat Hornet will put Dodge, a brand that’s quick to tout its muscle car credentials, on a new playing field, in the compact SUV segment, with a first for the brand, a plug-in hybrid electric variant.
Kuniskis called compact SUVs the hottest segment in the auto industry.
“This thing is exploding so we really, really want to be in this segment,” Kuniskis told reporters last week at Stellantis’ U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
“This seemed like ... the perfect little politically correct segment for us to go in, (rile) it up and disrupt that segment. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to go in there with something that nobody else is shopping for in that segment.”
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The Hornet, which was being unveiled Tuesday as Dodge’s “gateway” vehicle during three days of announcements for the brand, is expected to provide an entry point for new customers by adding a small SUV to the Dodge lineup, composed of the larger Durango SUV and the Charger and Challenger muscle cars.
The unveiling is labeled "future muscle." The Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network, has previously reported that an electric Dodge concept vehicle is expected to be shown this week.
The Hornet, which shares architecture with the Alfa Romeo Tonale, will be built at the Giambattista Vico Stellantis plant in Pomigliano D’Arco in Naples, Italy.
Hornet 'PowerShot' adds 25 horsepower for 15-second burst
Its name offers a connection to the automotive past, dating to the Hudson Hornets of the 1950s – think Doc Hudson in the movie, “Cars.” The plug-in Hornet R/T – there's also a gas-only GT – will push the brand toward the electrified future.
The R/T, according to the company, promises 285-plus horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque with more than 30 miles of electric range, thanks to a 15.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. The 1.3-liter, four-cylinder turbo PHEV is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The R/T also has a nifty feature called PowerShot that can add an extra 25 horsepower for 15 seconds that’s repeatable after a 15-second cooldown. It’ll drop the 0-60 mph time by a second to 6.1, which is faster than the GT’s 6.5, according to the company.
The gas-powered GT comes with Stellantis’ new Hurricane4 engine, a 2-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder (mated to a nine-speed automatic), which “debuts as the segment’s most powerful gas engine at 265-plus horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque,” according to the company.
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Fuel economy ratings haven’t been released. Pricing hasn’t either, although the GT is supposed to start at under $30,000. Dodge has also shown a GLH (Goes-Like-Hell) Concept to demonstrate what the brand’s Direct Connection performance parts can do.
All-wheel drive is standard for both versions. Driver attention assist to detect fatigue, and intelligent adaptive cruise control are a couple of the available advanced driver assistance safety features. Hornet also gets the Uconnect 5 infotainment system.
The company touts the vehicle’s exterior as one that brings the Dodge attitude to life, noting that “the hood features integrated heat extractors for a performance-focused appearance while the front also incorporates a ‘mail slot’-style grille opening sculpted into the fascia.” Plus, there’s a Hornet badge on the fender.
A play to hit 'younger' audience
Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting for AutoForecast Solutions, said the Hornet will hopefully bring in new buyers to the Dodge brand, which, he said, is in desperate need of products to stay relevant.
“Younger buyers don’t need big vehicles like the Charger and Challenger, so introducing them to the brand with a smaller crossover hits them where they live,” he said. “With prices starting around $30,000, the Hornet should capture drivers who want something a little sportier than a Chevrolet Equinox or Ford Escape but cannot afford the entry-luxury models from BMW and Audi.”
Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com, said he believes the Hornet shows that Dodge will evolve under Stellantis, which also owns the Jeep, Ram, Dodge, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Peugeot brands, among others.
Dodge "has been pared down to only a few models with clear performance intentions over the past few years. Now it’s launching a practical utility vehicle with an electrified drivetrain. That doesn’t mean Dodge won’t continue to offer high-performance vehicles, but I don’t think its role within Stellantis will allow for such a narrow product focus."
Brauer said other performance brands have done well with SUVs, so that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Dodge, like any brand, ultimately has to prove profitable and viable for the long term, and SUVs are an excellent pathway to increased sales and revenue," he said.
Orders for the Hornet GT will be taken beginning Wednesday for arrival at dealerships later this year. The R/T should arrive in the spring, according to the company.
Contact Eric D. Lawrence: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 2023 Dodge Hornet compact SUV to offer gas, hybrid options: Photos