Back in the Game

The 2023 Hornet GT Plus offers style, handling and a new direction for Dodge.
Nov 6, 2023
Barry Spyker

With subtle similarities to the muscular Charger and the bones and guts of a sporty Alfa Romeo, it doesn’t take an Einstein to realize what Dodge is serving up with its 2023 Hornet GT Plus.

Sure, it’s a compact crossover, but this one has the swagger and performance to match its DNA. It’s Dodge’s first all-new model in a decade and it could help you forget previous attempts at small vehicles like the Caliber hatchback and, later, the Dart sedan. Or perhaps you already did.

The Hornet GT (base version) shares a platform and Italian factory with Alfa’s new Tonale (Stellantis being the corporate parent to both). The focus is more on style and handling than key family features like passenger and cargo space.

Above its aggressive grille are bulging and functional air vents on the hood. The GT Plus with the so-called “Track Pack” ($2,995) gets gloss-black window moldings and blacked-out 20-inch wheels (more of a charcoal gray, really) wrapped in Michelin PS4 all-season tires. Metallic Hornet badges on each fender are poised to strike, and a taillight bar adds flair across the width of the tailgate.

Hornet isn’t the quickest out there but does have some sting. Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four that produces 268 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. GT-Plus power is sent to all four wheels via a 9-speed automatic transmission. Manual shifting on the floor is available but it’s not especially responsive on the downshifts.

It runs to 60 mph in around 6.5 seconds — not too brisk right off the line, but the torque builds to a redline around 5,400 rpm. Hit the Sport mode button on the steering wheel for extra firmness and quicker shifts. Top speed is 128 mph. 

There’s another option beyond the base GT and GT Plus: An early-release 2024 R/T version, which is a plug-in hybrid that gives it a quicker take-off and hits 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. It subs the 2.0-liter for a 1.3 inline four, and adds a 44-hp generator with 6-speed transmission up front and 121-hp electric motor to power the rear wheels.

Combined output for the R/T is 288 hp, and it has three hybrid drive modes plus Dodge’s PowerShot — an on-demand extra burst of horsepower.

Either way you go, it’s the Hornet’s crisp handling, steering and braking that will win you over. Its even balance on curves is aided by near-perfect 52-48 front-to-rear weight ratio.

The ride is firm for better grip and balance on corners, where it remains more composed than typical family crossovers. But the dual-mode suspension is compliant enough for daily commutes and errands around town, too.

The GT’s electric steering is nicely weighted and four-piston red-caliper Brembo brakes up front help slow the 3,750-pound Hornet with confidence. 

While there is noticeable road and engine noise during hard acceleration, it stays quiet and comfortable on the highway. For those bringing along a small boat or trailer, it can tow up to 2,000 pounds.

Fuel economy is decent for the segment with an EPA-estimated 21 mpg around town, 29 on the highway, for a combo around 25 mpg.

Meanwhile, the sporty cabin seats five and is finished in quality materials that offer a clean look. Soft-touch and padded surfaces cover the dashboard, doors and center console.

Two-tone seats in soft, suede-like Alcantara come in black with an unusual red peek-a-boo fabric underneath. The well-bolstered seats are supportive, 8-way power adjustable and add lumbar support in the GT Plus. A Cold Weather package offers heated seats, steering wheel and remote start.

Rear bench seats are flatter and there’s less space back there, but it’s ok for the younger ones; adults can get away with a short trip. The rear space does include AC vents, a fold-down armrest with two cupholders and center pass-through for skis or curtain rods.

The driver gets a leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel and leather shifter, too. Behind the wheel is a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel with large, easy-read gauges and reconfigurable data screens, including performance pages. 

To the right, and angled slightly toward the driver, is a 10.25-inch infotainment screen for Dodge’s new Uconnect 5 system. It’s compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa, and it offers access to a 465-watt, 14-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system.

The system has sharp graphics and is easy to learn and use, but it had some hiccups when responding to commands and navigating to some pages. Below the touchscreen, happily, are knobs and buttons to control climate and audio without need of a touchscreen.

A wireless charging pad takes up what little space there could be for stuff in front of the shifter. Otherwise, places for stuff are limited to the glovebox, a couple of cupholders and a smallish cubby under the center armrest. 

But cargo space is ample and accessed via a power lift gate. The area slopes inward, oddly, and is about average for the segment with 27 cubic feet behind the seats. The 60/40 folding rear seat broadens the space to 57.4 cubes. Under the cargo floor there’s a spot for flatter items like briefcases, tools or clothing purchases.

Standard safety features include adaptive cruise control with emergency braking, lane departure warning and assist, and blind spot detection. A Tech package ($2,245) adds Active Driving Assist, Intelligent Speed Assist, surround-view cameras and that pesky drowsy-driver detection. 

So forget the Caliber, and say hello to a fresh entry. This one could re-identify the Dodge brand.  

Barry Spyker was the automotive editor and columnist for the Miami Herald

2023 Dodge Hornet GT Plus

Base Price: $34,995

As tested: $41,710 (Includes Tech Pack advanced safety features, $2,245; Track Pack with upgraded seats, dual mode suspension, aluminum pedals, 20-inch wheels with red-painted calipers; Hot Tamale red exterior, $495)

What’s all the excitement about? Dodge’s first all-new SUV in 12 years offers attitude, style and performance

Powertrain: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four produces 268 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque; mated to 9-speed automatic

How’s the performance? Near-perfect chassis balance and dual mode suspension contribute to agility and crisp handling; 0-60 mph in a respectable 6.5 seconds; top speed rated at 128 mph

Fuel economy: EPA-estimated 21 mpg city, 29 highway, for 25 mpg combined

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