Sometimes the lower-trim version of a particular model seems like the better choice. Such is the case, at least to this reviewer’s eye, with the 2023 Dodge Hornet GT.
Dodge will tell you how great the more expensive and more powerful hybridized R/T is. And the R/T does offer up some solid acceleration, as I discovered earlier this year in North Carolina. However, I think I’d rather save some coin and drive the GT.
That’s not an anti-hybrid stance. There are plenty of hybrids out there that I’d happily own. I am simply saying that based on my first drive of the Hornet, in which I sampled both models, and a week-long loan of the GT, I’d rather go with the lower trim.
The reasons? The GT feels more responsive dynamically and costs less while offering similar creature comforts.
That’s not to say the GT is going to jump into this segment and take it by storm. The Hornet is nice enough and fun enough to drive that it could be a value contender in GT guise, but it faces stiff competition – including from the Alfa Romeo that shares its platform. Although I will note here that the Alfa Romeo Tonale is only available with the same hybrid powertrain that is in the Hornet R/T.
Dodge faces a challenge with the Hornet, especially in GT trim – the segment of small crossovers is large and stretches across a wide swath of price points. Dodge is trying to stand out from the more family-friendly versions (and, obviously, the off-road-oriented) by preaching on-road performance. Even the less-powerful GT is supposed to be more fun to drive than your average small five-seat crossover.
The good news, for enthusiasts, is that it is. I don’t know if it’s the most fun to drive, but it’s towards the top of the class when it comes to that particular criteria.
It’s a responsive handler, though the ride errs on the stiff side. There is some throttle lag, but generally the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (268 horsepower, 295 lb-ft of torque) has enough thrust to satisfy. Tis not a barnburner, but you’ll be fine for merging, passing, and the cut and thrust of city driving.
Underpinning all the fun is a front MacPherson strut setup and a rear Chapman suspension with rear stabilizer bar. There are Koni shocks all around.
I should note that this test unit did not have the optional Track Pack, which would add a dual-mode suspension and in theory, handle even better.
The interior is generally fine, if not a tad minimalist, and the annoying trend of tacked-on infotainment systems continues. Some of the materials are of a quality that suggests cost-cutting – this is unfortunate. The cabin feels a little tight, though not quite cramped. It’s also a tad nosier inside than I’d like.
Opt for the GT Plus and you’ll start at $34,955. A Blacktop appearance package added unique trim, badges, and wheels; and a Tech Package added smart cruise control, an active driving assist system, 360-degree camera, drowsy driver detection, and a parking assist system.
Other available features include dual-zone climate control, leather seats, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, wireless device charging, Uconnect infotainment, Harman Kardon audio, navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and USB ports.
Safety ninnies include lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, full-speed forward collision warning, hill-start assist, and traffic-sign recognition.
All told, 40 grand gets you a fairly fun-to-drive small crossover that offers the usual suspects when it comes to comfort/convenience features and safety nannies. Some flaws aside, the Hornet offers an intriguing package, and you don’t need to spend R/T money to have fun or have nice things.
A cramped interior and downmarket materials disappoint, but there’s something to be said for getting sporty moves and a well-equipped features list without spending stupid money.
The Hornet GT Plus articulates that nicely.
[Images © 2023 Tim Healey/TTAC.com, Dodge]
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