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2024 Dodge Hornet R/T first drive review: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

You wouldn’t be wrong in stating that the current batch of Dodge vehicles is getting pretty old. Some of the platforms date back to the turn of the century, in some parts, so it’s a big deal that the brand has an all-new model. The first all new model in a decade. Plus, it’s available as a plug-in hybrid.

The 2024 Dodge Hornet R/T is the PHEV version of the new Hornet. It’s a compact crossover designed to compete against the likes of the Honda HR-V and CR-V, the Toyota RAV-4 and Corolla Cross, and Mazda’s CX-5.

The Hornet R/T, which is the only one we took a look at extensively because it’s the only one that’s a PHEV, gets up to 30 miles of all electric range and only comes in all-wheel drive. A 1.3-liter turbocharged motor powers the front wheels with some electric assist, while the rear axle is only electric.

After it’s run through a 6-speed automatic transmission, the Hornet R/T makes 288 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. That is segment leading, and by a decent amount.

It also features an independent rear suspension for improved ride and handling, adjustable dampers with an upgraded Track package, Michelin Pilot Sport all seasons (also with that Track pack), and a set of awesome steering column mounted shift paddles that feel like they belong in an Alfa Romeo.

Fun fact: It’s because they do. The Hornet shares a platform with the upcoming Alfa Romeo Tonale, and will be built in the same plant in Italy.

Standard features also include a digital instrument cluster and Uconnect 5 infotainment system. That system supports wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play.

The system is a bit tiny on this car, but it also doesn’t overwhelm the dash with a bright screen, and the climate control buttons are still buttons.

The system is a 10.25-inch display, which we believe is right sized for this car and matches well with the interior.

Rear cargo space is decent, but there’s no storage space under the rear floor. All of that area appears to be taken up by the battery pack. Though, Dodge did manage to leave enough space to store the load cover, which is nice.

The R/T has a neat feature controlled by those Alfa-inspired paddle shifters. It’s called PowerShot.

If the car is in sport mode and all appropriate conditions are met, the driver can pull back on both paddles at once to activate PowerShot. If the driver immediately plants the right pedal to the floor, the car will accelerate with 30 extra horsepower for 15 seconds.

Think of it as a boost button or a push to pass. After a 15 second cool down period, the car is capable of doing it again. As long as there’s still some charge in the 15.5 kWh battery on board, the car will continue to do PowerShots until it’s nearly out of juice.

Dodge claims it cuts 1.5 seconds off the 0-60 mph time of the Hornet R/T when in use.

Around town, the Hornet drives and rides well. The independent rear suspension handles bumps and potholes easily, and the car is definitely comfortable on a longer journey.

Power is plentiful at around-the-town speeds. The car switches between electric only driving and hybrid driving without much fuss.

It doesn’t always feel as quick as it is, though. Dipping into the throttle at low speeds can give you quite an oomph, but if you’re going a little bit slower or a little bit quicker in the same scenario, it won’t feel as punchy. It’s something we’ve experienced with small displacement turbo engines before.

At highway speeds there’s plenty of performance to keep up, and PowerShot gives you a little bit of a boost if you’re trying to overtake. We’d like the system to work like other boost buttons, though, in that it can be enabled in any drive mode. Like in the Genesis GV60, the boost button puts you in full attack mode and then after the boost period expires it switches back to whatever made you were in.

You have to put some thought into using PowerShot, like you’re authorizing the launch of nuclear missiles on a submarine.

When the roads get twisty, the Hornet R/T remains fun. There’s solid grip and the Koni-adjustable dampers do their thing well. It’s not a car that’ll destroy sports cars on Angeles Crest Highway, but it’s more capable than it needs to be.

Demerits fall on the automatic transmission, which doesn’t shift gears in manual mode as quickly as we’d like. The paddles give a satisfying click, but there’s still a wait for something to happen most of the time.

It’s a fun car, for sure, and probably the best performer in this size. However, it didn’t give me quite the fizz I was hoping for. I know it’s not fair to compare a PHEV to a gas-only car like the Hyundai Kona N, but the Kona N delivers so much personality that it’s hard to not mention.

There are upgrades from Direct Connection coming, and hopefully that adds a bit more fizz to the experience. That would promote it from a pretty good car to a great car.

Written by Chad Kirchner
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