Why Dodge is trying so hard to make the Hornet crossover fun
Dodge doesn’t approach building cars the same way as most of its industry rivals. While we’ve seen the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro become true sports cars in the post-recession era, Dodge has leaned heavily into its muscle car roots. Now that Dodge is part of Stellantis, things are starting to change. The automaker just unveiled the new 2023 Dodge Hornet crossover, which marks its first new product since the much-derided Dart. R&T sat down with Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis to discuss how this compact crossover can fit in with the Brotherhood of Muscle ethos.
The compact crossover segment is hugely important in today’s automotive landscape. More than one million of these machines are sold in the United States each year, backed in large part by one of the youngest customer bases in any segment. Dodge is no stranger to younger buyers, as the automaker currently maintains the youngest customer base of any automaker. That said, the Dodge recipe isn’t necessarily what CUV customers are looking for. As Kuniskis explained in an interview with R&T, the why-buys of the crossover segment are centered on factors such as price, value, fuel economy and brand reputation. Things like horsepower, fun behind the wheel, acceleration, and vehicle image fall much lower on the list, making them useless stats according to the CEO. Either way, Kuniskis isn’t worried about the Hornet attracting interest from a different type of buyer.
“We know this younger demographic loves what we do,” Kuniskis said. R&T. “They like the way we have an attitude, our personality and the way we go to market. If they like it, there must be a lot of people in this UV segment who would also like this kind of vehicle, but they just haven’t offered it yet. Our bet is that if we bring this to market, we can capitalize on it.
In order to make this plan work, Kuniskis and his team had to make the Dodge Hornet feel like one of the brand’s products at its heart. It starts with a heavily modified version of the older FCA SCCS platform, which also underpins vehicles like the Jeep Compass and Alfa Romeo Tonale. The platform was worked on by a suite of former SRT engineers, including the former chief engineer and the entire suspension team. Kuniskis even went so far as to say that the crossover will behave much more like a hot hatchback than a typical commuter behind the wheel. This is especially true for the Hornet R/T PHEV models, which feature a turbocharged 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor on the rear axle. The powertrain is good for 285 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque, with that torque being particularly strong for the segment.
“The first thing we said was that we’re not going to sell electrification for electrification’s sake,” Kuniskis said. “We will sell electrification as a performance enabler, and it will be justified by performance. That’s why we decided to call it the Hornet R/T, because R/T models have always been a step up in performance. Even though we have a smaller displacement petrol engine, we had to make sure we had enough performance from the engine and the e-Axle to achieve this goal.
Customers can expand the Hornet’s performance capabilities with the optional track package, which adds upgrades such as Brembo brakes, tuned steering rack, upgraded dual-mode shocks and 20-inch wheels. The package was part of the Hornet ideation from the start, as Dodge wants the crossover to take advantage of the direct-connect catalog. Kuniskis even hinted at the possibility of some power-add packages arriving for the Hornet before too long.
“When you’re looking to add more power with some of the direct-connect packages, you need to make sure you have the right suspension and braking to go with it,” Kuniskis said.
Whether or not the Dodge Hornet is able to become a huge hit in the competitive crossover segment, this marks an important milestone for Dodge. The brand has stagnated somewhat in recent years with its current product line, although the products remain enjoyable for part of the enthusiast community. It’s hard to imagine a crossover becoming a new performance hero, but Dodge is sure to do its best to make it happen.