ASHEVILLE, N.C. — With the upcoming Dodge Hornet compact crossover, designers had to instill the brand’s signature attitude and character into an existing design.
The canvas was the Alfa Romeo Tonale, a model meant for luxury customers that incorporated visual cues such as the Italian brand’s triangular “scudetto” grille.
Dodge’s design unit took that foundation and added an aggressive spin with inspiration from the muscular Challenger, Charger and Durango. The hood boasts integrated heat extractors that separate it from the Tonale, along with a mail-slot grille opening in the fascia that’s important for functionality and accentuates its performance- geared feel.
The end result was a vehicle sporting a meaner-looking front end than the Tonale that pushes the “Brotherhood of Muscle” into the compact utility space, the industry’s largest segment.
The Hornet comes in two trims: the GT with a conventional powertrain that’s scheduled to arrive in early spring as a 2023 model and the plug-in hybrid R/T, Dodge’s first electrified offering, coming in late spring as a 2024 model. Pricing starts at $31,590 including shipping for the GT and $41,590 including shipping for the R/T.
The Tonale was a good canvas to work from, said Brian Nielander, chief designer of Dodge’s exterior design studio. Nielander said creating a reworked design based on another vehicle can be just as challenging as devising a completely new vehicle.
“As a designer, that’s a part of something you have to be able to do, because you never know what type of assignment you’re going to get,” Nielander told Automotive News. “You can start from scratch and do an all-new car that’s got badass proportions, or it’s like, you’ve got this, this and this, you can just change these parts. How do you make that a Dodge? And that’s where the creativity comes in. In some regard, that’s the more fulfilling part sometimes because you’re solving a problem.”
Nielander said the original Tonale design already had a “great proportion and kind of muscular feel to it anyway.” There were many elements from other Dodge models, he said, “that we could draw that just like immediately fit onto that car.”
One of Dodge’s missions was to blend its attributes and temperament into the Hornet’s design. Now, it’s doing the same thing with advertising.
The crossover’s ad campaign launched earlier in the month with a commercial saying the Hornet is “taking the country by swarm.” Dodge said it used TikTok and Instagram influencers, some of whom appear in the spot, to build “buzz” ahead of the ad’s debut.
A gang of Hornets zips through the streets in the commercial, which captures the spirit of typical Dodge promotions even without the rumbling V-8 engines it is known for.
“We always like to say we build superheroes; we’re not just building cars,” Matt McAlear, head of Dodge sales and operations, told Automotive News during a Hornet media drive. “We build personalities, and whether it’s Demons or Scat Packs or Hellcats … this cult following is bigger than just a vehicle. It’s this whole villainesque- type thing. And, you know, Hornet was natural.”
Next year, McAlear said the goal is for the electrified R/T to account for half of the Hornet’s sales.
The Hornet R/T achieves 288 hp while generating 383 pound-feet of torque. It will have a PowerShot feature that supplies an extra 30-hp burst on demand at 15-second intervals. Dodge is billing the Hornet GT as the industry’s “quickest, fastest, most powerful utility vehicle under $30,000.”
Dodge unveiled the Hornet in August during a three-day rush of product news it called “Speed Week,” attracting more than 20,000 preorders for the GT within two days.
McAlear said Dodge doesn’t need to conquest a lot of customers from rival brands to achieve success and says the Hornet can generate volume by capitalizing on the compact utility segment’s growth in the years ahead. McAlear thinks the Hornet can establish itself by reveling in the fact that the brand is offering something different.
While buyers in the segment tend to focus on practicality, Dodge is going in a different direction by touting performance and the fun-to-drive factor.
The early run of preorders, McAlear said, shows what’s possible.
“With the segment growing, we can come in and just do Dodge, be Dodge, and revel in the fact that we are different,” McAlear said.
“We’re polarizing, we’re brash, we’re building that Brotherhood of Muscle. We don’t have to be everything to everybody.”