It was an era we all knew was eventually going to end but when it did, it still felt crummy. The discontinuation of the last generation Charger and Challenger left a gaping hole in the domestic performance landscape, especially the one that loves its traditional V8 engine noises and power. The large question from virtually everyone was centered around what was to fill the holes left by the end of those two models. As I sit and write this, we’re still awaiting the arrival of the next generation Charger and Dodge has largely removed itself from the vast majority of motorsports and racing activities it was involved with, with rare exception. The company is focusing its efforts on selling just two models these days, both in the SUV space. There’s the familiar Durango and the 2024 Hornet. That’s the entirety of the offerings.

Dodge slid us the keys to a 2024 Dodge Hornet GT Plus Blacktop AWD model painted in Blue Bayou and let us cruise it around for the week. For starters, they have tried their best to maintain a performance image and at least some credibility to back it up. In the case of this Hornet, it had the 268hp engine and all wheel drive, which was snappy around town, but certainly not something that an owner of previous Dodge vehicles would lean on their fender and brag about as they did for so many years prior. The company claims this to be the quickest CUV in its class of sales competition and while that’s likely true, it’s not exactly fodder for scaring guys in the staging lanes at the local drag strip.

Underhood packaging is typically tight as it is in virtually all modern cars and SUVs. Will people eventually tune these little engines for more power? Sure. Is the fact that it is wrapped in the largely bland exterior of yet another semi-egg shaped CUV a detraction on the drivetrain? Perhaps. The engine is hooked to a nine speed automatic transmission that operated with a good degree of smoothness in regular around town driving. Engaging “Sport” mode made the throttle tip in more aggressive, perhaps to the point of annoyance, and also made the transmission hold gears into the little engine’s power band for a more snappy overall driving experience. The 2.0L engine, lastly, is not the most lusty sounding four cylinder out there, so even when the Hornet is at full song, it’s more of a pained scream than a Rebel yell.

Storage space was more than adequate in the rear of the Hornet. At this point, the world has conditioned itself to the CUV class sized vehicle with such frequency that many people now consider this “a lot” of storage space. For a small family it would be more than serviceable for the weekly errands and various chores of life like sports equipment haulage, band instruments, and even a decent amount of luggage for a road trip.

Rear seating room came at a relative premium and our typically oversized back seat riders were not raving about the leg room or the comfort of the actual seat itself. The Hornet in this trim, including the interior and all retails for just over $40,000 and frankly that struck me as high and I’ll get into it here. The materials of this upscale and up-optioned Blacktop edition just didn’t feel like $40,000. They felt like many closer to base model CUVs I have been subjected to over the years in rental fleets and other more workaday environs.

The layout of of the front of the passenger compartment was pleasing and simple. The thick steering wheel was nice and a good holdover from the previous generation of Dodge offerings. The seats were a little more bolstered than I expected, especially in the torso area and as that’s my preference, they get good marks. The screen, while small is proportional to the rest of the dashboard and it’s designed to be some sort of centerpiece of the interior. It all just fits and works together. Does it inspire one to get in and drive with the windows down to enjoy the world around them? No. Would be be an OK place to commute in on the daily? Yes.

The simple center stack was also welcome. A normal shifter, redundant buttons for HVAC controls and the touch element of the screen all performed as they should. Again, exemplary? No but these are the things you interact with most in the car and if they’re bad, the experience is totally shot. These work and in they also have a decently robust feel to them. There are elements of the Hornet that didn’t feel up to the price tag, but this part of the car met our expectations for the MSRP.

The heat extractors on the hood call back to some of the recently passed glory days of Dodge and the overall nose language is as close as they could get it within proportion to the last generation Charger. None of this is a bad thing, but it just strikes any true enthusiast as flimsy, right?

The problem with the Hornet is not that it is a bad CUV. It’s not a bad CUV. It’s a functional CUV that does offer enough horsepower to blow most of the other truly bland and boring ones into the weeds. The problem with the Hornet has nothing to do with the car itself, it has to do with timing and rollout. Following the “Brotherhood of Muscle” generation of Dodges is as thankless and impossible as a task can be in the automotive realm.

The company who’s motto was “Domestic, not domesticated” has been made just that. The rebel spirit was wrung out of them by their European corporate overseers and it’s left us with a sensible little SUV on one side and an aging Durango on the other as the only two things the company has for sale at the moment.

If you are hell bent on buying a CUV, drive the Hornet. But do not drive it first. Drive offerings from GM, Toyota, and Ford first. If you are an enthusiast you may just find enough spark in the Hornet’s DNA to make your commuter car a more fun choice than the others. But be warned, the Hornet is not a member of the Brotherhood of Muscle. Those heady days have long left us. Temper your expectations, walk in with an open mind and if the salesmen is so kind, drop it in sport mode and deck it. It won’t set you back in the seat like a Hellcat but it also will prove to you that there’s still a flicker of Dodge DNA in there somewhere. Hopefully cars like the Hornet tide the brand over to its next performance renaissance, it can’t come soon enough.

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