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Lots of Buzz for the Dodge Hornet

Posted by: David Welch on February 19, 2006

I can’t say enough about how disappointed I was to see Chrysler’s sad display at the Detroit auto show in January. The company really did blow its chance to become a design leader.

But I have to give Chrysler’s stylists credit for the Dodge Hornet concept, which they will soon show at the Geneva Motor Show. Check it out at It’s sort of a Mini Cooper decked out with serious street racer spoilers and cladding. But it’s not a knock off of the successful Cooper. Where the Mini hearkens back to vintage Coopers, the Hornet is much edgier and truly modern. The design is bolder than the Scion xB, but still manages to be less quirky. The body looks like it was chiseled from one big hunk of stainless steel or aluminum.

And get this: It’s engineered to be a fun small car, charging down the Autobahn with a 170-horsepower supercharged four-cylinder engine that gets from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.7 seconds. That’s not your typical boring American econobox.

The Chrysler guys are onto something here. Mini proved that small cars can sell in the U.S. The Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback are selling well too, further making the case that if a car company invests time and creativity into small cars they can find buyers and make money. Even though Dodge is showing the car in Switzerland with an eye toward the compact-loving European market, it will probably end up in the U.S. as well. Let’s hope it does.

Reader Comments

David Zatz

February 22, 2006 9:37 AM

Well... there's good and bad with the Hornet. BAD is the Volkswagen Polo base that many are assuming it rides on, and the apparently impending sale of the plant where the 1.6 supercharged engine is made. That engine, closely related to the Neon's 2.0 liter powerplant, is used in the Mini, and was used in export Neons and PTs (Chrylser is now selling their share of 1.4/1.6 engines to China), so it seems likely that the Chrysler version of the Polo will in essence be a restyled, retuned Volkswagen. Those who are more optimistic are hoping it will, at most, be based on the Polo platform but otherwise be engineered entirely by Chrysler, including the powertrain (OK, maybe with a Getrag six-speed and/or JATCO CVT).

I, for one, think Chrysler can actually make small cars at a profit. They did it with the first generation Neon, which, had it not been for inane cost-cutting measures reportedly imposed by management, would have been a raging success; as it was, the Neon made money despite warranty costs from the cheap head gaskets (fixed in 1998), sloppy window design, and cheap exhaust "donuts," and the Neon easily outperformed just about everything in its class in just about every way. I don't think the Hornet should be a rebadged or restyled Polo, especially given Volkswagen's quality levels. In addition, I hardly think Chrysler autoworkers deserve to have the company selling vehicles made in Mexico by another German firm; it's bad enough they have to see the big Daimler in front of their Chrysler when they drive to work.

Lots of details on the Hornet are at


March 1, 2006 4:20 PM

VIDEO of Dodge Hornet at (the site cited in this article)

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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