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Opinion: the Dodge Hornet makes me angry, and here's why

Dodge’s rebadged Tonale has ruffled Paul Horrell’s feathers, and reflects badly on Alfa Romeo

Published: 16 Jan 2023

I find myself sad and angry on multiple levels since clapping eyes on the new Dodge Hornet. You might have seen it, but if not, here’s the elevator pitch so you too can join me in righteous indignation. It’s an Alfa Romeo Tonale with a nose job. Same interior as the Alfa, same profile and glass and all that. Just a slapped-on fake Dodge front end and tail lamps.

It’s exhausting how often we’re obliged to get annoyed with Alfa Romeo. The Tonale itself is, sickeningly, basically on a stretched Fiat 500X underneath. But I tell myself to forgive it because it has different engines from the Fiat, somewhat different suspension, and crucially feels different (if not exactly excellent) to drive. And it has a full done-in-Milan Alfa styling job. Anyway, we have to allow the Tonale a bit of a free pass because if it didn’t exist Alfa would surely go under. Too few people are willing to buy the pedigree Giulia and Stelvio, so the cheaper mongrel Tonale is here to keep the tills ringing. But while compact crossovers as a breed sell like superheated patisserie, I don’t care for any of them and if Alfa were to aim one at me it would be peeing in the wind. So as I say I’ll let the Tonale stand.

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Moving on a stage in this icky chain of events I also understand the commercial temptations that have turned the Tonale into the Hornet. Badge engineering is a phenomenon endemic in the States for decades. It just costs too much to do a ground-up new car, especially in these dying days of combustion where the on-sale life of a compact crossover is likely to be curtailed below its amortisation period. So Alfa has lent its car to Stellantis sibling brand Dodge. Hey presto, both see a halving of development and tooling cost per vehicle.

So if I don’t like but can understand the fact they built the Tonale, and don’t like but can understand the fact that they turned it into the Hornet, why am I so angry? Because they lied to us. They told us the Tonale could only be an Alfa, inside and out. Until all its interior and 90 per cent of its exterior became a Dodge, duh.

And apart from the lies, there’s the barefaced laziness of it all. Couldn’t they have at least run to giving the Hornet some different door pressings or a new dash moulding? Anything really that might have better obscured its origins and protected the credibility of an Alfa revival in the US where the two will be sold side by side?

It’s the usual modus operandi of struggling once-great brands. They think they have the right to sell us cars by invoking heritage. But now they drive a stake through the heart of that heritage by rebadging an Alfa as a Dodge. And they think or hope we’ll just accept it. Look, if heritage really mattered the Hornet shouldn’t exist. If the Hornet does exist, it follows that heritage doesn’t matter. And if heritage doesn’t matter, there’s little reason for people to buy a crossover from Alfa. They might as well go to Kia or Lynk&Co.

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