Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A green 2023 Ford Bronco Sport is shown parked off-road after competing in a 2023 Ford Bronco Sport vs 2023 Dodge Hornet competition.

Can the Hornet Sting the Bronco Sport?

If you’ve ever been stung by a hornet, then you already know that no matter how big a beast one might be, that thing hurts like you wouldn’t believe. I can’t help but think that Dodge understands this, and that they named their new performance-focused subcompact crossover the Hornet because they plan on stinging the competition. Looking at the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport vs 2023 Dodge Hornet is a great way to see what Dodge is trying to accomplish. The Bronco Sport is one of the most impressive models on the market in this class, yet it gets stung pretty hard by the Hornet in some key ways.

As you’re shopping for a compact crossover, the big thing you need to consider is what you want from a vehicle so that you can find the model that delivers. If you’re looking for street performance and crisp handling on the highway, the Hornet is pretty hard to beat because that’s what it’s been built for. On the other hand, if you want to take your little SUV off-road, then the Bronco Sport is a far superior option. Understanding what you want is the best way to ensure you actually get it, especially when shopping for a car.

A blue 2023 Dodge Hornet is shown driving on a road.

Considering Engines and Performance

When looking at any kind of vehicle, I always start with the engine. I don’t need to see a fancy infotainment screen, nifty interior lighting, or big tires on a vehicle if I’m just going to discover it has a pathetic engine. At that point, nothing else really matters, so why waste my time? I’m not going to waste your time, either, which is why we’ll start with the engines on these two rides and see how they stack up.

The Bronco Sport has two engines available, which is good because the standard powertrain on it leaves something to be desired. This starting engine is a 1.5L EcoBoost Turbo I-3 that offers 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. That’s not awful for a subcompact model, but it’s not exactly mind-blowing. Fortunately, the available 2.0L EcoBoost I-4 is much better, delivering a solid 250 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, which makes up for the shortcomings of the standard engine quite well. You have six different trim levels to choose from with the Bronco Sport, but only the top two (Badlands and Heritage Limited) come with this superior engine.

With the 2023 Dodge Hornet, you have just one engine on offer, but this is a great example of when “one is all you need.” It’s a 2.0L Hurricane Turbo I-4 engine that delivers a beefy 268 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, which is peppier than even the available option from Ford. This is at the heart of the Hornet’s design. Dodge has built it with a focus on performance, so the fact that it has such a powerful engine, standard all-wheel drive (AWD), an available Dual-State Valve Suspension, and more is all aimed toward delivering a great driving experience. It’s one of the main areas that the Dodge Hornet has an advantage, and there’s no denying it’s a great vehicle for enjoying in the city and on the highway.

A yello 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Limited is shown parked off-road.

Leaving Civilization Behind

If the city and highway aren’t your top concern, and instead you’re looking for something that can take you well beyond where the pavement ends, then the Ford Bronco Sport undoubtedly comes out on top. The Dodge Hornet can get you to a lot of campsites or trailheads, since it comes with standard AWD, but it’s not designed for hitting the trail. On the other hand, Ford has clearly engineered the Bronco Sport for tackling challenging trails and taking your off-road experience to the next level, especially if you choose a higher trim with advanced features.

Even looking at the starting Base trim for the Bronco Sport, you get standard four-wheel drive (4WD) to help improve traction and minimize wheelspin in tricky conditions. It comes with flip-up glass on the rear gate so you can easily get to things without completely opening the rear hatch, plus roof rack side rails to let you load up with everything you need before you head out for a weekend (or more) of adventure. The standard Terrain Management System features five Goes Over Any Type of Terrain (GOAT) Modes, along with a High-Performance, Off-Road, Stability, Suspension (HOSS) System that ensures every Bronco Sport has excellent ground clearance, water fording, and handling on the trail.

Going with a higher trim like the Badlands takes things even further. Not only do you get the more powerful engine option, but you also get Advanced 4WD with Twin-Clutch Rear Drive Unit for superior traction and grip in even the most treacherous of conditions. The Badlands trim features a Terrain Management System with seven GOAT Modes rather than five, adding Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl. You also get Ford Trail Control, which is like cruise control for going off-road. Rather than maintaining highway speed, it keeps your speed down to a few miles per hour so that you can focus on maneuvering while the Bronco Sport maintains your speed for you. Altogether, the Bronco Sport is an undeniably superior choice for heading out and going off-road, leaving the Dodge Hornet in its literal dust.

A black 2023 Dodge Hornet GT is shown driving on a highway near a guardrail.

Going Inside for Comfort and Tech

Even though I said fancy interior details don’t matter if you’re looking at an insipid engine, they do still matter overall. In this regard, the Dodge Hornet and Ford Bronco Sport are largely on equal footing, though some advantages go to one or the other. One of the biggest things to consider is that the Bronco Sport is available in six different trims, while only two are offered for the Hornet. You have more freedom to get what you want from the Ford.

In terms of starting features, the Bronco Sport Base trim comes with cloth seating featuring a six-way driver’s seat, single-zone climate control, and a basic steering wheel. Standard Bronco Sport features also include a 4.2-inch instrument cluster display, an 8-inch LCD touchscreen display, and a six-speaker sound system. With the Dodge Hornet GT, the standard model, you’ll find a similar six-way manual driver’s seat, dual-zone air conditioning, and cloth seating with a leather steering wheel.

Looking at available options, the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands trim features heated front seats with an eight-way power driver’s seat—leather seating is available—with a 6.5-inch LCD instrument panel, and available options including a heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, wireless charger, and B&O 10-speaker sound system. The Hornet GT Plus, the only other available trim, features an eight-way power driver’s seat, leather seating, a leather steering wheel, and a 10.25-inch infotainment system with an eight-speaker sound system. Ultimately, things are pretty even between these two models. It largely comes down to the kinds of options you choose for them.

Which SUV Is Right for You?

Since you can find a lot of similar options inside these two subcompact crossovers, the big decision to help you choose the right one comes down to how you want to drive it. There’s no denying that Dodge has built the Hornet with street performance at the forefront to give you a fantastic time behind the wheel. If you’re looking to go off-road, however, then the Ford Bronco Sport is absolutely the right way to go, giving you far superior capability on the trail and ensuring you can get home safely after your next big adventure. I wouldn’t say that one is definitively better than the other. It comes down to what you want in your ride. Once you know what you’re looking for, then choosing the right one and getting a vehicle you’ll love becomes easy.