Over the years, the idea of “badge engineering” has had its stints of popularity with nearly every big global automaker. The heyday of the practice was in the 1970s and 1980s, when American car companies would change a car’s grille, the wheels, some paint, maybe the upholstery, slap on a Chevroldsmobuillac badge, and call the same car three different names and sell it at three different brands’ dealerships. Since then, automakers have gotten sneakier about the practice, but it’s still alive and well — it’s just that these days, the changes between models are a lot more visually extensive, and they often include significant “retuning” of the car’s various bits to make it look and feel different from its kin.
Enter Stellantis, the European-headquartered multinational behemoth that fields more than a dozen automotive brands, including the two you see here: Italian luxury brand Alfa Romeo and American performance brand Dodge. The benefit of being a big automaker is that you can spread out operating, development, engineering and manufacturing costs among multiple global markets, several global brands and hundreds of thousands of vehicles. But sometimes it results in products that share a lot of components, equipment, and sometimes even body panels and styling that then get sold in the same market under different brands.
That’s what we have here with the brand-new 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale, the Italians’ new compact SUV that’s meant to spearhead its massive push back into the U.S. market with a more affordable, more approachable, more appealing entry-level product to draw in some new customers. But down the street at the Dodge dealer sits the brand-new Dodge Hornet, and if they look similar to you, well, that’s because they share a lot of the same equipment, components and body panels. They even share a powertrain, with the Alfa featuring a standard plug-in hybrid system that incorporates a turbocharged four-cylinder engine (that powertrain is optional for the Dodge).
What they don’t share is pricing. A base 2023 Dodge Hornet GT starts at $32,330 (all prices include destination), but the Hornet that’s more comparable to the Tonale is the plug-in hybrid 2024 Hornet R/T, which will start at $42,530. The Alfa Romeo Tonale is only offered as a PHEV, and the base Sprint trim starts around two grand more than the Dodge at $44,590; it goes up from there with the better-equipped Ti and Veloce trims.
This begs the question: Given we have two very similar vehicles being sold at two different dealerships and with two different missions, is there enough differentiation between the Hornet and Tonale to justify paying more for the Alfa? Has Stellantis done enough in tuning the two vehicles to look and feel different? Can you get a budget Alfa Romeo at your local Dodge dealer, or is Alfa trying to sell us a fancied-up Dodge at a premium price? I recently had a rare opportunity to drive both the 2024 Dodge Hornet R/T (and the gas-only ‘23 GT) back to back with the 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce at the Midwest Automotive Media Association’s 2023 Spring Rally in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., to find out.