2021 Hyundai Sonata

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2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line First Drive Review: Fierce Fun With Four Doors

Hyundai is getting serious about performance and plans to have seven N and N Line performance vehicles on the road by the end of 2022. Cars with an N badge, such as the existing Veloster N, are the top of the line performance cars with a dedicated powertrain and prepared to hit the track. N Line models deliver a dose of extra performance and sporty looks without going over the top, as seen in the new Sonata N Line model, which has subtle but significant visual enhancements so as not to scream the fact the mid-size sedan packs a punch.

The N Line is the most potent Sonata yet, with its turbocharged 2.5-liter engine generating 290 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque delivered through a dual-clutch transmission (DCT) to the front wheels. It's more than a body kit and extra power, though. Hyundai's N division has stiffened the chassis, the transmission mounts, stability bars, and the rear springs. The shocks and steering are tuned, launch control has been added, and the brakes upgraded. To demonstrate the thrill Hyundai has promised, they handed us the key to a sanitized car and let us loose in the canyons around Malibu to see what it can do.

Is the 2021 Hyundai Sonata a good car?

  • Exterior Design 10 /10
  • Performance 8 /10
  • Fuel Economy 8 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 9 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 10 /10
  • Reliability 9 /10
  • Safety 9 /10
  • Value For Money 9 /10
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2021 Hyundai Sonata Models

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
Hybrid Blue
2.0L Inline-4 Hybrid
6-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
SEL Plus
1.6L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
Hybrid SEL
2.0L Inline-4 Hybrid
6-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive

See all Trims and Specs

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Exterior Design: The Art Of Subtlety

When most manufacturers deliver a performance-oriented variation on an existing model, they assume the driver wants to scream to everyone around them that they went with the sporty option. The Sonata N Line eschews aggressive spoilers and an excess of flashy trim and, instead, the designers have opted to build subtly on the Sonata's existing looks. The front fascia is tweaked with a new take on the Sonata's grille that Hyundai describes as a "signature cascading grille." The rear end gives more clues to the N Line's performance chops with a black lower bumper, a sporty rear diffuser, and a split four-tip exhaust system. The car's sides are embellished with unique side skirts and a more aggressive-looking set of multi-spoke 19-inch wheels.

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Engine, Performance, & MPG: Sacrificing Economy For Performance

The Sonata N Line comes with a big bump in power over the 1.6-liter turbo engine's 180 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque or the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter's 191 hp and 181 lb-ft. The N Line takes the best of both worlds by adding a turbocharger to the 2.5-liter engine and a new cylinder head and internal components. The result is 290 hp and an even more impressive 311 lb-ft of twist. All of this is directed to the front axle where a set of 245/40 R19 tires help put the power to the tarmac. The eight-speed DCT transmission is explicitly developed for N division cars to be lightweight and reliable and features rev-matching technology and launch control.

Fuel economy takes a hit due to the extra performance, dropping from the 28/38/32 city/highway/combined of the most efficient trim to 23/33/27 for the N Line model.

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Driving Impressions: A Bit Of An Animal

The standard Hyundai Sonata is a car that impresses with its quality, technology, comfort, and price. It's a remarkably refined and sophisticated car in a budget orientated segment. The same is true of the N Line version, at least we thought so as we cruised through West Hollywood traffic. However, realizing we were in the wrong lane for a turn coming up and having to get around some traffic, we poked the throttle and discovered the N Line's wilder side. The transmission is quick to drop a gear, and the engine - piling all its drive to the front axle - eager to remind the driver what torque steer is. The DCT grabs the next gear with a fast, smooth shift, and the engine winds up again, this time with more zest than drama.

The aggressive Sport modes sharpen things up once you get out of traffic. The engine's power band is non-linear, with the bulk of the shove arriving between 3,000 and 5,000 rpm, and the sudden rush into boost, both off the line and after gear changes, makes the Sonata N Line feel even faster than it is. When hammering through the gears, the gearbox responds immediately to inputs via the steering wheel paddles. Still, the automatic setting chooses gears so well that the paddles will be ornamental for anyone but the most enthusiastic drivers.

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Unlike many semi-performance alternatives, the N Line doesn't have its suspension tuned too stiff and, in traffic and on the freeway, the N Line retains a large portion of the Sonata's ride quality. It's firm but not jarring and isn't harsh on the choppy surfaces roads California habitually delivers.

Getting into the twisty canyon roads and stretching the engine's legs, the chassis stays flat, and the car is remarkably direct and controllable. The Sonata in N Line trim turns from a comfortable, practical sedan into one that stirs memories of hot hatches from days gone in a blink of an eye. There's no limited-slip diff, though, so corner-carving is an entertaining affair. There's plenty of grip, but understeer is inevitable when the grip eventually starts to run out. However, it's easily controlled and not at all unpredictable. On long sweeping bends, the Sonata N Line remains planted at higher cruising speeds and wholly composed, while leaning into the brakes brings a quick initial bite that turns into a hard but smooth deceleration.

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Interior: A Sonata With Sporty Seats

Inside the Sonata, there's only one drastic change, and that's unique N Dynamica leather seats. They're well designed to be firm but not too harsh and the bolstering that keeps you in place when testing the limits of grip without squeezing your kidneys or making ingress and egress a chore. We're already fans of the Sonata's interior for being spacious and logically laid out: it's contemporary, detailed, and more premium level than pricing suggests, but the N Line adds dark chrome trim and red contrast stitching to the steering wheel along with the new seats to give it a subtle edge.

The N Line model has a solid list of standard features that include wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, Hyundai's excellent Digital Key technology, blind-spot assistance, rear cross-traffic avoidance, and Blue Link connected car services. It also comes with the higher-spec 10.25-inch infotainment screen as standard along with Sirius XM satellite radio, HD Radio, on-board navigation, and a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system.

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Verdict: Smart And Comfortable With A Dose Of Ferocity

In performance terms, the Sonata N Line is quick and aggressive when pushed and confidence-inspiring in its sure-footedness. The engine is excellent, but the real highlight is Hyundai's eight-speed N-specific dual-clutch transmission. Around town, it's smooth and confident and always in the right gear. When pushing the Sonata hard, it's smooth and confident and always in the right gear, but its quick changes also bring the best out of the engine.

As a package blending the Sonata's style, comfort, technology, and pragmatism with a smooth drivetrain that becomes ferocious when provoked, Hyundai's N division has created a Jekyll and Hyde-style car that pleases as a daily driver and brings fun and thrills when let off the chain. As the second such N Line car in the N division salvo fired into the industry, it gives us high hopes for what's to come.

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Price & Trims: A Performance Bargain

At $33,200, plus a $995 destination fee, the Sonata N Line delivers a genuine performance bargain packed with standard features. That package arrives on all-season performance tires, but the price rises an extra $200 if you option a set of Continental summer tires. In comparison, the base Sonata is priced at $23,600 and tops out at $33,500 for the top non-hybrid model. Compared to the competition, the 301-hp Toyota Camry TRD is a little cheaper at $32,185 but doesn't pack the Sonata N Line's torque punch and doesn't carry as many luxury based features as standard.

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