Sonata N Line perks up performance, but remains high value …
Performance comes at a price, always has, always will.
Sometimes the price is simply a higher cost, sometimes it’s a gas-hog engine, sometimes it’s a brutal ride.
Hyundai is known for value so when it introduced its performance N, or now N Line, models a couple years back it wasn’t going to go upscale with pricing. That’s the good news.
Equally happy news is that the South Korean automaker also has the good engineering sense to deliver decent gas mileage with its high-horse turbocharged engines, now offered in the tested Sonata N Line mid-size sedan, Elantra compact sedan, Tucson compact crossover and Kona small crossover. Its Veloster sports coupe even touts a 275-horse turbo in an N model.
But, or maybe that should be Butt, the Sonata N Line’s ride is tough on the tushie. Hyundai, in its effort to create a low-cost high-performance sports sedan firmed up the shock dampers, the engine mounts and added thicker anti-roll bars. Couple that with the tested N Line’s summer 19-inch Continental 245/40 R19 YXL tires ($200 extra) and my tailbone is aching like a guy’s bum that has ridden a horse too far for the first time.
Other than that I enjoyed the N Line playtime.
Hyundai’s Sonata should be familiar to readers as I’ve reviewed both the Limited and Hybrid models since the new model debuted for 2020. It’s a fine mid-size sedan, economical in price, striking in design, and strong on performance yet normally offers a comfy ride. The hybrid model even ups the ante with fantastic fuel economy and a solar roof panel that boosts its electrical charge for added mileage.
Watch Mark’s video: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line by Mark Savage
Well, the N Line still looks great, packs the value, but adds a kick in the butt (there I go again) with a 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 that spits out an amazing 290 horsepower. That’s 99 more than its standard Sonata. Torque is rated at a whopping 311 pound-feet and will blast the sedan to highway speeds and beyond nearly as quickly as some luxo-sport sedans that also sport much higher price tags.
Car and Driver magazine has tested an N Line Sonata that hit a top speed of 155 mph while doing 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 5.0 seconds. So this Sonata is capable to be sure.
Helping that is Hyundai’s four drive modes – Normal, Custom, Sport, and Sport+. You can guess which are the most fun.
Both Sport modes kick the fine 8-speed dual-clutch automatic into more aggressive shift patterns to use all that pony power. Sport also firms the wheel to a comfortable level, while Sport+ makes it so heavy that most folks will find it annoying. There’s a fake heaviness to it too, but in either mode the car handles like it’s meant for the track. Of course it’s not, but still powering through aggressive turns is fun and those summer tires grip like gum to the sole of a shoe.
Of course that firm suspension is both great for handling, yet depressing for the derriere. Rolling along a fairly smooth highway the car’s taut feeling can be appreciated, but navigate onto our crater-filled city streets with crumbling edges, massive expansion joints, and general winter-induced degradation and, well, you’ll wish you were aboard the Limited or Hybrid versions with their much smoother rides.
Now if you’re into appearances and sporty ones in particular, the N Line’s exterior and interior will satisfy.
Outside there’s a blackened grille, quad exhausts, specific racy ground-effects style fascia front and rear with a slight bit of black cladding below the rocker panels. The trunk lid flips up a bit like a spoiler too and the side mirrors are encased in gloss black trim.
Inside the Sonata N Line boasts sport seats with improved side bolster support, something I’d found lacking in earlier Sonatas. These are clad in Nappa dark gray leather and a simulated suede with red stitching, and also feature the N Line logo. Plus there’s a sport wheel, although I wish it were flat-bottomed to enhance the racy looks, which include metal-clad pedals.
Otherwise the dash continues to be well laid out and attractive. It’s black with red stitching like the seats and door panels while all trim is a smoked chrome. Sexy! The console is black gloss surrounding the push-button tranny and drive mode toggle while trim next to that is a sort of smoky metallic tweed pattern.
And with the change in drive modes the digital instrument panel changes its look, the red dials for Sport and Sport+ being pretty snazzy garnering a nod from my 12-year-old grandson.
Seats, in addition to being well shaped and supportive are heated. While overhead is a panoramic sunroof and shade, new in all models from the SEL Plus trim on up.
There’s also a dual climate control system, wireless phone charger and inside trunk release. For audiophiles, a Bose 12-speaker stereo system is standard, with 9-inch subwoofer.
All the electronic safety features you’d expect to find are standard too, including blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, lane follow and keeping (which can be turned off), safe exit warning, LED running lights, and forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian recognition. Smart cruise control is standard too.
Add to that a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and good gas mileage. The EPA rates this Sonata at 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, this in a car with 290 turboed horses. I got 25.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway miles, sometime with a passenger or two. By comparison, I managed 32 mpg with the 1.6-liter turbo I4 in the Limited model and roughly 45 mpg in the impressive hybrid in earlier tests.
For the record, this 290-horse engine is the same as used in Hyundai’s upscale Genesis brand’s luxurious G80 sedan, but at a more affordable price.
How so? This N Line lists at $34,195 including delivery and with a couple options ended up at $34,564, well below an average new car price these days. That’s high-value high performance.
Finally two other points, one being that an annoyance found in other Sonata models has been eliminated. That was the dash chiming and saying “Check Rear Seat” every time the ignition was turned off. That’s fixed, so bravo.
Plus Sonata is not theft prone. You may have heard that older model Hyundai and Kia (they are related) models have had theft problems due to security system failures and a steering column that was easy to jimmy to start, even without a fob. Well, all Hyundai models with push-button start (like this one) do not have these problems and all Hyundais made after September 2021 will include engine immobilizers to prevent theft.
FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line
Hits: Good looking sport sedan, oodles of power, sporty handling, sharp interior. Full range of safety features, big info screen, heated seats, 4 power modes, Bose stereo, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, strong warranty.
Misses: Very firm ride, could use flat-bottom sport wheel, theft security remains questionable.
Made in: Montgomery, Ala.
Engine: 2.5-liter, turbo I4, 290 hp
Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch, automatic
Weight: 3,552 lbs.
Wheelbase: 111.8 in.
Length: 192.9 in.
Cargo: 16.0 cu.ft.
MPG: 25.1 (tested)
Base Price: $34,195 (includes delivery)
R19 summer tire upgrade, $200
Carpeted floor mats, $169
Test vehicle: $34,564
Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage