Hyundai did a fine job of giving the Sonata sedan a makeover for 2020, with a look that was distinctive and a package that offered plenty of reasons for a midsize sedan buyer not to migrate to an SUV.
Now, the South Korean carmaker has upped its game with the launch of the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line. The “N” designation refers to both the Namyang proving grounds near the company’s Seoul headquarters, as well as the Nurburgring, the legendary German race track where much of the tuning on Hyundai’s new performance models takes places.
There are two supposedly distinct “N” versions. Models like the Kona N Line and Elantra N Line put an emphasis on sporty looks. The Elantra N, on the other hand, gives a big boost in power on top of its appearance package. Curiously, the Sonata N Line delivers both looks and power and that positions it as a real threat to the likes of the Toyota Camry TRD, Mazda6 and Honda Accord 2.0T.
Hyundai likely could have gotten away with simply beefing up the appearance of the new Sonata N Line. That starts with a menacing, blacked-out grille. But the automaker went on and upgraded virtually everything that might matter to a performance driver.
There’s the 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-4 that smacks you with 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. The suspension has been tightened, the steering made much more crisp and precise. There’s minimal body roll and an unexpected nimbleness in tight corners,
To that, of course, you can add all the other features that helped the Hyundai Sonata post a solid increase in sales in March despite the supposedly inevitable death of sedans in today’s SUV-centric world.
With the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, you’ll readily recognize the exterior styling of the rest of the sedan’s various trims, including the lower and wider grille introduced on the latest Sonata generation — though here, the upper and lower grilles are finished all in black. There are three front air intakes and the distinctive LED light strips that run up the hood.
The N Line gets deeper side skirts, along with 19-inch, 20-spoke alloy wheels to help give the Sonata variant a more aggressive stance. Those big tires barely conceal the Sonata N Line’s larger brakes, with 13.6-inch rotors up front, 12.8 inches in the rear
Around back, there’s a black lower bumper, quad exhaust pipes and the unique N Line rear diffuser. The package is completed by gloss black mirror caps.
Like the mainstream version of the 2021 Hyundai Sonata, the N Line has a nice, high-tech flair. All versions get a revised take on the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster emphasizing performance. There’s also a 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, a panoramic sunroof and a Bose premium audio system. You’ll also get wireless charging for smartphones and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Inside, revisions include dark chrome trim, and sport seats with signature N Line red stitching. The steering wheel maintains the stock Sonata’s 4-spoke design – but adds stitched leather wrapping and an N Line badge. The pedals are aluminum and there’s a wrapped and stitched shifter, as well.
There’s plenty of storage on the doors, center console and trunk, and lots of legroom, front and back. There are also a number of surprise-and-delight features, such as the cutout between the two cupholders on the center console. It’s specifically designed to hold a smartphone — and that includes my own iPhone 12 Pro Max, even with its case.
The N Line offers the most powerful engine package ever for the Sonata, the 2.5-liter turbo punching out 290 hp and 311 lb-ft. It’s paired with an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission that deliver crisp and generally imperceptible shifts.
Pointing straight you’ll hit 60 in the very low 5-second range, based on our own experience and checking out what colleagues have been clocking. That will let you leave all three key competitors, the Accord 2.0T, Camry TRD and Mazda6, behind in the dust. The N Line’s top speed is north of 150 mph.
A driver has the choice of Normal, Sport, Sport+ and Custom modes which adjust throttle and shift responsiveness, as well as steering feel. The passive damping system remains the same in all modes.
While the Sonata does get a big bump in power and some of the other pluses found in true Hyundai N models, it doesn’t go all the way, as the automaker did with the new Elantra N. Most notably, its cooling system hasn’t been upgraded to that great an extent. You can run the Elantra N pretty much all day on a track without straining the powertrain — or brakes, for that matter. Not the Sonata N Line.
Fuel economy is 23 mpg city, 33 highway and 27 combined.
Safety and Technology
There are relatively few options on the N Line, especially when compared with the mainstream 2021 Hyundai Sonata. That translates into plenty of high-tech features, including the twinned digital gauge cluster and infotainment displays. Navigation is built-in but you can opt to use the mapping system in your smartphone using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
The sedan has a proximity key and push-button starter but it also offers Hyundai’s phone-as-key technology which means you can leave the keyfob at home and rely on a smartphone app, instead.
From a safety standpoint, the Sonata has one of the more expansive package of digital assist technologies, with features like forward collision assist standard and others, such as Smart Cruise with stop-and-go available as options.
The sedan also features the Hyundai Drive Assist system which relies on active cruise control and vision technology to both center you in your lane and maintain a safe distance from traffic ahead. It also will bring you to a complete stop in traffic and start you back up again.
For now, the Smart Park system offered on some Hyundai models isn’t available — though the plan is to add it in the not-too-distant future.
With the 2021 Sonata N Line, torque comes on quickly, with virtually no sense of turbo lag. One has to remember that power goes to the front wheels, however, just like any other Hyundai Sonata.So, you’ll notice a slight bit of torque steer during a hard launch, especially if you’re starting off from a light with the tires angled for a turn. It’s easily controllable and doesn’t diminish the kick you get from slamming the aluminum throttle pedal to the floor.
Thanks to firmer damping, thicker anti-roll bars and stiff new powertrain mounts, the 2021 Sonata N-Line really shows off well in corners. It’s confident and predictable, with credit also going to the Pirelli P Zero All Season tires that come standard. To push things further, you have the option of Continental Premium Contact 6 summer tires.
The reality is that this is still a 3500-pound midsize sedan and it’s likely to serve as either a commuter car or family hauler most of the time. Despite the stiffer suspension the Sonata N Line retains a surprising level of driver comfort, something I came to really appreciate jouncing down winter-rutted Michigan roadways.
At $34,195, the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line gives you a lot for the money, especially when compared with its key import competitors. There are some other, sportier options — including sibling brand Kia’s 255-hp Stinger. (The 365 hp Stinger GT is another option, but pushes the starting price up to $39,590 before delivery fees.)
The Sonata N Line is plenty of fun to drive, is about the most attractive model in its segment, and offers lots of useful features, even if you’re not one who’ll be pushing the performance envelope all the time.
The Sonata has continued to gain traction since last year’s redesign, despite the rising tide of SUVs. I expect to see the new N Line model will only build the sedan even more momentum.