First Drive Review: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line is a pointed pistol, but for whom?
The 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line is a car that marries functionality with precision steering and a punch of power. But (and this is a big but) who is it for?
The Sonata was redesigned for the 2020 model year and this fresh edition is a sporty take on the midsize sedan. It's nearly the exact same size as the Audi S6, but doesn't have the prestige, power, or heritage that Audi models do. That's fine. In fact, it's more than fine. That means that it also doesn't have the premium price tag (think: two Sonata N Lines for the price of an Audi S6).
The looks of the car have remained relatively the same, except for some accents and different wheels.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America
On the outside the Sonata N Line features gloss black accents and N Line badging. It's an appealing amount of black that neither overwhelms the car nor screams "Hey you guys! I drive a sporty sedan for all the attention! Have you seen the size of my watch?"
The car's turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine produces 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. Its powertrain is completed with a new N eight-speed wet dual-clutch transmission while paddle shifters take their place on the wheel. The powertrain suitably creeps through traffic and doesn't overwhelm the driver with power in the first third of the gears. But put your foot down and whoo boy you're off the races. It's a bit like being shot out of a cannon, though reasonably easy to control. Just learn to expect it (and maybe not try it in heavy-ish traffic).
The paddle shifters deliver some amount of control over the shift points but there's little in the way of satisfaction when it comes to using them because the power delivery in the Sonata is just so darn smooth.
Gloss black accents mark the car as an N Line model.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America
Whether going fast or slow, the revised suspension of the Sonata ensures a stiff ride. Over less than smooth pavement, the Sonata N Line's tuning isn't ideal, but once the asphalt rolls out ahead of you like soft butter on a hot roll, the ride becomes enjoyable.
Steering is pointed and precise. This generation Sonata has always been easy to steer and continually delivers a connected drive experience. That doesn't change with this 2021 model, which makes carving corners easy, whether it's up and down the canyons of Malibu, California or the winding traffic light-filled narrows of neighboring Sunset Drive through Bel-Air and beyond. The stiff suspension also ensures that you're not shifting from side to side too much as you traverse the roads.
Hyundai has also sported-up the Sonata N Line's interior. It has Nappa leather bolsters and Dinamica suede inserts, and a leather-wrapped N sport steering wheel. There's also a 12.3-inch LCD cluster display, wireless device charging, Hyundai Digital Key, aluminum pedals, a second-row air vent, proximity key with push-button start and a hands-free trunk release, LED interior lighting, and an auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink. That's a good roster of features that fit to Hyundai's clean cabin design and modern layout.
The interior is also relatively unchanged, but there are typical sporty change to the upholstery and finishes.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America
And while that's all well and good, it does make one wonder, who exactly is going to buy the Sonata N Line. Are there people out there cruising around in a Sonata with the 191-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine saying to themselves, "if only this thing was more of a rocket"?
Sure, there may be. And perhaps the Sonata N Line is a way of getting them to move to the new model rather than switching over to the Kia Stinger. That being said, the Stinger isn't all that popular with buyers - just over 10,000 have been sold this year. But, the Sonata N Line tops the similarly-priced Stinger when it comes to power, handling, and features.
Look, I get it. The Sonata N Line gives buyers another reason to stay with Hyundai rather than go somewhere else when they're looking for a sporty sedan. I'm just saying that, despite its good natured performance, it wouldn't be my first option in the Sonata family.