Most people probably don't look at the Hyundai Sonata and immediately think “sports sedan.” The four-door doesn't really have a history of being all that dynamic, after all. But given the brand's most recent performance sweetheart, the Veloster N, there's no reason that the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line shouldn't be good as well. And it is indeed very good.
The Sonata N Line packs a punchy turbocharged engine, improved style, and steering and suspension that draw comparisons to the Veloster N. This isn't a full-blown “N” model – think M Sport instead of M – but this Sonata is still sporty and dynamic when you want it to be, as well as easygoing and nice to drive the rest of the time.
Jeff Perez, Senior Editor
Favorite Thing: Great Driving Dynamics
Least Favorite Thing: Front-Wheel Drive Only
My expectations for the $33,200 Sonata N Line were relatively low. Having driven the hybrid model just a few weeks prior, the bland sedan did little to convince me that a new engine and an upgraded suspension would make the Sonata more alluring. But boy was I wrong – the Sonata N Line is a superb little sports sedan.
Powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 290 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque, routed to the front wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, the Sonata N Line is punchy and quick. Off the line that engine delivers power with an immediate shove, propelling the Sonata to 60 miles per hour in a solid 5.3 seconds.
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Fling it into a corner and the Sonata N Line is unbelievably well-balanced, displaying almost no body roll and perfect weight distribution, with steering feel that's absolutely sublime. There are certainly comparisons between the Sonata N Line and Veloster N in this respect. Tick the drive mode selector to Normal, and the Sonata drives like a Sonata; it's comfortable and calm like any family sedan should be.
One of the only problems I have with the Sonata N Line is the fact that there is no all-wheel-drive option. That's not uncommon for the class – both the Honda Accord Sport and Toyota Camry TRD are front-drive only – but the Sonata squeals its tires pretty aggressively when you punch it, even with the $495 summer tires on our tester. A limited-slip differential and/or all-wheel drive might help. Otherwise, this car is pretty much perfect.
Brett Evans, Senior Editor
Favorite Thing: Dual-Purpose Nature
Least Favorite Thing: Needs A Limited-Slip Diff
The Hyundai Sonata N Line is the ultimate Q-ship in that original sense – a normal passenger hauler hiding some impressive artillery within its unassuming hull. Sure, the fast Hyundai sedan has a few tells, like its gilled front bumper, throwing-star 19-inch wheels, and subtle N Line badges on the front fenders. Still, pull up to the stoplight in one of these and you’ll almost assuredly surprise the sports car in the other lane with its snappy 0-60 numbers.
The Sonata doesn’t just do well in a straight line, either. Engineers tuned its chassis dynamics under the tutelage of Albert Biermann, former boss of BMW’s high-performance M division. The Sonata N Line hustles around a corner appropriately, with a ride-and-handling balance that recalls the sterling E90-generation BMW 3 Series. Big midcorner bumps, the likes of which would upset a Toyota 86, are no problem for the Sonata, soaking up the harshness without losing poise. Steering is likewise nearly perfect, allowing the driver to hit the apex with ready-aim-fire immediacy.
Once you’re done embarrassing Audi A4s, Subaru BRZs, and old Porsche Boxsters, the Hyundai Sonata N Line becomes a total pussycat, thanks to a smooth freeway ride, supportive front bucket seats, and plenty of trunk space. And South Korea’s finest front-drive sedan delivers a solid 28 miles per gallon combined, nothing to sneeze at given the turbo engine’s smooth and swift torque output. Luxury-wise, the sassy Sonata is also very well-equipped, though ventilated seats and a surround-view camera would be welcome additions, even as options.
The only real issue I take with the Sonata is its power delivery around tight corners. On broad sweepers, the N Line is all but perfect, with excellent balance and more than enough grip for a full-throttle exit. But when the bends get tighter, the Sonata loves to light up its inside front tire like a Zippo, converting power to smoke instead of speed. My buddy Jeff says that all-wheel drive would do wonders – and he’s right – but even a mechanical limited-slip differential up front would solve the problem almost entirely. If Hyundai adds that to its sport sedan, it will be perfect.
Gallery: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N-Line: Driving Notes
2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line