2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line: More Performance, Still No AWD

Strong points
  • Punchy engine with lots of torque
  • Generous content
  • Sharp steering
  • Good ride and handling
Weak points
  • No AWD
  • No limited-slip differential
  • Driver’s seat is not low enough
  • Engine sound lacks excitement
Full report

Hyundai is trying to make a statement these days. Performance will be a big focus going forward, with sporty N Line models cranking things up a notch and full-blown N models raising the bar to the highest level. 

The first in the series was introduced a couple of years ago in the form of the 275-horsepower Veloster N. The next-generation Elantra is getting the N Line treatment, plus an N variant a bit further down the line. Not to be outdone, the midsize Sonata is now offering an N Line model, too.

It’s been said time and time again, but Hyundai made a smart move by hiring former BMW M boss Albert Biermann to head its R&D division. He’s largely responsible for making the Veloster N a surprisingly solid contender in the hot hatch segment. While the Sonata N Line is not as extreme as a Sonata N would be, it still has plenty of potential and appeal, starting with generous content and strong value at $37,999. 

Proven Recipe

When it comes to styling, the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line stands out with a black grille, lower body extensions and mirror caps, unique 19-inch alloy wheels and dual twin exhausts—typical stuff that automakers add when creating sportier versions of their sedans. Inside, there are aluminum pedals and Nappa leather seats with suede inserts.

And that’s where we found the first problem with this car: the hip point on the driver’s seat is just not low enough. Even with the seat set to the lowest position, you’re not really close to the ground, which takes away a lot of feedback from the chassis.

Photo: Patrice Marchessault

Other than that, the N Line cockpit carries over the 10.3-inch colour touchscreen and gear selector from the conventional Sonata. Heated seats and steering wheel are included as standard along with a head-up display and many advanced driver assistance features, which is nice.

Punchy Engine

Borrowed from the Genesis G80 sedan and GV80 SUV, the turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine in the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line delivers a healthy 290 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 311 pound-feet of torque across a wide rev range (1,650-4,000 rpm).

Photo: Patrice Marchessault

Power is sent to the front wheels only through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. While the engine isn’t very expressive, it shoots the Sonata N Line from 0-100 km/h in less than six seconds. And with all that low-end torque, passing manoeuvres are always quick and effortless.

There are several drive modes to choose from, and as we found out Sport Plus completely turns off stability control which sometimes causes the inside wheel to slip when trying to accelerate quickly after a corner, with some understeer past the apex. To avoid that, you need to select Sport mode, which maintains stability control on.

Photo: Patrice Marchessault

After driving the Sonata N-Line for a little while, it became clear to us that this car would be better off having a limited-slip differential or all-wheel drive system to improve stability.

That being said, we enjoyed the overall combination of ride and handling. The Sonata N-Line is a fairly playful performer, with monotube shocks that manage to stick to the road without making you feel all the imperfections. It’s much more aggressive than a regular Sonata, though not a pure sports sedan. As mentioned earlier, N Line models are not the same as N variants. Hopefully we’ll get a Sonata N at some point in time.

Verdict

Ultimately, the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line is a beautiful expansion of the Sonata family, catering to sporty driving enthusiasts with a number of dynamic attributes and impressive value. The only things we would add are a lower driver’s seat and either a limited-slip differential or all-wheel drive system.

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