The Australian launch of the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line provides us with a compelling pause for thought. There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago either, where hot sedans were an aspirational part of the motoring world, certainly in Australia. And if you’d have been able to buy a hot sedan like the Sonata N Line for the asking price, there would have been a line out the door.
The proliferation of warmed and hot SUVs has changed that part of the game, and the result is hot sedans not being in the same demand they once might have been. That doesn’t mean that they don’t deliver a properly engaging driving experience, though, despite the sales figures.
I’ve seen the Sonata N Line referred to, in overseas publications and perhaps unkindly, as the brilliant sedan that no-one will buy. Or words to that effect. I’m not so sure that will be the case in Australia, though, where discerning buyers still look for a driving experience that ties them to the car and delivers across two key disciplines – daily driving practicality and weekend engagement.
One thing’s for sure, the team of engineers involved with anything wearing an N badge in the Hyundai stable has been delivering quality product that stacks up against the competition. The N division has been busy too – there’s been a steady stream of models getting the treatment since we first saw ‘N for Namyang’ break cover. Or is it ‘N for Nürburgring’? Whatever the link, it doesn’t matter – N-badged Hyundais are impressive vehicles.
You can read our pricing and specification guide for the full breakdown, but $50,990 before on-road costs for a practical sedan that’s as fast as it is useful means the Sonata N Line is cleverly positioned to appeal to buyers. It's a strong proposition in terms of performance, but among medium sedans the single-model Sonata looks expensive at first glance when compared to the low $30K stickers to get into a Camry or Octavia – albeit with nowhere near the performance potential.
|2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line|
|Engine||2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power and torque||213kW at 5800rpm, 422Nm at 1650–4000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined||8.1L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||NA|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty||Five years, unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Mazda 6, Toyota Camry, Skoda Octavia|
|Price (MSRP)||$50,990 before on-road costs|
The 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine punches out 213kW at 5800rpm and 422Nm between 1650–4000rpm thanks to 16 valves, double-overhead cams, a two-step variable induction system and direct injection. E10 capable, the Sonata N Line will also run on 91RON unleaded. The Sonata is the first Hyundai to feature this punchy new engine.
There’s a neatly sorted eight-speed DCT and front-wheel drive, along with a version of the well-sorted platform shared with cars like the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sorento, so the chance to sample the more tightly tweaked N Line variant is enticing. Hyundai claims 8.1L/100km on the combined cycle, and we’ll test that when we get the N Line in for a week. Our launch drive was a little too enthusiastic to get a fair fuel reading, let’s put it that way.
The standard equipment list is long, as is Hyundai’s want, but it’s the performance-focused additions that will most interest buyers. Nappa leather and suede sports seats, launch control, paddle shifters, rev-matching, four driving modes (Sport, Sport+, Custom, N Power Shift) and 19-inch alloy wheels with sticky Continental tyres are all standard. According to Hyundai ‘N Power Shift’ keeps the throttle pinned during upshifts under hard acceleration to push the occupants back into their seats for the sort of genuine track feeling you’d get from a fast manual. Interesting.
Practicality is most evident inside the cabin, where there’s Hyundai excellent 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite navigation, a 12.3-inch digital cluster for the driver, head-up display, wireless smartphone charging and a premium Bose audio system.
The general consensus seems to be that the exterior styling is sharp and attractive, but let us know what you think in the comments section below. For mine, Hyundai has nailed it with the way the Sonata looks on the road. Our launch drive took us out into the Central West, and I was stopped at four sets of lights and asked what it was I was driving, and when it would be on sale. So, it certainly grabs attention.
The sporty experience continues inside the cabin, where Hyundai has delivered exactly what the target buyer will want. It looks and feels sporty, but it’s also comfortable, spacious and well organised. The seats especially are a highlight. The Sonata has always felt a segment larger than it is when you’re behind the wheel, and that feeling continues with plenty of space in both the front and second row.
There’s absolutely no doubt that this platform is an excellent family road trip car. Second-row space continues into the boot, where you’ve got 510L on offer and the 60:40 split-fold rear seat means you can carry longer items easily as well.
Despite its inherent practicality, though, the proof of the Sonata N Line will be in the driving, and we’re expecting balance and engagement in equal measure. In short, it doesn’t disappoint. There’s a new eight-speed dual-clutch, which was developed in-house and is responsive, rapid and smooth. Even when you’re punting hard, the auto shifts crisply and smoothly. It’s one of the better DCTs we’ve tested. Crucially, the Sonata N Line feels fast, too, in seat-of-the-pants terms.
The engine punches hard right up to redline, but it’s the midrange that most delivers the full weight of the torque where the engine feels strong and effortless. We’ll test the 0–100 times when we get the N Line through the garage, but we’re expecting easy mid fives in the real world, and it feels that fast off the line as well.
For a front-wheel-drive car with this much power, the N Line is remarkably well sorted. As we’ve noted with powerful front drivers before, there is some torque steer and scrabbling if you really nail the throttle out of corners, especially on slippery surfaces. That said, though, you need to be driving pretty hard to make that happen, and most owners will be sedate enough around town, most of the time, for it not to be an issue.
You can get the front tyres spinning if you push really hard on a country road, but the quality of the standard Continental rubber means there is grip and assurance there unless you’re really acting the fool. The Sonata N Line isn’t at the point where it’s making too much for the chassis to manage, though, and that’s a good thing.
The thought that keeps coming to mind during my launch drive is how capable the Sonata N Line is. It’s capable of tooling around town. It’s capable of launching hard off the line. It’s capable of taking mum, dad and two kids with their luggage on a family holiday. And it’s capable of doing all that with efficiency and style. It’s also capable of being pedalled fast easily, and when you find a road that allows you to stretch its legs, the Sonata doesn’t even raise an eyebrow in protest.
The brakes and steering are both excellent too – big brakes effortlessly washing off speed as you approach corners, before you use the meaty steering to point the nose where you want it to go. Short of the shot in the arm that a full-noise N gives, the N Line is sharp enough to put a smile on your face and reward an enthusiastic drive.
We sound like a broken record writing it, but the way the local arm has injected its intelligence into the suspension tune is impressive and effective. The chassis is a quality execution to start with, but the way the Sonata can attack a windy country road has as much to do with the springs and dampers as it does the chassis.
Its tied-down, reassuring feel and response are matched by impressive bump absorption and comfort, even on rutted coarse-chip surfaces. We’d assess the ride quality as sporty, but not in such a way that it detracts from the long-haul ability of the Sonata. Sedans of this size used to make up the bulk of vehicles heading on road trips out of the city in Australia, and the Sonata N Line is well positioned to do just that.
The Sonata N Line is covered by Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. There’s also Hyundai’s full suite of active safety tech included as standard – autonomous emergency braking with junction, pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keep and lane-follow assist, safe exit assist, rear cross-traffic avoidance, six airbags, and rear ISOFIX child seat mounts among the highlights.
There's absolutely no doubt the Sonata N Line is a fantastic execution in a segment that doesn't get the attention it deserves. It's fast and capable, while delivering in terms of driver tech, infotainment and comfort. SUVs might be getting better all the time, but that doesn't mean engineers have been sitting on their hands when it comes to sedans. The Sonata N Line is an excellent driver's car, too, which is the sugar on top of the inherent practicality.