Road Tests: 2021 Sonata N Line; 2021 Elantra N Line +VIDEO
By Larry Nutson
Executive Editor and Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel
Hyundai's first U.S. market N model leveraged the outstanding, new-for-2019 Veloster platform, showcasing an even higher level of performance appealing to the most discerning of automotive enthusiasts.
Hyundai's high performance N line-up was developed to make the driver's heart beat faster whenever they're behind the wheel. Instead of focusing on outright performance numbers, Hyundai chose to emphasize the N driver's heartbeats per minute (BPM), rather than revs per minute (RPM). With fun-to-drive character as a top priority, Hyundai’s N and N Line vehicles are developed to deliver thrilling cornering ability coupled with everyday sports car drivability and race track capability.
The N-brand’s name represents Namyang, Korea, home of Hyundai’s engineering center, as well as Germany’s Nürburgring race course and testing center where the vehicle dynamics were fine-tuned. As an aside, the stylized letter “N” also represents a chicane.
The Veloster N was the first in a series of new vehicles coming from Hyundai’s N-brand under the direction of Albert Biermann, president and head of Performance Development and High Performance Vehicle Division. Biermann is the former head of BMW’s M division.
Hyundai very recently announced it will bring to market a total of seven new N and N Line models in sports, sedan and SUV segments through the 2022 calendar year. This is about increasing purchase consideration and attracting younger buyers to the Hyundai brand.
Over a year ago I drove the Veloster N both on the road and on a track. Very recently I drove both the new Sonata N Line as well as the new Elantra N Line. Both of these new cars have thrilling dynamics combined with compelling affordability. Exterior, interior and mechanical differentiation elevate both above the more mainstream Sonata and Elantra models.
“We’re confident that enthusiasts will relish the agility and performance of our new N Line models”, said Olabisi Boyle, vice president, Product Planning and Mobility Strategy, Hyundai Motor North America at a recent auto media program.
As to the 2021 Sonata N Line, it has a unique front fascia and grille that provides for improved cooling. Wider side sills and unique 19-inch wheels dress the side profile. A unique rear fascia and diffuser with four exhaust outlets finish off the exterior.
The cockpit features a thicker rim steering with more pronounced thumb rests and leather and suede heavier bolstered seats with red stitching and an embossed N in the seatbacks.
A 290-hp turbo 2.5-L mated to an 8-speed wet dual clutch transmission (DCT) provides the go power. Chassis upgrades include a quick-ratio rack-mounted motor-driven power steering system, larger 13.6-inch front and 12.8-inch rear brakes, stiffer engine and transmission mounts, revised stiffness of springs and stabilizer bars as well as shock calibration.
The 19-inch wheels are fitted with 245/40 all-season or summer tires making the connection to the pavement. Active exhaust and launch control provide more fun.
The Sonata N Line is priced at $33,200.
Similarly, the Elantra N Line features a unique grille design, unique front fascia, black side sill moldings, unique rear fascia with diffuser, lip-spoiler and twin exhaust.
The cockpit gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel, sport seats with leather bolsters and N logos, red stitching accents, and a unique analog gauge cluster.
Elantra N Line is powered by 201-hp turbo 1.6-liter engine with six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT). The DCT has a Shiftronic manual shift mode using steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
Chassis upgrades include multi-link independent rear suspension, larger 12-inch front brakes, stiffer engine and transmission mounts, revised stiffness of springs and stabilizer bars, and shock calibration. The 18-inch wheels are fitted with 235/40 all-season tires.
The Elantra N Line is priced at $24,100.
I drove both the DCT equipped Sonata N Line and a six-speed manual Elantra N Line back-to-back on the same day. The Hyundai team had us carving down and up the canyons of the coastal Santa Monica Mountains. Combined with some local roads and freeways we had some of the best roads at our disposal to explore and experience these two very capable N Line entries.
In both cars the turbo power comes on early and gets stronger as the engine revs quickly providing plenty of response over all speed ranges. The chassis dynamics delivery confident handling while also providing a quiet and comfortable ride. Brakes are firm, especially noticed entering a couple switchbacks a bit quickly. There’s plenty of grip when pushed to the limits. I’m a DCT fan and use the manual mode with shift paddles a lot. The 6-speed manual on the Elantra is easy to shift, nicely gated with good clutch take-up. Both models are very entertaining and very tractable.
On the way, but not quite here yet, Hyundai will be bringing an Elantra N powered by a 276-hp 2.0-L turbo. Both a 6-speed manual and an 8-speed Wet DCT will be available. A limited slip differential, 13.6” front and 12.4” rear brake rotors, an electronically controlled suspension, and variable valve exhaust with large bore outlets will round out the Elantra N. I had a brief stint behind the wheel and for sure there is plenty of go-power. The Elantra N will certainly bring many beats per minute.
The new definition of performance isn't what a car can do, but what it will do on a good road. Visit www.hyundaiusa.com for more info.
This report comes from an invitation-only Hyundai launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Hyundai provided my overnight accommodations, meals, and transportation.
© 2020 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy