2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line Review by David Colman +VIDEO
It's a knockout!
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Why is Hyundai currently building the world's most desirable, affordable, best looking, fun cars to drive? You can track the corporate rebirth to a couple of key hires the Korean company made about five years ago. To improve the appearance and functionality of their vehicles, they hired stylist Luc Donkerwolke away from his post as VW Group Designer. They followed this coup by poaching Albert Biermann from BMW, where he served as VP of Engineering at BMW M. Donkerwolke transferred the unmistakable design language he developed at VW (for Audi, Lamborghini, and Bentley) to his new projects at Hyundai. Likewise, Biermann relied on his BMW M group technical expertise to improve vehicles from Hyundai, Kia and Genesis. When you combine their expertise with Hyundai's commitment to building affordable products, you have the makings of an automotive revolution. Nothing exemplifies the company's leap from sensible to stellar better than the new-for-2021 N Line version of the Sonata sedan.
This is inarguably a great looking car. From any viewing angle, the N Line transformation improves on the already handsome Sonata. The list of visual improvements is short but effective. Black keynotes the N Line's understated good looks. The expansive front grill seems less obtrusive in piano black, as do the side mirrors mounted on black A pillars. N Line specific front and rear fascia panels distinguish this Hyundai from other Sonatas. Polygonal dual exhaust outlets are cleanly integrated into the lower rear diffuser panel. The exterior makeover is completed with a set of N Line 19 inch honeycomb alloy rims which mount more rubber (245/40R19 Continental Premium Contact 6) than any other Sonata. The special treatment continues when you swing open the driver's door. The aluminum pedal cluster immediately catches your eye, along with the leather wrapped steering wheel with an "N" designation branded on its face. The special motif continues with Dinamica Suede front sport seats fitted with racing grade leather side bolsters. Red stitching and piping makes the seats pop visually, along with subtly embossed "N" designations on the headrests.
But thanks to input from former BMW M expert Albert Biermann, the N Line Sonata is no gutless showboat. Rather, it signifies the latest thinking from the man who made M synonymous with speed at BMW. To convert the Sonata from a pussycat to a tiger, Hyundai has gone the full sports sedan route with this model. Hyundai engineers followed the BMW M plan to the Nth degree here, stiffening essential suspension components in order to emulate the sport sedan formula pioneered in Germany. The increased spring rates, antiroll bar diameters and revamped shock valving make this Sonata much more driver responsive. The endeavor even extended to firming up the powertrain mounts and relocating the power steering assist motor from the steering column to the steering rack for more immediate feedback and precision.
Best of all, Hyundai fitted a much improved engine and drivetrain to the Sonata shell. Replacing the adequate but lackluster 1.6 liter (180hp) and 2.5 liter (191hp) inline four cylinder Sonata motors, the N Line's powerplant features a new turbocharged version of the 2.5 liter four that jumps output from 191 to 290hp. Torque soars commensurately, to 311lb.-ft. This screamer of an engine drives the front wheels through a very special dual wet clutch 8-speed transmission developed specifically for this application. Unlike most dual clutch gearboxes which swap ratios jerkily, the wet clutch Hyundai unit stays cooler than a conventional twin clutch, and shifts so smoothly it feels like a torque converter automatic.
The Sonata N is capable of ripping off 0-60mph runs in 5.3 seconds and cranking out quarter mile runs in 13.9 seconds. If you're thinking about buying a new Mustang or Camaro or even a BMW M car, you'll want to give this stealth offering from Hyundai a good look, because it's a direct competitor to those storied competitors.
What's really shocking about Hyundai's foray into performance territory previously exclusive to certain brands is the price of admission to this very special Sonata. Hyundai just announced that the base price of the N Line sedan is $34,195. That amount won't even buy you decently optioned turbo 4 cylinder versions of the Camaro or Mustang, let alone any version of a BMW M car. From design philosophy to engineering application Hyundai has got high performance knocked - at a knock-out price.
2021 HYUNDAI SONATA N LINE
ENGINE: 2.5 liter inline 4, turbocharged with GDI
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 23MPG City/33MPG Highway
BASE PRICE: $34,195
HYPES: Stealth Looks, Explosive Motor, Family Sedan Attributes
GRIPES: Gear Selector Pad Requires Familiarity
STAR RATING: 10 Stars out of 10