Hyundai Sonata N Line: The Affordable Sleeper Sedan You Want?
Hyundai now offers a quick four-door with the badge you recognize.
Slap an N badge on a Hyundai, and it typically means some fun times will be had behind the wheel. The Veloster N set the stage a few years ago, and continues to be a great hot hatch contender. Following that act, the Korean brand decided to expand the N offerings, with the Kona crossover getting the treatment later this year, and the Sonata getting the N love now.
Playing in a sporty sedan class that includes the Honda Accord Sport (if you want a sportier variant), Accord Touring (if you want more power and features), and the Toyota Camry TRD, the Sonata N Line might also get looks from buyers considering the Volkswagen GTI due to the VW's starting price. Getting to test all sorts of reasonably-priced fun cars, I wanted to see if the Sonata N Line was a quick sedan you might consider.
The Important Figures
Like its Veloster sibling, the Hyundai Sonata N Line gets a boosted 4-cylinder, but with a bigger 2.5-liter displacement Smartstream engine that pumps out 290 horsepower @ 5,800 RPM and 311 lb-ft (422 Nm) of torque from 1,650 - 4,000 RPM. Versus the competition, the Sonata N Line has an advantage over the Accord Sport's optional 2.0T that packs 252 horsepower, a lot more than the Accord Sport's standard 192-HP 1.5T, and has a slight disadvantage against the Camry's 301.
Hyundai only offers this quicker Sonata with an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission and front-wheel-drive, so manual fans might be disappointed. EPA fuel economy estimates are 23/33/27 (city/highway/combined), and I averaged 25 MPGs during my week-long test.
Hyundai gave the Sonata N Line a good stack of standard features, including Dinamica seating surfaces, a panoramic sunroof, 12-speaker Bose audio, and all sorts of safety systems, so your options sheet is limited to basic accessories. This particular Sonata N Line's MSRP is $34,674 after adding summer tires and carpet floor mats, which is only marginally more than the comparable Accord and Camry.
Do these really help with aero?
An Average Daily Driver
As midsized sedan looks go, the Hyundai Sonata N Line is pretty basic, and the overall packaging doesn't jump out as particularly attractive. Lines are definitely sharper than the Accord and Camry, but the Accord--which I reviewed earlier this year--has more appealing packaging.
For daily driving, the Sonata N Line is pretty underwhelming, minus the punchy engine, with steering that isn't too sharp, suspension feel that is a bit stiff, and brakes that aren't very steady. Cruising around the city in the Sonata feels pretty ordinary, which really let me down. After driving the Veloster N a while back, I had hoped the Sonata N Line would have been close to that level of fun yet livable.
Road noise is moderately high, which isn't great for a midsized sedan. The cabin does have good space, and the panoramic sunroof helps make the greenhouse feel more open. Back seat room is decent for adults, and the trunk is spacious, although it does lack any useful storage pockets or features.
Is It Sporty Enough?
The extra juice under the hood is immediately apparent when you stab the throttle, but the response is almost too jumpy, due to the torque peak plateauing from just barely over idle across the middle of the rev range and the first couple gear ratios being wildly short. While the Sonata N Line is equipped with quad exhaust pipes, the tone from them is downright plain. I had hoped there would be a burble from them, especially when selecting the sport drive mode, but that wasn't the case. Throttle response quickens and the suspension seems to tighten up when you toggle sport mode, but the modes didn't seem very differentiated.
You’d expect this Sonata to be quick and fun in the bends, because of the N badge, but it’s nothing like its fantastic Veloster sibling which shares that letter. In fact, it feels like a dressed up--and slightly faster--version of what you’d expect from an intermediate class upgrade at your local rental car spot.
The steering feel is artificial, with an over-boosted rack that has a weight that doesn't match at most speeds. Suspension damping is too firm, while not offering great agility. Some of the handling gripes can also be attributed to the $200 upgrade Continental Premium Contact 6 tires which aren't up to the level they need to be on a car that claims to be a sporty variant.
Sporty treatments to the Sonata N Line are subtle, but don't distinguish it much from a normal trim level. 19-inch wheels on the N Line are definitely sportier than the ordinary Sonata, which is a nice touch, but that's the only part that stands out when you inspect the N Line's exterior. Inside, the digital instrumentation goes from white faces to black ones with amber numbering, which is cool, and the aluminum pedals look the part.
Some Good Points
Equipping a car with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is pretty standard these days, but I like how Hyundai gives its infotainment a split screen setup in the Sonata N Line. The right third of the touchscreen can show your local weather, audio selection, or navigation, while keeping your mobile phone's apps running in the primary screen. The Bose audio system does have some good sound quality too.
I appreciate the sporty seat setup and design in the Sonata N Line, as opposed to the more tame ones in the Accord and Camry, to complete the performance-focused theme. Dinamica-wrapped seats have a cool look and feel to them, with contrasting red piping, but the padding is harder than it needs to be.
The List Of Complaints
Digital instrument clusters are quite common now, but the Sonata's screen has some pretty low resolution. I do give it some credit for completely changing the theme when you toggle different drive modes, but the main cluster and the infotainment screens have some bland UI designs and iconography. The design is especially bad on the infotainment screen, because the icons are all the same color and look, so you have to take your eyes off the road to change apps.
Compared to its upscale Genesis cousin, Hyundai is really cutting corners in the Sonata N Line when it comes to quality and fit and finish. The panels and dash have too much hard plastic, and the stitching work looks low-rent. A car that costs $34,000 shouldn't feel this cheap inside in the year 2021.
As manufacturers try to design distinct daytime running lights within the headlight housings, Hyundai decided to apply the Sonata N Line's light strip up for nearly two feet along the hood's crease lines on each side as they go up toward the cabin. It's a really strange look.
This Sporty Sedan Should Be Better
On paper, the Hyundai Sonata N Line should be good. A punchy engine inside a decent midsized sedan chassis, and some brand equity built by the great Veloster N hot hatch. Sadly the Sonata misses its marks all around, and not only doesn't feel like a fun four-door that received any real performance-focused engineering efforts, but gives the overall impressions of a car that's cutting too many corners.
At $34,000, the Sonata N Line is in the same price range as the much more fun and usable VW GTI. Spend a little more if you want a good sedan, and you could have a Volkswagen Arteon that boasts a massive sportback setup, or drop the same cash and get the much better Honda Accord. However you want to spend your money on a practical car with four doors, you're better served shopping elsewhere.