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2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line First Drive: A Sonata in Allegro

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Auto123 gets in a first test drive of the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line.

Those leading German brands – you know who you are - have been selling all-out performance for decades, and they have the divisions to prove it. Whether we’re talking about BMW’s M division, the AMG arm of Mercedes-Benz or Audi’s RS models, these markings on vehicles indicate models providing both the best showcase for manufacturers' prowess and the highest rate of return.

Hyundai has in recent years entered the performance-variantfray with its N division. And to start off on the right foot, Hyundai hired a former head of BMW's M division to develop Hyundai's N division, Albert Birnmann. First we saw the Veloster N, then came the Elantra N Line, and now here’s the Sonata N Line, which adds some real tempo to this ambler of a sedan.

Beyond the engine
The N Line designation is more than just about boosting the mechanics. Of course, the chassis is the same, but there are some visual differences, for example a racier front grille with three large air intakes and the N Line logo. At the rear is a new bumper with two exhaust outlets and a new lower bumper. A set of 19-inch tires and side skirts specific to this model complete the sportier look.

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2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, profile
Photo: B.Charette
2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, profile

Hyundai sings the same tune inside the cabin, which gets a sportier touch helped along by trim with red stitching on the steering wheel and sport seats, unique to the N Line, dark chrome trim and more heavily upholstered seats. You definitely feel like you're in a slightly sportier Sonata.

Elsewhere, you've got the features found in the most luxurious versions of the Sonata, like the two 12.3-in screens in front of the driver and the 10.25-in touch-sensitive digital screens in the dashboard. You also get the premium Bose audio system, heated leather and suede front and rear seats and a full suite of driving aids, a wireless charger for your smartphone, and a full set of features that include a remote control and a remote keyless entry system.

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, steering wheel, dashboard
Photo: Hyundai
2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, steering wheel, dashboard
2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, interior
Photo: Hyundai
2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, interior

Nervier character
To make this faster-looking Sonata actually move faster, Hyundai installed in it a 4-cylinder 2.5L turbocharged engine, a unit that has already made its home in Genesis models. It generates 290 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. Given that the Sonata's base engine is a 1.6L 4-cylinder making 180 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, that’s 110 hp more for drivers to play with, and it makes a serious difference.

To help absorb this extra power, Hyundai reworked several dynamic elements of the car. In addition to the 19-inch Pirelli P Zero tires, we find in the N Line reinforced engine mounts, firmer N shocks, larger anti-roll bars, reinforced steering, brakes with larger calipers and more.

On the other hand, Hyundai didn’t change the rigidity of the suspension at the front, and increased it by only 5 percent at the rear; the goal in this case if to preserve the Sonata’s comfortable ride. The 8-speed automatic transmission, however, is more responsive and you also have the choice of a Sport mode and even Sport+ in this N Line version. There's even a fairly-simple-to-use "launch control" if you want to risk getting yourself into a bit of trouble with the authorities.

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, front
Photo: B.Charette
2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, front

Persuasive on the road
The driving position is 5 mm lower than the regular Sonata, and that contributes to making the N Line more responsive as well. You can quickly feel its driveability and without even using launch control, we managed to reach 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds. To go with that, the Sport and Sport+ driving modes change the screen background colour in front of the driver on the two digital screens.

What’s more, you can really feel a marked difference between the different drive modes, which is achieved thanks to a modified 8-speed transmission with a wet clutch. This transmission also promotes more responsive performance. That said, there's a Normal mode, and if you just want to drive quietly, you'll be very comfortable. Hyundai has also reworked the exhaust system to give it a more expressive sound.

For $38,000, you get with the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line an expressive sedan that’s more interesting to drive than a Toyota Camry V6. You should also know that the magicians at Hyundai’s N division have probably not pulled all the rabbits out of their hat when it comes to the model. Recall that there are also true N models popping up in the automaker’s lineup that offer even more power. Logically, we might think that an even more powerful Sonata model with 4WD could end up on the N engineers' drawing board, if it hasn't already done so.

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, three-quarters rear
Photo: B.Charette
2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, three-quarters rear

We like

The mechanics deliver a real boost
But comfort levels remain intact
A meticulous finish

We like less

Styling  that not everyone likes
No all-wheel drive

2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, rear
Photo: B.Charette
2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line, rear

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