2021 Hyundai Sonata N-Line Review
Our independent 2021 Hyundai Sonata N-Line review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.
It should come as little surprise that the medium-sedan class is shrinking, and not just in Australia. The world over, in most major markets people are turning away from the traditional four-door. But should they?
In this country, sedans made up 23 per cent of the market in 2011, and just seven per cent in 2020. But Hyundai Australia is banking on the fact that more than half of those are private buyers who potentially might be lured by its all-new, individually styled, coupe-like eighth-generation Sonata sedan.
Forget the dull, rental-car fodder of Sonata’s past – this slick new-generation model arrives in just one top-shelf grade, the performance-focused N-Line. And seeing Hyundai has achieved considerable success with its warm-to-hot models of late, maybe that’s the secret to Sonata – its turbo-charged, fully-featured persona.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The solitary Sonata N-Line variant starts at $50,990 (before on-road costs) and has just one option – paint. White Cream mica comes standard, but if you want Hampton Grey metallic, Flame Red metallic or Phantom Black mica, you’ll be charged a modest $595 premium.
Among its vast array of enticements is its appearance – a subtly sporty N-Line bodykit with bespoke front bumper design, side skirts, black mirror caps and roof, plus a diffuser-style N-Line rear bumper garnished with twin exhaust outlets on each side, and 19-inch machined-face alloys wearing good-quality 245/40R19 Continental Premium Contact 6 tyres.
You also get keyless entry/start, auto-fold mirrors, hands-free boot opening, a dual-pane panoramic glass sunroof with electric blind, rear door sunshades, electric rear window blind, perforated suede and Nappa-leather-faced upholstery with front seat heating/cooling, a heated steering wheel, heated outboard rear seating positions, 12-way electric driver’s seat with electric lumbar and two-position memory, four-way electric passenger’s seat, and dual-zone climate control with rear air vents.
Befitting its sporty positioning, the driver scores a head-up display, 12.3-inch ‘Supervision’ LCD instrument cluster with blind-spot-view monitor, shift-by-wire transmission selector, paddle shifters, four-setting Drive Mode (Normal, Sport, Sport+ and Custom), launch control, and personalised driver profiles (combining seat, mirror, HUD, ventilation and even radio settings into one).
WHAT DOES IT COST TO OWN?
Hyundai’s warranty coverage is five-years/unlimited-mileage, and if you service your car at a Hyundai dealer, you also get a 24-hour roadside support plan for up to 10 years, as well as a 10-year sat-nav update plan.
Recommended service intervals for the Sonata N-Line are every 12 months or 10,000km, with every service for the first five years (or 50,000km) being capped at $350 each.
That means the Sonata N-Line’s three-year servicing total is $1050, or $1750 for five years. You can even pre-pay for a full seven years’ worth of servicing, which will cost you $2625.
WHAT’S THE EXTERIOR LIKE?
Part of what makes the eighth-generation Sonata so much more interesting than its predecessors is its styling – in particular its stand-out lighting signatures.
At the front, the chrome strip rimming the edge of the bonnet transforms into the LED daytime running lights about two-thirds of the way down. And at the rear, a red LED band begins in a C-shaped formation in the tail-lights and links them with a striking horizontal band.
You could argue that some of the N-Line styling details are a little overwrought, such as fake vents on the bumpers, but on the whole it has individual class and some much-needed presence – enhanced by its low and wide proportion.
In terms of size, at 4900mm long and 1860mm wide, riding on a 2840mm wheelbase, the Sonata is considerably larger than the i30 Sedan below it. But at just 1445mm tall, and with broad wheel tracks front and rear, it has a four-door-coupe flavour that will draw people towards it simply for its visual personality.
WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?
At first glance, really quite impressive – especially the quality of its leather/suede upholstery, general cabin plastics and the interesting shape of its steering wheel, dashboard and door designs. But its switchgear ergonomics lack the cohesion of other recent Hyundais.
The oddly angled centre climate-control screen can be difficult to read at times, and its cheap knobs and buttons lack the class of an equivalent HVAC system in a Mazda 6. The head-up display is also slightly off-centre and out of proportion, which detracts the from the quality evident in other parts of the interior (like the LCD instruments and impressive multimedia screen). And the push-button gear selector isn’t that well-suited to controlling a dual-clutch transmission due to the additional time it requires to do its work.
While the centre-rear seat offers marginal headroom (and comfort), the outer rear seating positons are quite comfy, if slightly challenged in terms of toe room and overall legroom (the new Sonata definitely favours style over space). But up front the driving position is impressive, seat support is decent and the general feeling of quality is palpable.
HOW SAFE IS THE Sonata N-Line?
ANCAP are yet to test the Sonata N-Line for crash safety, though you can rightfully expect that it will receive a five-star rating. In the US, its NHTSA overall rating is five stars – enhanced by the N-Line’s excellent passive-safety assets of precise handling and great roadholding.
Safety equipment wise, there’s plenty of goodness included – adaptive cruise with stop/go, active blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, driver attention warning, lane-keep assist, safe-exit assist, forward collision-avoidance and junction-turning assist, and a surround-view monitor, as well as front and rear parking sensors.
WHAT’S THE INFOTAINMENT LIKE?
Audio and multimedia are covered by wireless phone charging, a large 10.25-inch touchscreen with DAB+ digital radio, embedded sat-nav and (wired) Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, driving through 12 surround-sound Bose speakers.
Front passengers get two USB ports at the base of the centre console (one marked for phone charging) and a 12-volt outlet while rear passengers can fight over the single USB port beneath the rear air vents.
In terms of sound quality, the 12-speaker Bose system is excellent – expanding the sound stage to make the Sonata’s cabin feel much bigger than it is.
WHAT IS THE STORAGE LIKE?
Not particularly good – especially the narrow door pockets with undersized bottle holders. Forget bringing your own enviro-friendly bottle – these are for throw-away 600ml plastic bottles only. Cans would have to sit in the centre console cupholders due to the angle of the door slots.
The front passenger does get a horizontal slot that runs along the centre console, though again this is a narrow receptacle. But there’s a large (and deep) centre bin, plus useable room around the wireless charging pad.
In the rear, the door pockets are even smaller, though there’s cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest and a pair of netted map pockets on the backs of the front seats.
Boot space is a Sonata strongsuit, however, with 510 litres of volume (with a space-saver spare beneath the floor). You can extend boot length by folding the 60/40-split rear backrests down, though the opening through to the cabin isn’t full-width.
WHAT ENGINES ARE AVAILABLE?
Bering a one-model-fits-all proposition, it’s no surprise there’s just one engine available in Sonata N-Line – an all-new 2.5-litre direct-injected and turbocharged ‘Smartstream-G’ four-cylinder tied to Hyundai’s impressive eight-speed ‘wet’ dual-clutch transmission from the i30 N range.
Producing a rousing 213kW at 5800rpm and an excellent 422Nm of torque across a broad plateau (1650-4000rpm), Hyundai claims the Sonata N-Line is capable of 0-100km/h in a brisk, hot-hatch-rivalling 6.2 seconds.
WHAT ABOUT FUEL ECONOMY?
Given its considerable performance reserves, the dual-clutch Sonata N-Line is reasonably economical on the government combined cycle at 8.1L/100km.
Broken down into city or highway, its official urban number is 11.5L/100km while its extra-urban number is 6.1L/100km. Hyundai says it can comfortably drink regular 91-octane unleaded, as well as 94-octane E10.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Sharing its N3 platform with the Santa Fe and new Tucson means the Sonata offers a relatively sophisticated suspension set-up with multi-link independent rear suspension. The N-Line version enhances that with a uniquely sporty tune featuring good-quality fixed-rate monotube dampers.
The intention is to deliver a responsive and involving grand tourer that isn’t out of its depth when the road becomes tight and twisty. And for the most part, the Sonata N-Line succeeds.
At brisk speeds on flowing country roads, it achieves a lovely balance. It uses its rear suspension to help point its nose into a corner, sitting confidently flat while hanging onto the road effortlessly, and its steering combines firm weighting with admirable precision. There’s a planted fluency to its movement that sits well with its strong performance.
Where it doesn’t achieve the same level of proficiency is in terms of low-speed ride. It can be quite lumpy around town, and sometimes a little noisy, though many will find this an easy trade-off for its keen handling and disciplined body control in other environments (and likewise its fairly meaty steering weighting at low speeds, regardless of the selected Drive Mode). While those fixed-rate dampers do great things for its handling, they’re very much sports-focused, not luxury-biased.
When driven like its performance encourages you to, it also has an issue with traction out of tight corners. Transferring 213kW/422Nm of determined grunt through eight gear ratios to the front wheels is a big ask, and even its classy Continentals don’t save it from trying to light up an inside tyre exiting tight corners. What it demands is some old-school throttle control, and if you really don’t want your flow interrupted by electronics, disable its traction control (but not its ESC – you just press the button once rather than holding it down). In this instance, a mechanical limited-slip diff would make a big difference.
The other aspect that detracts from Sonata’s overall driving experience is its synthesised ‘Active Sound Design’. This artificial induction sound adds a weird whirring noise to the engine note which spoils the lovely smoothness of its incredibly strong engine. Thankfully, you can mute it.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
Based on size, price and positioning, the sports-focused $50,990 Sonata N-Line competes directly with the Kia Stinger (from $49,550), Mazda 6 Atenza turbo sedan ($50,090), Volkswagen Passat 162TSI Elegance sedan ($51,790), Peugeot 508 GT Fastback ($57,490) and Skoda Superb 206TSI Sportline sedan ($60,390).
In terms of flavour, the coupe-like Peugeot is most closely aligned with the Sonata N-Line’s role, though the Mazda 6 is probably its most genuine rival.
While the Skoda is quite a bit pricier, it’s also all-wheel drive and truly excels for cabin and boot space.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Sonata N-Line isn’t really a match for the smaller i30 Sedan when it comes to rear-seat legroom, or perhaps overall cabin consistency compared to the latest, hyper-minimalist Tucson, yet it has a really likeable personality … unlike every Sonata before it.
Indeed, it’s the antithesis of every previous medium Hyundai sedan, which is a great thing. And that, combined with its striking styling, involving performance and handling, and Hyundai’s growing reputation for reliability and dependability, should deliver an audience of fans who want who some sports flavour in a slinky sedan form.