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Some cars just surprise the hell out of you, and nothing in recent memory has taken me aback quite like the 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line. What I thought was going to be a nice midsize sedan with a little more power is actually a properly sporty car.
Real quick, a word about the letter N. The Sonata N Line isn't a full-bore N, like the Veloster N or upcoming Elantra N and Kona N. Instead, think of this as N-lite, just like the Elantra N Line and the new Kona N Line and Tucson N Line. Got it? Good.
A practiced eye will quickly spot the differences between the Sonata N Line and its more staid counterparts, though the changes are definitely subtle. There's a new grille up front with larger air intakes, and the Sonata's awesome daytime running lights remain intact. Around back, the N Line gets quad exhaust pipes and a redesigned bumper and diffuser. New wheels round out the changes, and overall, while these upgrades aren't major, the N Line looks just as good as any other new Sonata.
The big upgrades start under the hood, where the Sonata N Line gets a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four engine, the same one you'll find in the Genesis G80 and GV80, as well as the Kia K5 GT and refreshed Stinger. Here, it's tuned to deliver 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. Power goes to the front wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which you'll also find in the Veloster N and Elantra N.
The Sonata rips off the line; it'll do a front-drive burnout without even trying. But strong and powerful as the engine is, the sedan's chassis is the real star of the show. The N Line dives into corners, and while the suspension keeps the Sonata taut and planted in corners, it's not so stiff that it results in a choppy ride over broken pavement.
The steering is direct and communicative, and it's also nice and heavy, which definitely adds to overall involvement. Yeah, there's a ton of torque steer because of the front-wheel-drive layout, but it's easily managed, and honestly, it just makes me laugh.
In Sport Plus mode, the dual-clutch transmission will downshift under braking, though you don't necessarily need this aggressive shift pattern with how much torque is on tap. Besides, Sport Plus automatically turns off the traction control, which is odd, especially since there's no limited-slip differential, meaning there's a lot of wheel spin while cornering if you aren't careful. Sport mode keeps traction control on and still offers super-quick shifts. It's the way to go.
My tester is shod with Hyundai's optional 245/40-series Continental Premium Contact 6 summer tires, wrapped around 19-inch wheels. The summer tire option adds $200 to the Sonata's bottom line, but it's money well spent considering the extra grip these rubbers offer.
I will say, though, great as the Sonata N Line is on a winding road, it can be a little tough around town. It occasionally feels skittish and jumpy, and the brakes are grabby. At least the N Line comes standard with a bunch of great driver-assistance technologies, including Hyundai's hands-on Highway Assist that centers the car in its lane, navigating around curves and using adaptive cruise control to handle braking and acceleration. It's not a silky smooth cruiser, but if that's your priority, just get the standard Sonata.
The N Line's EPA-estimated fuel economy figures aren't too shabby, either: 23 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined. Good luck achieving those, though. Drive the Sonata N Line with gusto and you'll regularly see numbers in the low 20s.
Aside from N Line-specific sport seats, this Sonata's interior is just like any other. Sure, there's some red contrast stitching and some N badges, but that's about it. Thankfully, there's plenty of space up front, the back seat is roomy and the 16 cubic feet of trunk space is more than ample.
The N Line gets the Sonata's best infotainment tech, with a snappy multimedia system housed on a 10.2-inch touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard. My colleagues like this system for its ease of use, but I often find that simple commands require extra taps. For example, I can't cancel my current route directly from the navigation map. I have to dig into the navigation menu to do so. Further, the icons are small and easy to miss when tapping around the screen while driving. But hey, I can listen to the sounds of nature app that includes ambient noise from a snowy day, a beach, a rainstorm, a forest and, curiously, an outdoor cafe. So, bonus I guess?
There aren't any option packages for the Sonata N Line, aside from some nicer paint colors and the aforementioned summer tires. With its Quartz White exterior and better tires, my tester comes out to $34,655 including $1,005 for destination. Yes, that's more than $10,000 above the starting price of a base Sonata, but this car is still a tremendous value.
Think of it this way: The Sonata N Line technically competes with cars like the Toyota Camry TRD and turbocharged Honda Accord and Mazda6, but it's way better to drive. You're getting a car that's closer to Acura TLX and BMW 3 Series levels of enjoyment, and those cars cost a whole lot more. No, the N Line isn't perfect, but it punches way above its weight and has all of the standard Sonata's great infotainment and safety tech, to boot. This Hyundai might not immediately come to mind as a solid sport sedan, but trust me, you should drive one. It might surprise you.