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Hyundai Sonata 2021 review: N Line

A bold new design for Hyundai's Sonata with a powerful engine, handy chassis and a tech-laden cabin
EXPERT RATING
7.5
The Hyundai Sonata is now just a one-model range, with Hyundai betting on demand for a go-faster version with sport suspension, plenty of equipment and a striking new look. Behold the new Sonata N-Line, now 100 per cent more exciting, at least on paper.

Hyundai is having a massive year, delivering to our shores not one, but two N-Line sedans. Way back in March I drove the i30 N-Line Sedan. As part of that event, Hyundai snuck in its bigger brother, the Sonata N-Line.

We were sworn to secrecy for almost three whole months, but now the Korean giant is ready for us to tell the world what we thought.

While the Sonata hasn't been a big deal around these parts for while - despite being quite a good car - Hyundai has persisted with it. Last year things changed, though. The people who bought the car were mostly older folks and the NSW cops. The cops aren't buying it any more and older folks are probably out buying a Toyota LandCruiser (or another SUV) to undertake their Great Australian Borders Are Shut Road Trip.

That meant there was basically no point in selling a cloth-trimmed Active with sensible wheels, because nobody would buy it. So Hyundai had a choice - try and get the few hundred Sonata sales it might garner from a fleet-sales rep who likes to live on the edge, or throw out the rule book entirely and go large. Clearly, Hyundai has gone large, with a powerful, aggressively styled single-car range to go after private buyers who don't want an SUV. Hyundai reckons those sedan buyers are still out there.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

The Sonata is a striking car, although not quite as wild as the i30 Sedan. The front is pretty in your face, but it has a really clever detail. In daylight, it looks like the trailing edge of the headlight flows into a chrome strip that then loops all the way around the glasshouse and lands at the mirrors. But the first 30cm or so of that line is actually a cunningly disguised LED lighting strip. I don't know why it's so cool, but it is.

  • The Sonata is a striking car. The Sonata is a striking car.
  • The Sonata is a striking car. The Sonata is a striking car.
  • The Sonata is a striking car. The Sonata is a striking car.
  • The Sonata is a striking car. The Sonata is a striking car.
  • The Sonata is a striking car. The Sonata is a striking car.
  • The Sonata is a striking car. The Sonata is a striking car.

There's the requisite black mesh grille, some blacked out bits, fake aero addenda and an equally inventive rear end. Unlike the i30, the profile is fairly calm, if sleek and low-slung. There are some great ideas everywhere you look and it's a design that's meant to get tongues wagging.

Inside, things are not quite as wild, but then wild interiors are hard to get right. Having said that, it's still a belter, with Nappa leather and Alcantara seats, the big screen and digital dash. The only thing I don't like is the weird-looking steering wheel. Everything feels pretty good and it's another good cabin from Hyundai, with a good, clean and useable design and good materials where they matter.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The Sonata has a massive cabin, with rear-seat passengers scoring heaps of leg, knee and foot room. The seats are also nicely shaped and part-trimmed in Alcantara. Despite the racy roofline, there is still good headroom for my six-foot frame.

Front and rear passengers score two cupholders and the bottle holders in the front doors will take bottles, whereas the rears will need to be smaller items.

The boot is a huge 510 litres. The boot is a huge 510 litres.

The boot is a huge 510 litres. There is a 60/40 split-fold seat but the aperture is quite small and Hyundai Australia doesn't have a figure for total cargo volume when they're folded. The loading lip is a little high and you do have to hoik your stuff over it and down into boot.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

A tenner under $51,000 buys you the Sonata N-Line. That's a lot of money, but you do get a lot of stuff. That list includes 19-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, digital dashboard, Nappa leather seats, 12 Bose branded stereo speakers, powered front seats, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, heated front and rear seats (although not the middle section), auto LED headlights, auto wipers and a space-saver spare.

The Sonata N-Line includes 19-inch alloy wheels. The Sonata N-Line includes 19-inch alloy wheels.

Hyundai's big touchscreen graces the centre of the dash, all 10.25-inches of it, and it runs Hyundai's new media software. It's very cool, and when it goes into screensaver mode it shows a stripped-back sat nav view of your location.

It offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto via USB, because for some reason the big-screen software can't do wireless for either of them. It also has DAB+.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

Hyundai has fitted a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder to spin up an impressive 213kW at 5800rpm and 422Nm between 1650rpm and 4000rpm. The front wheels get all that power from Hyundai's new eight-speed twin-clutch transmission (wet clutches for the friction nerds) also found in Santa Fe. Slightly incongruously, you can not only activate launch control, you can decide the revs at which it dumps the clutch. In a Sonata.

The N-Line streaks from 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds, with its new launch control. The N-Line streaks from 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds, with its new launch control.

The N-Line streaks from 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds, with its new launch control. That's pretty good, considering it's almost as quick as the i30 N hot hatch, and that the Sonata weighs over 1600kg. 

You can also tow 1400kg braked and 700kg unbraked.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

The Sonata's official combined cycle figure is 8.1L/100km. When I tested this car, it was out in the country, which was a lot of fun, and despite some fairly enthusiastic going, and stopping and going again, the car I drove registered 9.8L/100km in the dash. You and I both know we can do better than that, so the fuel figure is pretty close to reality; a Hyundai calling card.

On the official figure you'll get over 700km between fills and on my findings, just over 600km. The N-Line is also that rare thing - a turbo that's happy to drink standard unleaded.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

For a Sonata - never a nameplate that conjured up speed - this is one quick unit. I was expecting a bit of a torque-steering monster with all that power and torque, but the well-tuned traction control keeps things on the straight and narrow and the Continental tyres - good ones, too - ensure only a very unsympathetic right foot on a crap surface will conjure up any axle tramp. In Sport+ the computer pretty much drops the reins and you'll get plenty of wheelspin on a floored throttle, and it will spin up the inside wheel in tight corners when you're punching on.

It's a very smooth engine with not much lag, and the transmission is very responsive both to your right foot and paddle-shifter inputs. Merging into fast moving traffic is super easy, as is overtaking. It's almost a bit of a beast.

The N-Line is a very smooth engine with not much lag. The N-Line is a very smooth engine with not much lag.

Part of the N-Line idea is to apply some light improvements to engine, transmission and suspension to add some sportiness, but without going too nuts. Despite the engine making the Sonata almost indecently quick, the changes to damping and various suspension pieces haven't made the car at all manic. Without having a standard car to compare it with, the Sonata's ride and handling strikes a good balance between comfort around town and on the freeway, while also offering a bit of fun when you want it.

The electric steering isn't exactly touchy feely with the road, but it is a faster rack than the standard car (which we don't get) and it's just right if you like a bit of fun, but not "change lanes while sneezing" fast.

Most noises are well suppressed, but the tyres can get noisy on the rough stuff and I discovered a pot hole that sent a pretty decent shock through the shell, and produced a fairly loud bang. It didn't unsettle the car, though, and it lived to fight another corner with no ill effects.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

The Sonata is absolutely packed with safety features. Along with six airbags and ABS and traction and stability controls you get blind-spot monitoring, blind-spot collision avoidance, reverse cross traffic alert, reverse AEB, lane keep assist, lane-following assist, lane-departure warning, forward AEB (urban speeds), forward collision warning (up to 180km/h), safe-exit assist to stop you dooring cyclists, junction assist, front side and reversing cameras and the very clever blind-spot view monitor that pops up in the dash to show you the side of the car matching the indicator you’ve got on.

There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.

At the time of writing, there wasn’t an ANCAP safety score for the sedan and it probably won’t ever get one, owing to its low volume and because it isn't sold in Europe, so EuroNCAP won't be crashing it.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Hyundai offers a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and a year of roadside assist (extendable by up to nine years when you service with Hyundai). That's a good warranty, but pretty much everyone else has caught up and it lags behind compatriot Kia.

Hyundai offers a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and a year of roadside assist. Hyundai offers a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and a year of roadside assist.

Service intervals are 12 months or 10,000km, which is kind of annoying, but that’s what you get for having a turbo. The first five services are all capped at $350, which isn’t too bad as long as you’re not a high-miler.

Verdict

The Sonata N-Line won't trouble the VFACTs scoreboard too much, but those who are not enamoured of Hyundai's range of SUVs will at least have an option, and a good one. Clearly it's not for everyone at this price, but if it's cheaper and less equipped it will have to punch on with the all-conquering Toyota Camry.

EXPERT RATING
7.5
Design8
Practicality7
Price and features7
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption7
Driving8
Safety8
Ownership7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$50,990

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

This price is subject to change closer to release data
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