Hyundai Sonata N Line review

Sonata returns as a sole, turbocharged, sport-infused N Line flagship aimed at injecting spice into Hyundai's mature four-door nameplate

2021 Hyundai Sonata N-Line review for Australia
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling

Things we like

  • Energetic powertrain
  • Spacious cabin
  • Lots of kit and goodies

Not so much

  • Slightly firm ride
  • Lack of driver engagement
  • Sombre sonics

Of the motoring nameplates with real staying power, Hyundai’s Sonata doesn’t come immediately to mind. But seven generations stretching back to 1985 is a long and successful innings even if the often humble and honest mid-sized four-door isn’t quite as prosperous for its maker as it once was.

Enter the all-new eighth-generation Sonata, designated DN8, its local release bringing a single variant blending robust turbocharged power, coupe-like presence, N Line warmth and tree-topping appointments and tech.

Boring is gone, replaced by ostentation aimed at buyer heartstrings and hopefully enough panache to dust off the stigma of mainstream sedan humdrum.

Yes, Sonata wants to place in the somewhat modest contingent of so-called 'semi-premium' offerings pushing upmarket to steal thunder from the lower rungs of genuinely premium Euro figureheads.

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The new, stylised sedan exemplifies the fledging N Line's shift in branding from a bit warm and sporty to a designation for the ‘have’ variants offering higher-grade powertrains and more fulsome bells, whistles and luxury than have-not versions, as it spreads hastily across Hyundai’s model ranges.

Kudos to Hyundai Australia for continuing to push four-door sedan relevancy, both in the mid-sized Sonata and the recently released small-segment i30 Sedan – the only right-hand-drive development globally – to bolster local showrooms when many of its rivals are consolidating their increasingly homogenised ranges to pander to ute and SUV buyers.

The importer is under no delusion that either sedan range will sell a motza by steering wedded shoppers away from the usual suspects, but the suggested logic is that a good many SUVs occupy two-vehicle households and this “chic coupe-like four-door,” as it calls the Sonata N Line, aims to fit that second-car bill parked up next to a Tucson, Santa Fe or Palisade.

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Price and Value

The one and only Sonata N Line is $50,990 before on-roads. By comparison, the segment-smaller i30 Sedan N Line Premium automatic flagship is $13,700 more affordable.

At 4.9 metres in length, the Sonata N Line straddles the medium and large segments, so while viable four- and five-door cross-shops are dwindling, they are still more numerous than you might expect.

Mid-sized alternatives, categorically at least, include the Mazda 6 Atenza ($50,090 list), Skoda Octavia RS ($47,790 list) and Honda Accord VTi-LX Hybrid ($50,490 list).

The large-sized rival Hyundai name checks is Kia's Stinger, the entry turbo-four-powered 200 S ($49,550 list) undercutting Sonata N Line a little and wanting a fair bit more investment for the high-grade GT-Line ($57,230 list).

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From the Sonata N Line’s ask is roughly a five-grand walk up to an Audi A4 35 TFSI ($55,900 list) and into properly premium Euro territory, though there’s a huge disparity in standard equipment fitment between the top of the mainstream and the primo ground if you’re in it for more than mere badge cachet.

The features and equipment list wants for little. Outside, the Sonata N Line fits 19-inch wheels, 245mm rubber, N Line styling, full LED lighting, power-folding and heated mirrors, front and rear camera systems with parking sensors at both ends and a panoramic glass sliding roof.

Adaptive cruise control with stop and go is standard. Premium paint, though, is an extra $595.

Inside, the cabin features 12.3-inch digital driver’s instrumentation, a head-up display, suede and Nappa leather seat trim, seat cooling up front, seat heating in all outboard positions, 12-way driver’s seat adjustment, dual-zone climate control and rear window blinds.

Infotainment is Hyundai’s high-spec 10.25-inch touchscreen design with sat-nav, wireless phone charging, digital radio, Apple and Android smartphone mirroring and 12-speaker Bose-branded audio.

Features included in the global N Line menu and featured in the local release include shift-by-wire transmission control, drive mode selection, Active Sounds Design sonic enhancement and noise cancelling, as well as powertrain functions such as launch control and N Power Shift functionality.

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Living with the Hyundai Sonata N Line

As mentioned above, this new Sonata is on the larger side of ‘medium’, both longer and lower than the generation this eighth take replaces.

Hyundai’s “coupe-like four-door” flaunts a bold character line yet looks quite sinuous in profile, its tidy rump framed by a neat H motif in the LED taillights and restrained wheel styling. But the nose is something else, its broad-grille snout, gaping N Line vents and upswept LED headlights conspiring to look as polarising as it is distinctive.

The whole front fascia pushes itself over the top with LED daytime running lights that stretch halfway along the bonnet crease, inside the chrome garnish, and linking the headlights to the window frames.

You won’t miss an approaching Sonata N Line bearing down in your mirrors.

The cabin is equal parts adventurous and restrained, its novel four-spoke wheel and shift-by-wire push-button transmission controller – as shared with the Santa Fe large SUV – dragging the otherwise conventional interior design in a fresh direction that looks more Genesis-lite than a straight rip from the book.

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The to-and-fro continues with the eye-candy drawcards of large 12.3-inch digital driver’s display, Hyundai’s latest high-end family 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system and head-up display, with expanded content such as vision from the blind-spot cameras. There’s plenty of whiz-bangery, then.

It’s all housed within a demure mid-grey colour scheme of materials that are nice, if just shy of seeming genuinely premium, with plastics and textures that are neat, hardy and in some areas merely workmanlike.

For example, the ornate stalks are classy, while some of the centre stack buttons seem a little more part-binned.

The driver’s screen is beaut; pin-sharp and clear, with a variety of skins tied to different drive modes that owe more than a touch of inspiration to Benz (Normal, Custom) and Audi (Sport and Sport Plus).

Covering the excellent seats are genuine suede and Nappa leather, a rung about the fakery you’ll find in smaller-segment N Line fit-outs. They provide excellent comfort and support that can be tuned 10 ways on the driver’s side, complete with a neat graphic in the touchscreen as an upmarket touch.

A bit of a head-scratcher is the absence of any sort of mood lighting to add some colour contrast and interest to the scheme’s stolid greyness.

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Sonata brings little new to the infotainment system as fitted throughout Hyundai’s high-grade model variants, fully loaded with features if nothing much new or different bar the Bose audio effect, which gets boomy the instant you look at boosting the bass adjustment if you can actually find the damn thing tucked away in the submenus.

The curious Sounds Of Nature ambient effects – footsteps through snow, water through plumbing – is included, of course, if merely as a feature of difference you’ll likely never be compelled to actually use.

Second-row accommodation offers fantastic, large-car-like legroom and an airy ambience that is impacted slightly by limited headroom as a result of the sloping, coupe-like roofline and a bulky lump created by the sliding glass roof mechanism.

Still, you’d have to climb well into plus-sized SUVs to find long-haul adult-oriented comfort to match the Sonata, though the pronounced hump in the middle seatback creates a bit of a natural four-seat configuration in spite of the centre seatbelt fitment.

It’s a thoughtful fit-out in the back too, with retractable window blinds and dedicated seat heating controls in the armrests, air vents in the rear of the console and a sole USB outlet.

Beyond the 40:60 split-fold seatbacks is a humongous 510 litres of deep, broad and flat boot space atop a cavity that fits a space-saver spare yet could easily house a full-sized option, though it's worth calling out that the boot aperture is surprisingly shallow.

There’s more of an executive grand touring vibe to the Sonata N Line interior than there is of over sportiness. And arguably all the better for it.

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Engine, transmission and driveline

N Line format or not, 2.5 litres of turbocharged four-cylinder motivation is fittingly ample for a car as big as the Sonata has grown into and, at 1623kg, weighs as much as it does.

Stats are healthy enough, with 213kW clocking on at 5800rpm (despite the displayed 6500rpm redline) and a fairly surly 422Nm across a flat plane between 1650rpm and four grand. This SmartStream G2.5 T-GDi is direct-injected and fits a two-step variable induction system with water-to-air intercooling, is Euro 5 compliant and happily runs on lowly 91RON or E10. The advertised combined fuel consumption claim is 8.1L/100km.

It drives the front wheels via a ‘wet’ eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, rather than the dry-clutch-type set-up found in small-segment N Line models. Part of the advantage of the wet system is torque rating – this transmission is also fitted to Santa Fe V6 – and it’s also more inherently refined in shift calibration.

Clearly the brief here was to lean spec further towards cruiser than firecracker. Still, that hasn’t stopped Hyundai injecting a bit of fizz into the powertrain and its support systems to dial in a bit of vibe and extra capability. 

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For example, N Power Shift is a feature of Sport and Sport Plus drive mode – that latter automatically defeating stability control – that widens the throttle opening during upshifts for a sharper, more pronounced thump.

It also features launch control and when all and sundry are called to duty it’s claimed the Sonata will hit 100km/h from a standstill in 6.2 seconds, which is not too shabby if hardly breathtaking.

There is a manual mode for the dual-clutch, but regardless of how you set it the transmission will rev-match on the downshifts provided you’ve got the drive mode planted in Sport Plus.

The Sonata N Line also fits fairly large 345mm front and 325mm rear anchors when dialling things back to a dull roar.

Speaking of which, there’s an Active Sound Design feature that injects a bit of sonic mojo to proceeding when the red mist descends and integrates a bit of NVH noise cancelling for the remainder of the driving experience. That said, the system wasn’t fitted to the pre-release test cars available at the local launch program.

Unlike many Hyundai Australia releases, the Sonata N Line gets a global rather than a tailor-made domestic ride and handling tune, though the local arm did have input on hardware spec early in the car’s development to help achieve a requisite “flavour”, it’s claimed.

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Driving the Hyundai Sonata N Line

This new N Line doesn’t set out to inject a spasm of melodrama into Hyundai’s mid-sized four-door providence and that's pretty clear from the first turn of a wheel. This is, after all, still a Sonata.

Its default character is polite and somewhat reserved, free of fuss and fanfare. But what it neatly sidesteps, with dignity, is feeling cheap and unsubstantial.

The engine is quite poky, scaling onto its torque plateau cleanly, rewarding with ample thrust with a flex of the right foot and without needing to chase the redline. It’s a faithful transmission, too, slipping neatly between cogs and shafts, riding the thick of the engine torque without any unruly over-enthusiasm.

Bar a few minor low-speed, part-throttle nibbles in the driveline, there’s a nice blend of linear gusto befitting the cruiser brief the N Line so clearly errs toward.

Sport mode does as expected, alerting response, tightening the upshifts, swelling up usable muscle without much in the way of unruliness. It is largely unnecessary around town and perfectly cooperative when the back-road twisties beckon, where the Sonata can slap down a decent dose of kick-down punch whenever and wherever required.

Sport Plus? You might occasionally want it, though the Sonata N Line rarely seems to need it.

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The shortcoming is vibe. The soundtrack, or at least the soundtrack sans any Active Sound Design trickery at play, is a bit anesthetised. Compared to, say, the rorty V6 in a Santa Fe – of all things – it’s downright drab.

There’s a fairly clinical and somewhat vanilla manner about which powertrain conducts itself that’s perfectly fine for a role as cruising grand tourer but simply doesn’t really encourage you to dig in and have a red hot go.

It's a similar story for the rest of the driver-machine engagement. The steering is faithful and it points confidently while the nose tracks the desired line, it’s just that the direction finder is somewhat numb and bereft of life – activating Sport mode to reduce some assistance merely introduces a more leaden sheen to the control. It’s decent, if fairly uninspiring.

That ‘global’ suspension tune offers middling ride quality with a bit of a sharp edge, particularly across the rear axle that fits monotube dampers Hyundai claims are actually quite firmly set.

The upshot is that the Sonata N Line is quite stable and surefooted when carrying speed and regardless of mid-corner lumps and bumps it massages ample lateral grip from its 245mm Contis.

Indeed, the more enthusiasm you throw at it and the more speed it carries, the more confidence the four-door brings to the party.

But it’s no dance party. The Sonata N Line, while amply competent, isn’t all that lively on its feet. It harnesses grip for pace and much of the time, particularly in slower corners, you’re chasing the nose and keeping it tidy.

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The real trade-off is that the ride becomes a little too terse around town where the Sonata N Line is clearly at its happiest and there’s a touch too much slap and suspension noise when carrying speed on a highway or across crook urban surfaces.

It’s not bad by any measure but the suspension doesn’t quite isolate the cabin from the nasties as much as a flagship luxury-leaning sedan should, mainstream badge or not.

Hyundai’s mid-sized sedan could benefit from dialing in softer primary ride, but herein lies the trap of marketing flagship variants – its luxury-leaning offerings – under the N Line banner: the maker is compelled to inject a level of dynamic competency once the heat is cranked up, even if the sense is that it forces some compromise on a particular model’s core mandate.

Whatever the case, a thoroughly spirited Sonata only really delivers so much so far in that pursuit. 

That said, it’s a genuinely enjoyable and largely unflustered daily driver. Nothing about its on-road manner is what you’d call unpleasant. But there are a few areas that could do with a little more polish and finishing to deliver that genuinely premium experience this sedan is clearly chasing.

Its assistance systems are generally pretty good. The Blind Spot View Monitor system is quite handy in Sonata because the kerb-side mirror is perched well wide of peripheral vision, though the display's frame rate seems a bit slow at times.

And the lane-following auto-steering function doesn’t seem to fight driver input as enthusiastically as other Hyundais, though its alert to regain steering control is prone to false-positive activation.

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How safe is the Hyundai Sonata N Line?

The Sonata N Line is yet to be tested by ANCAP.

In terms of active safety enhancement, the four-door is well loaded. The autonomous emergency braking system is all-speed and features cyclist and pedestrian avoidance as well as junction turning assist, all including associated collision warning prior to AEB activation.

Both the blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert systems are more advanced than some on the market as they feature active collision avoidance, be it via steering and/or braking intervention.

It fits both run-off-avoiding lane-keeping assistance and its related lane-following functionality, though the latter is considered more of a convenience system for sporadic auto-steering during long-haul highway driving.

Also included in the safety suite is exit warning, to prevent you from swinging a door into traffic or cyclists, as well as rear occupant alert, driver attention monitoring and the fitment of six airbags.

How much does it cost to run the Hyundai Sonata N Line?

Servicing intervals are 12 months or 10,000km, capped at $350 per visit across the first five visits.

The Sonata N Line is covered by Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. 

As pointed out prior, mid-sized four-door comes with an 8.1L/100km official combined consumption figure and will happily run on regular 91RON or E10 fuel from its 60-litre tank.

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This new generation brings a considerably more attractive and compelling Sonata. And while its upmarket N Line treatment draws much to like together in an appealing all-round package, it doesn’t really present any benchmarks apart from, perhaps, being a torchbearer for Hyundai’s latest design approaches. 

It does nothing badly though little of it is particularly remarkable or outstanding.

That’s certainly not a bad outcome, given the Sonata N Line experience clearly favours measured balance over fire. It offers plenty of presence on the outside and feel-good factor on the inside.

And on-road, be it behind the wheel or as a passenger, there are plenty of reasons why you’d want to grab the Sonata key over an SUV alternative. It does a make for neat ‘other’ car and offers enough goodness to viably consider as the sole option, even as a roomy and practical family hauler.

Thing is, the Sonata N Line could stir the soul a little more – in soundtrack, in driving engagement – and, equally, it could be a little more plush and refined as the cruiser its maker claims it is. Nothing is broken that requires major fixing, perhaps, but a bit of massage here and polish there might make a downright likeable machine genuinely desirable. It’s just not quite there yet.

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Specifications – Hyundai Sonata N Line

Body: 4-door, 5-seat sedan
Drive: front-wheel
Engine: 2497cc in-line four, DOHC, 16v, single turbocharged
Bore/stroke: 88.5 x 101.5mm
Compression: 10.5:1
Transmission: ‘wet’ eight-speed dual-clutch automatic
Power: 213kW @ 5800rpm
Torque: 422Nm @ 1680-4000rpm
0-100km/h: 6.2sec (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 8.1L/100km (combined/claimed)
Weight: 1623kg kerb
Power/weight: 131kW/tonne
Suspension: struts, multi-links, anti-roll bars (f/r)
L/W/H: 4900/1860/1445mm
Wheelbase: 2840mm
Tracks: 1610/1617mm
Steering: electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes: 345mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r); 325mm solid discs, single-piston calipers (r)
Wheels: 19 x 8.0-inch (f/r)
Tyres: 245/40 R19 (f/r) Continental PremiumContact 6
Price: $50,990 before on-road costs

Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling

Things we like

  • Energetic powertrain
  • Spacious cabin
  • Lots of kit and goodies

Not so much

  • Slightly firm ride
  • Lack of driver engagement
  • Sombre sonics


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