NOT-Introduction: Calling the Hyundai Sonata N Line a modern day muscle car is a sure-fire way to be accused of automotive heresy. After all, it’s just a family sedan with a warmer engine, stiffer suspension, flashy body kit, and a few red interior accents, right? Well, yeah, but the original GTO was just a Pontiac Tempest with a high-output V8, upgraded chassis and drivetrain components, and various visual accolades. The point is not to directly compare the inflated Sonata to the legendary GTO. They are obviously incomparable. Philosophically, however, they are cut from the same fabric, only they exist at different times.
The New York Times reports than in 2020, millennials bought more new cars for the first time than baby boomers. Coincidentally, this matches the rapid expansion of Hyundai’s N performance sub-brand, which makes many of its mainstream models more emotionally stimulating. The 201 hp Elantra N Line and the 286 hp Elantra N are prime examples. To see if the Korean automaker can teach a younger generation that cars can be fun, but more importantly to see how the new N-brand version of Hyundai’s midsize sedan holds up over 40,000 miles, we hosted a Sonata. N Line 2021 to our long-term fleet.
Unlike the compact Elantra, the performance of the Sonata peaks with the N Line. It’s the only trim level with a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four and eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The engine produces 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. That’s nearly 100 ponies and 130 lb-ft more than the Sonata’s base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. With all that power only feeding the front axle, there’s more screeching from the front N-line tires than a barnyard full of pissed off pigs. Even in the default Normal drive mode, we found ourselves unintentionally burning rubber when exiting stops with relatively smooth throttle inputs. Accordingly, we will be monitoring the tread wear of our test car. Each N Line rides on intricately designed 19-inch multi-spoke wheels that can be wrapped in optional Continental Premium Contact 6 summer tires for $ 200, but ours comes with the standard all-season Pirelli P Zero.
We regret that we didn’t switch to the Continentals, as the N line that we track tested with them outperformed our long-standing model on the standard Pirellis. On summer tires, the N Line came to a stop at 70 mph in a short 152 feet; it took 183 feet in all seasons. Likewise, the stickier tires helped the N Line generate a noticeable 0.93g weight on our 300ft skate versus 0.85g. At least our long-term Sonata’s tires barely affected its acceleration times. It launched to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and completed the quarter mile in 13.8 ticks at 104 mph. We’ll have to see if we can close the 0.2 second gap to the N Line equipped with summer tires in its release test.
Still, the differences between the Sonata N Line and the rest of the lineup extend beyond tire options, an exclusive powertrain, and excessive wheel spin. The engine and transmission mounts are stiffer to better handle the higher torque. In addition to the bigger brake discs all around, Hyundai says the calipers are revised to work with the bigger discs and improved brake pads. The N Line also has thicker anti-roll bars and specially tuned shocks and slightly firmer rear springs. Its steering ratio is also faster and the electric motor that assists the steering system is moved from column to rack to improve feel. The net result is a car that performs very well and drives more consistently than the regular version. The downside is that the N Line’s ride is considerably stiffer.
Aside from the optional summer tires, which are not available on its corporate sister, the Kia K5 GT, there is hardly any option to distinguish your N Line from that of your neighbor. The selection of the bold Bright Yellow paint could be one, especially since it was dropped for the 2022 model year. Our 2021 example features free Stormy Sea (deep blue) paint and floor mats. carpet at $ 169, bringing its base price from $ 34,305 to $ 34,474 as tested. The N Line comes standard with a 12-speaker Bose stereo, a full suite of driver aids, heated front seats, passive entry, panoramic sunroof and cordless phone charging. In addition, it has a digital gauge cluster and a 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with built-in navigation, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
So far we have only accumulated almost 7,000 miles. Most of this was around our headquarters in Southeast Michigan, but we also traveled to the state’s Upper Peninsula and Ontario, Canada. The N Line has a combined EPA rating of 27 mpg, which we do on average. Early logbook comments praised the car’s chassis tuning and drivetrain calibration. However, some staff called its interior drab. There are baffles about the push-button shifter and the plastic behind the door handles isn’t as nice as the surrounding trim. The driver’s seat height is also abnormally high, leaving some of our nods uncomfortably close to the microsuede headliner.
With thousands of miles to go, we will ultimately decide whether the sportiest Sonata excites us or wears us out. And hopefully along the way, we’ll also find out if the N Line can inspire this generation in the same way the Pontiac GTO once did.
Months in the fleet: 3 months Current mileage: 6,969 miles
Average fuel economy: 27 mpg
Fuel tank size: 15.9 Observed fuel range: 420 miles
Service: $ 0 Normal wear: $ 0 Repair:$ 0
Damage and destruction: $ 0
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