As time marches on, so does the proliferation of the letter “N” over at Hyundai.
What started as a very special variant of the Veloster 3.5-door hatch (as well as the tuning arm for Hyundai’s racing efforts) has morphed into a performance N Line that has now made its way to Hyundai’s Sonata mid-sizer.
Officially dubbed “Sonata N Line”, N treatment means the addition of a 2.5-litre turbo-four that’s shared with both Hyundai’s luxury division in the form of the Genesis G80 and GV80, but also with their more mass-market cousin, Kia, in the form of the K5 GT. Here, it pumps out 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque, fed to the front wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch auto ‘box also shared with the K5 GT. Those power figures, meanwhile, are up 110 horses and 116 lb-ft over the Sonata Sport’s 1.6-litre turbo-four.
It looks the part, that’s for sure.
It gets the same low, lithe and sleek profile other Sonatas get – which is already a good start, and I believe the view from side-on is the best one – but on the N Line, it gets all sorts of neat-o stuff such as a set of very wiry two-tone 19-inch wheels, blacked-out grille highlighted with an “N Line” badge, special rear decklid spoiler, quad-outlet exhaust – a factory-spec quad-outlet exhaust! In a family sedan! — very cool LED headlights and taillights, and new side skirts that pair with a five-millimetre lower ride height to provide a great stance.
Inside, the N Line sees the addition of special high-bolster seats, new badging, aluminum pedals and gunmetal colouring on the shift paddles. No flat-bottom wheel, though, which is too bad because I found that the side bolsters did push my thighs up a little, and I could have used a little more room between the bottom of the wheel and my legs. Not really sure how I feel about that strange bottom spoke, either; looks at once tacked on, and at once something out of an old Citroën.
Otherwise, the N Line gets all the good interior bits the other Sonatas get; great low-profile centre-stack, ultrawide infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, digital gauge cluster and button-activated transmission. It’s all very low profile, so there’s very little opportunity to snag bags, coattails, sleeves etc. and it also makes for an airier interior.
A quick note on that gauge cluster: in Ultimate trim, the gauges become blind spot cameras when you activate a turn signal. It’s a fantastic, world-class feature…and you can’t get it on the N Line, for any price, even though the full trim name is “N Line Ultimate”. I find that a little strange as the Ultimate costs only about a grand more than the N Line Ultimate; I’ll bet dollars to donuts that if they charged the same price for the N Line and included the blind spot feature, no one would bat an eyelid.
The high side bolsters coupled with the bottom seat cushions and steering wheel angle all make for a great driver’s seating position that has you feeling in control as soon as you’re sat inside.
If the styling wasn’t enough to convince you, then the noise the N Line makes as soon as you fire it up should drive the point home. There’s a proper, even authoritative exhaust note here and the engine even has kind of that off-beat warble that the likes of five-cylinder Audis have demonstrated over the years, going back to the Sport Quattro of the ‘80s. A bit of a reach, there? Maybe, but this is a distinctive exhaust note that does the N Line brand proud.
If you’re not careful, you will get quite the response from the powertrain upon tip-in – it was more than I expected and led to a few hairy moments during low-speed manoeuvres. I got the hang of it after little time, but I never quite got over the fact that there was a distinct delay when switching from drive to reverse, which would have the car creeping forward a little more than expected before actually engaging the new gear.
After that, though, this is a peachy powertrain that rewards good, confident inputs with lighting-quick response that is absolutely befitting of a performance sedan. Power delivery is robust, the gearchanges are ultra-quick and while you will get some turbo lag, you are rewarded with quite the blat of acceleration once the needle sweeps past the 1,650 rpm mark, which signals the arrival of peak torque. 311 lb-ft? Feels like more.
Be careful, though; you will experience torque steer if you really plant it, and we’re talking torque steer the likes of which knocks on the door of what the Madaspeed3 did all those years ago. Be prepared for that, though, modulate your throttle properly and you will make mincemeat of your favourite b-road in short order, as I did. It’s faster here than anything the competition has to offer, from the 2.0-litre-powered Honda Accord, to the Camry TRD and on to the Mazda6.
Of course, much of that is attributed to the chassis tuning, which includes firmer suspension and bigger anti-roll bars. Even on less-grippy winter rubber, the N Line tracked well and aside from some numbness through the steering wheel – again, some blame has to be levelled at the tires here and switching to the N Line drive mode helps – this is a vehicle that handles almost as well as it goes.
When I first was asked to test the N Line, I kept my feelings guarded. N Line cars have historically been a slightly “lighter” upgrade from their counterparts, as opposed to the much more focused transition that the Veloster undertook to mark full “N” status, which is a cut above. The Sonata, though, makes really good use of the upgrade and I sincerely wonder that if they were to do a Sonata N as opposed to a N Line, how much of an upgrade could that really be?
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.