2021 Hyundai Sonata Review

2021 Hyundai Sonata - Adding N Line fills a performance-size hole in Sonota's lineup.


Hyundai's midsize sedan received a complete refresh in 2020. For 2021 Sonata gets a performance-orientated N Line along with a modest shuffling of standard equipment. In the 2020 redesign, wheelbase and length grew slightly, exterior and interior styling were all new and powertrain options changed. Regardless, Sonata remains a front-drive, 4-door sedan with seating for 5 passengers. It is mechanically similar to the Kia Optima. Competitors include the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat.

Sonata buyers can select from three gas engines and a gas-electric hybrid powertrain. Trim levels include SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited and new N Line. Gas engines choices include a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that makes 191 horsepower, a turbocharged 1.6-liter four that makes 180 horsepower and a N Line exclusive turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making 290 horsepower. All get a traditional 8-speed automatic transmission. Sonata Hybrid gets a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that pairs with an electric motor to produce 192 peak horsepower. It works through a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission.

Sonata prices start at $25,254 with hybrid starting at $27,750. Standard features include LED headlights, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, lane-centering assist, and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. The new N Line brings unique 19-inch wheels and tires, sport-tuned steering, brakes and suspension, sport front seats and N Line specific trim elements.

Sonata's base engine provides mild performance, good economy and little fuss. Thankfully it's bolted to a conventional automatic. While many competitors offer continuously variable automatics, the Sonata's conventional stepped-gear transmission provides crisp shifts and a more natural feeling during acceleration. Though no powerhouse, the available turbo 1.6 is noticeably stronger in passing situations. Put your foot down and the turbocharged Sonata will run from 0 to 60 MPH in about 8.5 seconds.

N Line models get a gutsy 2.5-liter turbocharged four. It provides robust performance and a snarly exhaust note. Those looking for something a bit more exciting than your traditional midsize compact will be more than satisfied with the performance from the N Line's powerful engine.

Sonata Hybrid is both efficient and powerful. Thanks to the conventional automatic, it drives like a regular car most of the time. Yes, the electric motor can power away at stoplights and operate at parking lot speeds, but more importantly it allows the gas engine to take time off and save fuel. All-in-all it's a smooth and seamless powertrain that is well worth the look for average shoppers.

EPA numbers for the 2.5-liter gas model are 28 MPG city and 38 MPG highway. Turbo four numbers are 27/36 MPG. The hybrid nets 45/51 MPG unless you opt for the Blue trim, which gets 50/54 MPG ratings. The new N Line is EPA rated at 23/33 MPG. Regardless of engine, Sonata runs fine on regular-grade gasoline. In real-world routine suburban driving, expect to average about 30 MPG overall with the gas-only models. Hybrid models will easily average 45 MPG around town. Also available on hybrid models is an available solar roof, which Hyundai claims can add up to 2 miles of range per day.

On the road, the new Sonata benefits from a stiffer chassis and revised suspension that seem to have a clear mission. That task is to provide a comfortable and stable ride that's not pillow soft or floaty. In fact, in some to trims Sonata's ride gets a bit busy. For the most part, things are on point as the Sonata has ample bump absorption and great ride control. Throw in a significantly quieter cabin and you have the right mix to make the majority of midsize car shoppers very happy.

Dynamically, Sonata is not a sport sedan or even a sporty sedan (save the new N Line -- more on that in a bit). The accurate steering is definitely better tuned to provide some feedback and the brakes have plenty of stopping power. But there's too much body lean in turns, the tires don't have enough dry-road grip and the body seems to wallow in quick transitions. All combined, the new Sonata fails to elevate to sporty status.

The new N Line is Hyundai's half-step toward providing a true sport sedan. Like other N Line offerings in the Hyundai lineup, it tries to find a balance between entertaining and sport. On twisty roads, it's definitely the most capable Sonata, but it's not a true sport sedan in the strictest sense of the word. There's a buttoned-down feeling compared to other Sonata models and the steering and brakes are definitely more responsive. Still, it stumbles a bit in quick transitions and the front tires can be unsettlingly overwhelmed by the engine's power when accelerating from a stop.

All-in-all, Sonata succeeds in its mission to provide comfortable, quiet transportation to the masses.

Striking styling aside, Sonata's interior is a deft blend of design, materials and technology that transforms a ho-hum interior into a master class on ergonomics that others are sure to copy. SE and SEL models get traditional analog dials in the instrument cluster, while SEL Plus and above get an amazingly sharp and crisp 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. Also available is a 10.25-inch infotainment screen that sits at the top of the center stack. Traditional climate controls and a unique push-button gear selector round out the simplistic design.

As you would expect, there's ample space inside as well. Six-footers can easily sit behind six-footers, and the 16-cubic-foot trunk is just about as big as it gets for the class. Front-seat passengers sit high in well bolstered and supportive seats. Back-seat passengers are treated nicely as well with ample seat cushioning l. Despite the sloping roof, the Sonata has good hear-seat head room. Outward visibility is excellent thanks to the sedan's relatively narrow pillars and large greenhouse. Interior storage is great with lots of open and covered bins throughout.

No discussion of the Sonata would be complete without a deep dive into technology. It seems like there are sensors everywhere in the car, alerting you to every possible danger.  The adaptive cruise control operates smoothly, and when you get to your destination, parking the Sonata is easy, thanks to excellent rear- and surround-view cameras. The Sonata also shows a rear-side view in the gauge cluster when the turn signals are activated. The large 10.3-inch center touchscreen is nicely integrated into the dash and is quick to respond to even light touches. Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity are supported, and there are plenty of charging and storage options for smartphones. Hyundai's Smart Park is currently only available on the regular Sonata. It is a neat parlor trick, but its real-world usefulness is questionable.

Bottom Line -- Taking all that is good about sedans and adding a healthy dollop of technology and a fair amount of frugality, Hyundai has quite possibly built the perfect midsize option for the majority of sedan buyers. No, it isn't as sporty as the Accord or as affordable as the Malibu or Fusion. But is strikes a perfect middle ground that deftly blends all of the features buyers want with the technology they need to make their ride a bit more safe and pleasant. Hybrids surprise with impressive efficiency and range and no penalty in cargo capacity or performance. The N Line provides enough of a performance boost to merit consideration, but at $35,000 it is a pricy upgrade.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.