I remember when I test drove the Sonata Sensuous with the Smartstream gasoline 1.6 turbo engine. Looking at the Sonata Sensuous’s new powertrain, which first applied the Continuously Variable Valve Duration (CVVD) method, I thought there was nothing more I want in terms of output or balance. This is because the Sonata, a ‘family sedan,’ featured 180 horsepower that far exceeds the performance requirements. Still, about a year later, the newly released Sonata N line features an extra 110 horsepower.
First of all, there is one thing to be noted about the Sonata N line. The Sonata N line was equipped with a new Smartstream 2.5 turbo engine, which was more than enough to be classified as an N line. Thanks to this, the Sonata N line provides the highest output and maximum torque that far exceeds the existing Sonata’s. 290 horsepower and 43.0 kgf·m are currently the highest among Hyundai sedans.
Until now, the N line was somewhere between high-performance N and regular models. So, it was common to change chassis and a few design elements, not powertrains. However, after the Sonata N line was unveiled, things have changed; it became sportier.
The new inline four-cylinder 2.5 turbo engine is lighter than the V6 engine and has superior fuel economy, as well as higher output than the existing four-cylinder 2.0 turbo engine. In many ways, it can be said that the FF (front-engine, front-wheel drive) is the best answer. Of course, in the powertrain of the Sonata N line, the wet 8-speed N DCT (dual-clutch transmission), which was first introduced in a Hyundai sedan, should also be noted. The biggest feature of the 8-stage N DCT is that it provides the launch control for the first time in the N line.
The exterior design is more sporty than the Sonata Sensuous. It emphasized that it is a sister of the N brand through three intake vents located horizontally under the front license plate, and added a strong impression by expanding the lower bumper. At the rear, a dual twin-tip muffler implies a high-power engine. The black rear spoiler at the top of the trunk gets what we want.
On the side, the new 19-inch wheels stand out. The three-dimensional effect is so excellent that the shape of the spokes looks different depending on the angle. At first glance, the brake disc looks an inch bigger than the previous design. It also seems clear that the braking system has been significantly improved.
For the interior, red stitches and supportive sports seats indeed look different from a regular Sonata. The electric side-bolster that can hold the driver as tight as you want is a reminder that the Sonata N line is indeed up for sports driving. In the second row, however, you can also find a hint of a ‘family sedan,’ such as curtains that block sunlight. I like this level of change that keeps being a mid-size sedan without going too far. Anyone looking for an unexpected charm will be satisfied.
The first thing I did when I got into the driver’s seat was to change the drive mode. The Sonata N line has a new Sport Plus mode. The launch control with swift acceleration presented in the commercial video is also available in Sport Plus mode. The launch control is activated by completely disabling the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and flooring the brake with your left foot and the accelerator with your right foot.
The fact that I can adjust the engine speed of the launch control was also unexpected. If the road is slippery or slightly uphill, it would be better to lower the engine rotation speed, and higher it if the car could get a good grip or during the downhill running. Hyundai has already developed the launch control technology through the TCR race car. When competing in the race with the i30 N TCR, I remember that its launch control was more powerful than that of other race cars, so it was easier to overtake right after the start.
The launch control of the Sonata N line is no exception. It is clearly not what an ordinary family sedan can do to reach 100km/h in 6.2 seconds, with a body length of 4.9m, front-wheel drive, four-cylinder engine, and all-season tires; and its responsiveness is more enjoyable than the speed itself.
Due to the strong drive torque, the tire screams throughout the acceleration. It is so powerful that the wheel spin continues even after changing gears from 1 to 2. Still, there is no need for the driver to work busy. In general, in a high-performance front-wheel drive vehicle, a torque steer occurs in which the steering wheel rotates in one direction or another during rapid acceleration. However, the Sonata N line maintains torque steer well without the need for a separate Limited Slip Differential (LSD).
It seems like the slip ratio has been carefully optimized for the launch control. This is because the acceleration efficiency is highest when the tire slips at a certain level rather than tightly gripping the pavement. The 8-speed N DCT feels like it is holding the clutch tight like a manual transmission. As a result, it is very powerful, yet it is so easy to control. It’s the new fun.
This sportiness is also revealed in cornering. As you accelerate again right after passing the corner, the turbocharger causes the high boost pressure, pushing the drive wheels to the limit. Unlike today’s turbo engines, which are barely seen, they wildly reveal their presence. In some of the steep corners of Inje Speedium, the inner tires were spinning due to high torque. At first, I thought it was unfortunate that there was no LSD that could distribute the driving force and help to escape the corner quickly; I thought I was losing lap time.
But after a few more laps, I found myself enjoying the power of the Sonata N line. At first, I did not recognize myself enjoying the pleasure of increasing the corner speed by even 1km/h, and the power pouring out every time I floored the accelerator pedal.
In fact, the Sonata N Line is not a track toy for better lap times; the charm is the fun and thrill that are added to a comfortable mid-size sedan. It’s not just about the launch control.
Among many other features, Active Sound Design delivers the exciting engine sound, N Power Shift gives a strong push from the back every time the gear is raised, and Rev Matching helps re-acceleration; they all coexist for driving pleasure. Of course, it is a lot more fun to drive an ordinary Sonata.
Meanwhile, the Sonata N line has a stable center of gravity. The Pirelli P-Zero all-season tires are also relatively flexible. Thanks to this, the trajectory is not easily disturbed even when the tire is pushed to its limits. Even if you release all ESC, the car does not move a lot. It is not usual for a car to offer such a thrill that is easily manipulative.
The chassis, which is tuned for sports driving, is designed to perfection so that the absence of variable dampers is not recognizable. In addition to simply tightening the suspension such as springs and dampers, the handling was intuitively refined by adjusting the bushing of the subframe connecting the vehicle body and the drivetrain, and the steering gear ratio. It was also impressive that the handling character did not change when the number of passengers increased to four from two.
I ran for more than 100km just on the track for this test drive, but the brake feeling did not change. There was only one question left after the test drive; I wondered what high-performance tires with a good tire tread wear rating and high grip would have been, instead of the all-season tires.
After all, the Sonata N line gives you the joy of driving as you want while pouring out robust energy. I couldn’t really imagine that the Sonata, which is the icon of the national ‘family sedan,’ would perform like this. Looking at the N model and the N line model released so far, I thought that the identity of the N brand had been established to some extent; and the Sonata N line began to expand the concept of ‘driving fun’.
by Byung-Hui (Charlie) Kang
He is a professional driver and an auto columnist. He is a former KSF Genesis Coupe season champion in 2013. He won the championship at TCR Korea in 2018 and runner-up at TCR Malaysia in 2019. Since 2016, he has participated in the 24 Hour Nurburgring Endurance Race and finished for 4 consecutive years. Based on his experience in motorsports and as a Porsche Instructor / PR Manager, and FCA Product Planning and Training Manager, he creates various automotive content.
Photography by Beom-Seok Kim
◆ Any opinions expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the HMG.