The eighth-generation Hyundai Sonata has arrived in Australia, where it’ll be sold only in athletic N Line guise. That’s no bad thing, though, as the N Line packs an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox and grunty 2.5-litre turbo ‘four.
Nearly two years after going on sale in the United States, the eighth-generation Hyundai Sonata has landed on Australian shores. This medium-sized sedan has been a significant part of the Korean brand’s history down under, serving as part of several of the nation’s constabularies as a police general duties vehicle.
The new Sonata is a long way from this badge’s conservative roots. The stuffy ‘Sonata’ nameplate feels at odds with how this car now looks. Or maybe that’s just me, you might care less about what those spaced out letters say on the back of your car. Perhaps that’s a personal opinion borne from schooldays lifts in the back of a burgundy fifth-gen Sonata.
These days, sedans don’t fight to be the most conservative. Instead, to shine against SUVs, they need to play their athleticism hard and early.
At least from the outside, Hyundai has done an impressive job with the Sonata as they did with the sharpened i30 Sedan N Line. There are some great details to be drunk in including the LED daytime running lights which fade into the chrome strip that encircles the bonnet and cabin.
This N Line – the only spec coming to Australia – also gets a blacked out front grille, lip spoiler and a set of 19-inch alloy wheels. All in, the Sonata is a bold looking thing that will probably alienate conservative buyers, but get the attention of a new customer base instead.
From behind the wheel the Sonata N Line is bold, too. It stops short of being a full-fledged N Performance product, but this sedan is no slouch. In other markets, the Sonata is offered with a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged 1.6-litre four and a hybrid powertrain.
Australia only gets the 2.5-litre turbo petrol motor which develops a healthy 213kW of power and 422Nm of torque. This is the first taste of the Hyundai group’s Smartstream 2.5 turbo for Aussies, though it does feature in Santa Fe SUVs sold elsewhere in the world.
Here in the Sonata it sends all of those kilowatts to the front wheels which can make for a wild ride. You need to be circumspect about deploying the Sonata’s grunt in the lower gears. Stomp on the throttle in second on a cambered stretch of road and, if you aren’t paying attention, the torque steer will twist the tiller under your palms. Quite exciting.
After experiencing the torque steer the Sonata could dish out it seemed unlikely that the standard launch control system would be much help. On the contrary. Find a smooth, dry stretch of tarmac, select Sport Plus, deactivate the traction control, hold your left foot on the brake and bury the right foot into the carpet, and whoosh.
The Sonata’s electronics measure the power expertly, keeping unwanted wheelspin at bay and firing the sedan into the horizon (Hyundai claims 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds).
Once in third and no longer traction-limited, the Sonata is happy to lay down all of it’s grunt for seamless overtaking. The eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox is slick, though lacks the drama of the best dual-clutch ‘boxes. Hopefully that will be remedied in the forthcoming i30 N DCT which uses the same gearbox.
Hyundai has worked hard on the Active Sound Design feature for the Sonata N Line. It has several setting that are linked to drive modes. With the sound in Enhanced mode and the car in Sport Plus it was all a bit much, making the Sonata sound like a strange V6 rather than a grunty four.
It’s best left in its normal setting, or turned off altogether. The engine has a pleasing natural bark moving towards the redline that doesn’t really need any extra theatre. That said, the option to play with it is great to have.
Once at pace the Sonata is happy, especially when carving through medium to high-speed turns that are so prevalent on Australian country roads. The 245mm wide Continental Premium Contact 6 tyres have a lot to answer for here, providing excellent grip and confidence on both wet and dry tarmac.
Tighter roads highlight the size and weight of the Sonata and if you’re after a true backroad blast then the similarly priced i30 Fastback N is more fun. The Sonata still tips into tight bends with conviction, but its preference for stability over adjustability is more pronounced at lower speeds.
Interestingly, the Sonata is one of the few cars that hasn’t been subjected to a full ride and handling re-tune for the Australian market. Hyundai Australia claimed the global tune was well and truly up to their standard.
Despite 19-inch alloys, that absolutely rings true. The Sonata’s ride quality is well judged given the N Line intentions. In town there is some harshness from the taut dampers, but once on the open road it strikes an excellent balance between athleticism and comfort, the long wheelbase helping to soak up large compressions.
This adds up to a feeling of security on a good road, rather than out-and-out fun which suits the N Line character well.
Living with the Sonata is quite easy, despite its length (4,900mm) and width (1,860mm) the sedan is an easy car to place. Features like a 360-degree monitor, front and rear parking sensors and blind-spot cameras all help with its usability around town.
Safety kit is impressive too, despite the Sonata not getting an ANCAP rating it has adaptive features like adaptive cruise control, AEB with forward, reverse, junction, pedestrian and cyclist functionality, blindspot monitoring, safe-exit assist, lane-trace assist and lane-departure warning.
Inside the Sonata echoes some of the character of the exterior. The four-spoke steering wheel first seen on the i30 Sedan appears again but this time finished in sporty perforated leather with red stitching.
There is one other departure from the norm with buttons instead of a gearstick, but mostly the Sonata is familiar. A 12.3-inch digital driver’s display looks good (though misses out on mapping capability) and there’s a 10.25-inch touchscreen that runs Hyundai’s familiar Android-based software. A cable is required for for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality though there is a rubberised wireless charging pad.
The Sonata’s cabin suffers a similar fate to the i30 Sedan. While Hyundai has stepped out in design terms, build quality has suffered. The art deco indicator stalks creak under finger, and over large bumps cabin plastics can be heard shifting. Soft touch materials are at least present, and the plastics themselves are generally of high quality.
The N Line seats are worth mentioning, with ample leather-appointed bolsters and suedecloth centres they offer plenty of support in corners. They are also heated, cooled and electrically adjustable with two-stage memory.
Rear seat passengers aren’t forgotten about either, at six-foot-two I had generous knee and toe room, with enough headroom to be comfortable beneath the glorious panoramic sunroof. Niceties continue with air-vents, heating, USB ports, sun blind on the side windows window and electrically deployable rear blind to keep the harsh sun at bay.
Like people, carrying things is not a problem with the Sonata. Once you’ve figured out how to open the boot – hint, the button is cleverly hidden within the badge – the Hyundai offers a generous 510L of cargo capacity. Under the boot floor the Sonata also has a space-saver spare tyre.
Hyundai backs the Sonata N line with a five year, unlimited kilometre warranty in Australia as well as ten years of free roadside assistance.
Capped-price servicing plans can be bundled in with a Sonata purchase with five years of maintenance costing $1,750. A service is due every 12 months or 10,000km.
Over our testing period the Sonata returned a respectable consumption figure of 8.5L/100km over a mix of test scenarios.
Although a little short of Hyundai’s claim of 8.1L/100km, it was fairly impressive for a real-world result given the grunt on offer from the 2.5-litre engine.
Hyundai’s newest Sonata is certainly eye-catching. It’s likely to alienate some Sonata traditionalists, but then the sporty flavour of this N Line variant would do that in the driving experience anyway.
Despite some detractors when it comes to build and material quality, the new Sonata hits the sporty-but-refined niche on the head with accuracy.
Thankfully, the out-there appearance is backed up by some serious substance. That 2.5-litre engine provides ample acceleration when the tyres are hooked up, and the chassis is well resolved, if tilted more towards outright grip than driver feedback.
The Sonata N Line is never going to trouble the Tucson medium SUV for outright sales, but it’s worth taking a look at. The Sonata packs plenty of grunt, tech and features into a reasonable asking price and will have you standing out on the road as an added bonus.
Variant tested Sonata N Line
Key specs (as tested)
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