The 2021 Hyundai Sonata makes a stronger case for itself after last year’s complete redesign. No longer merely a value play — although it is still keenly priced and well equipped — Hyundai’s midsize sedan has a rejuvenated sense of style and also boasts impressively up-to-the-minute tech. The model line has been fleshed out with a fuel-sipping Hybrid and the Sonata’s first performance version ever, the highly credible Hyundai Sonata N Line.
Though buyer interest in this segment is shrinking, the cars have never been better, and the 2021 Sonata is a fine example of that truth. Is it our top-recommended family sedan? No, would be the Honda Accord. Should the ’21 Sonata be on the short list along with the Accord? Absolutely.
What’s new for 2021?
Following up on the Sonata’s major redesign last year, the 2021 model year sees the arrival of the first Sonata N Line, a sporty variant with an exclusive 2.5-liter turbocharged engine making 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. You can read more about it in our Sonata N Line review. Elsewhere in the lineup, the new Safe Exit Assist feature alerts passengers who attempt to open a door when a vehicle is approaching from the rear. Finally, the Limited trim adds a six-way power passenger’s seat, and the SEL Plus gains 19-inch wheels.
What’s the Sonata’s interior and in-car technology like?
The 2021 Hyundai Sonata boasts a sleek, futuristic cabin with minimal clutter and high-quality materials. Like most new cars, its infotainment control screen is featured prominently atop the dash. Base models get an 8-inch screen, while a 10.25-inch touchscreen is optional from the SEL model on up. No other midsize sedan (aside from the mechanically related Kia K5) offers such a large screen, and as we describe in our Sonata infotainment review and video below, we think it’s terrific. Behind the wheel sits a customizable 12.3-inch virtual cluster display (optional on SEL, standard on SEL Plus and Limited), and the top-of-the-line Limited also offers a full-color head-up display.
There are some nice touches for tech junkies, too, including Hyundai’s “Digital Key,” which allows the owner to unlock the Sonata by waving an authorized smartphone over the exterior door handles. Hyundai also offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration as standard equipment. There are three USB ports and wireless charging is refreshingly not exclusive to the highest trim level.
Hybrid buyers are in for a special treat, as those who opt for the range-topping SEL Plus also get a solar roof. In sunny conditions, these panels can replenish up to 2 miles of additional range per day, or approximately 700 miles per year. More practically, they can power accessories while the engine itself is off, like the air conditioning on a sunny day.
How big is the Sonata?
The Sonata doesn’t have as much backseat legroom as the palatial Honda Accord. The gap isn’t as massive as the spec sheet suggests (we think there are differences in the way Hyundai measures interiors) and people taller than 6 feet can still sit one behind the other. You should also be able to fit a rear-facing child seat in the back without moving a front seat forward. Headroom is plentiful despite that sleek roofline, even more than the Accord and Camry, both on the spec sheet and in person.
The trunk offers 16.3 cubic-feet, which makes it bigger than every midsize sedan except the Accord. As we discovered in our Sonata luggage test, that figure translates into similarly impressive stuff-carrying ability. Indeed, only the Accord trunk has been able to hold more stuff in our midsize sedan luggage tests.
What are the Sonata’s fuel economy and performance specs?
The 2021 Sonata is available with four different powertrains. The base engine in the SE and SEL is a 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder making 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. These figures are typical for entry-level engines in the midsize segment. This engine is rated at 28 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 32 mpg combined in the SE model and 27/37/31 in the SEL.
Stepping up to the SEL Plus and Limited models means switching to the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. This engine produces less power (180 horses) than the base 2.5, but more torque (195 lb-ft). It likewise offers similar numbers to other lower-end turbocharged engines offered by the competition, such as the Honda Accord’s 1.5-liter. It even offers more power from a smaller package than the 2.0-liter turbo offered in the Volkswagen Passat. This engine is rated at 27 mpg city, 37 highway and 30 combined.
The most potent engine offering is the 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood of the Sonata N Line. It spins out 290 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. (The engine is shared with the Kia K5 GT). Unlike the other Sonatas, the N Line uses a dual-wet-clutch automated manual that also provides rev-matching and launch control. The N Line’s turbo-four can’t quite match the horsepower of the Toyota Camry’s V6, though it does offer more torque. EPA estimates for the N Line are 23 mpg city, 33 highway and 27 combined.
The fuel-economy champ is a 2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (pictured above). It utilizes a 150-horsepower, 2.0-liter naturally aspirated inline-four and a 39-kW electric motor. Combined, they produce a total of 192 hp. Hyundai says this combo is good for up to 50 mpg city, 54 highway and 52 combined in the Blue model, which is lighter (by a little more than 100 pounds) and sports smaller (16-inch) wheels with efficiency-focused tires. Hybrid SEL and Limited models top out at 45 mpg city, 51 highway and 47 combined. These figures are about on par with the 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid and exceed those of the Honda Accord Hybrid. In terms of actual gas used, the difference between the 47-mpg trims and the 52-mpg Blue is actually pretty negligible.
Unfortunately, no Sonata offers all-wheel drive, a feature available on an increasing number of family sedans, including the Sonata’s mechanically related cousin, the Kia K5.
What’s the Sonata like to drive?
We’ve driven every version of the Sonata apart from one with the base 2.5-liter, and we’ve found each to be surprisingly engaging to drive compared to Sonatas of that past. That even applies to the hybrid, which in the past, were synonymous with dull. Although both the Honda Accord and Mazda6 are the superior athletes in this class, the Sonata isn’t far behind, striking a competent balance between comfort and handling prowess for a daily driver. You probably won’t have fun in it, but it’s vice free and it won’t bore you to death with completely anesthetized controls. Take the steering, which has linear, consistent effort and is sufficiently responsive to your inputs. We’re also fans of Hyundai’s new, nicely contoured four-spoke steering wheel.
Thanks to its traditional transmission, the Sonata Hybrid drives more like a regular gas-only car than its rivals, the Accord Hybrid (which feels more like an electric car) or the Toyota Camry (which drones on like one with a CVT). If you’re put off by the typical weirdness of a hybrid, this is the one to get. At the same time, you can definitely notice the electric boost given to the engine when accelerating.
The 1.6-liter features Hyundai’s new CVVD engine technology, but you wouldn’t know anything special is happening had you not been warned. It’s a torquey little four-cylinder with enough grunt to get off the line in a hurry. There’s plenty of torque throughout the rev band; lag is minimal, and it’s pleasant enough to listen to. However, it’s not a substantial performance upgrade – larger four-cylinder turbo engines from Honda and Mazda are still much quicker.
The N Line, however, is much quicker. Acceleration is strong enough to cause the steering wheel to squirm in your hands, particularly a lower speeds. With stiffer suspension components and bigger brakes, there’s more to the N Line than just extra power. The car is more responsive in corners but the ride doesn’t beat up occupants over bad pavement. We can find more about it below.
What other Hyundai Sonata reviews and comparisons can I read?
Our review of the new-for-2021 Sonata N Line, which boasts more horsepower than any other family sedan. We wouldn’t call it a full-on sport model, however, as it’s smartly not hardcore enough to put off those who just want extra thrust and sharpened responses without a punishing ride or hyperactive nature.
The midsize sedan segment boasts several hybrid models. Here’s how the Sonata stacks up against the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry hybrids on paper.
How much is the 2021 Sonata price and what features are available?
The Sonata SE is robustly equipped for a base-model vehicle, but the true value leader is the SEL Plus, which includes the 1.6-liter turbo engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, suede and leatherette seating surfaces, Qi wireless device charging and an additional USB charge port — among other useful options — all for a $4,600 premium. That may sound like a lot, but it’s a great deal of equipment for a price below $30,000.
What are the Sonata safety ratings and driver assistance features?
Standard safety equipment on the 2021 Sonata includes forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic emergency braking, a driver inattention warning system, lane keeping assist with lane centering, a rear occupant alert system, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control. All but the base SE get a blind-spot warning system, which is upgraded in the Limited with the complete, multi-faceted array of blind-spot tech that we named Autoblog Technology of the Year (see video below).
Besides the sheer volume of these safety and driver assistance features, we’ve found them to be among the best-executed on the segment. They do their job well without annoying you.
The 2021 Sonata Limited received an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating, falling short of the coveted Top Safety Pick+ due to the weaknesses of the headlights offered as standard equipment on the SE, SEL and SEL Plus trims. The government (NHTSA) gives the 2021 Sonata an overall safety rating of five stars out of five.