DETROIT – The North American debut of the all-new ’15 Genesis is especially significant because it features Hyundai’s new Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design language, which will migrate to its whole lineup and is aimed at creating a more sophisticated look for all Hyundai vehicles.

Key elements of the new Fluidic Sculpture design are an imposing stand-up hexagonal front grille and a strong crease running along the flanks of the car. The new Genesis is only slightly longer than its predecessor, but there is a longer dash-to-axle length, significantly longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs to give it a more imposing presence.

The rear features dominant, highly sculpted full-LED taillamps.

Beyond the new design, the ’15 Genesis offers key features lacking on the first-generation car, such as all-wheel drive, as well as a couple of clever “world-first” features, including an automatic trunk opener and a new type of driver-drowsiness warning system.

Automatic emergency braking, head-up display and advanced connectivity and infotainment options round out a long list of features that will be available, even though Hyundai says the starting price will be under $40,000.    

Hyundai made a splash in 2008 when it introduced the ’09 Genesis, which was the automaker’s first entry into the global luxury market. Even though it was criticized for overly conservative styling, it was a shockingly good effort for a young automaker known mostly for building affordable small cars. It won North American Car of Year in 2009, among other awards, and its superb Tau V-8 made the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list three years in a row.

U.S. sales have averaged about 33,000 units annually in recent years, according to WardsAuto data, putting it in the same ballpark as the Audi A4, Lexus IS250/350 and Lincoln MKZ. The sales leader in WardsAuto’s lower luxury segment is the BMW 3-Series, with about 100,000 annual deliveries.

Hyundai underscores the extensive amounts of ultra-high strength steel used throughout the vehicle, which gives the body much greater torsional and bending stiffness than the BMW 5-Series.

This increased strength is expected to enable the Genesis to perform well in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety small-overlap test and other crash tests.

Hyundai is the only automaker that still owns its own steel company and it believes this gives it an advantage in coming up with the most advanced proprietary steels.

However, the Genesis’ emphasis on making components such as doors out of steel rather than aluminum, which Cadillac and BMW use, does make it one the heavier cars in its segment.

The new car will be built in Hyundai’s Ulsan, South Korea, plant and goes on sale in the U.S. and Europe beginning in the spring. The automaker expects to sell 62,000 units worldwide in 2014 and is hoping the new all-drive option, developed with Magna, will give it more sales traction in snowbelt states.

The current Genesis interior already has a pleasant, airy feel, but it is enhanced for the ’15 model year with simplified switchgear and higher-quality, more natural-looking materials. There is more rear-seat leg room and total interior volume is better than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Lexus GS or Cadillac CTS, Hyundai says.     

The seats also have been upgraded significantly with firmer materials and more power adjustments. The redesigned driver’s seat uses fast-reacting individual air cells to provide a wide range of comfort adjustments.

Hyundai says the second-generation Genesis luxury sedan will be the first car to offer a system that monitors carbon-dioxide levels in the vehicle cabin to enhance driver safety and comfort.

Engineers say elevated CO2 levels created by occupant respiration inside the vehicle cabin can cause drowsiness and slow reaction times. When a sensor located near the glovebox detects CO2 levels above 2,500 parts per million, it activates a warning light on the instrument panel and triggers the climate-control system to bring in more fresh air from outside.

Many other vehicles monitor driver alertness, but their systems are more complicated and presumably more expensive, employing special cameras and sophisticated electronic algorithms to scrutinize driver behavior and steering inputs.

Another new feature worth noting is a simple hands-free trunk opener for owners with their arms full. A driver carrying a package just has to stand in front of the trunk for three seconds with the key fob on their person and the trunk will open automatically.

Hyundai engineers do not mention names, but they argue their execution is safer than one currently offered by another automaker (Ford’s hands-free liftgate) that requires a person to wave their foot under the vehicle’s bumper to activate. Standing on one leg while carrying a big package could cause a person to fall, they point out.

WardsAuto drove a prototype Genesis for a few short miles on the automaker’s test track in Namyung, South Korea, last fall and found it significantly improved from the previous version, which still is quite good.

Steering and suspension response is sharper, and the body clearly is stiffer. However, the suspension of the car we tested was fairly soft during hard cornering and not as razor-sharp as the new Cadillac CTS or BMW 5-Series.

But engineers still were tweaking at that time. We are looking forward to more thorough testing this spring.

dwinter@wardsauto.com