NEW YORK – The ’15 Hyundai Sonata looks more conservative than the strikingly clad model it replaces.

Hyundai describes the new look as refined. Others say it seems as though the exterior designers pulled back.

The redesign is part of Hyundai’s attempt to sell the seventh-generation model as a near-premium entry in the brutally competitive U.S. midsize sedan segment.

“I would never say it’s a luxury car, but it is a leap, and it is no accident it came out after the Genesis,” Steve Shannon, Hyundai Motor America chief marketing officer, tells WardsAuto.

At its New York International Auto Show debut, the Sonata is put on the floor next to the Genesis luxury sedan.

The ’15 Sonata and Genesis share a family resemblance, but the price gap between them is wide enough so the Sonata doesn’t steal sales from its upmarket relative, says Dave Zuchowski, CEO of the South Korean automaker’s U.S. unit.

Leading the midsize-sedan segment are the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion. “It’s a sector everyone brings their A-team to,” says Shannon, a former General Motors marketer.

Sonata’s new look is a manifestation of “fluidic sculpture,” featuring “dignity, respect and inner strength,” Hyundai’s U.S. design chief Chris Chapman says.

“I think they played it safe,” Larry Dominique, executive vice president of TrueCar and a former Nissan product developer, tells WardsAuto. “It’s hard to reinvent yourself with a striking exterior twice in a row.”

Besides its new look, Hyundai touts the Sonata’s strong driving dynamics, added content and advanced-safety features such as blindspot and lane-departure warning systems.

The car is exclusively designed for 4-cyl. engines that have been reengineered, Hyundai product planner Mike O’Brien says of a 2.4L and a turbocharged 2.0L.

Hyundai has to “step up its game once again if it wants to increase share in the cutthroat midsize market,” says Kelley Blue Book analyst Alec Gutierrez.

Hyundai has yet to announce Sonata pricing “but given the competitiveness of that segment, we think it is really important that pricing stays about where it is now,” Zuchowski tells WardsAuto.

Pricing for the current model, dating to 2011, ranges from $21,450 to $28,550 for a limited edition.

Zuchowski calls competition in the midsize sedan segment “a bloodbath.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com