WardsAuto editors are nearing the end of the 2015 Ward’s 10 Best Interiors competition and will announce the winners April 16.
This year’s field consists of 42 all-new or significantly improved interiors in just about every vehicle segment available to U.S. shoppers.
From entry-level economy cars and rear-wheel-drive sport coupes to luxury plug-in hybrids and a raft of utility vehicles, this year’s pool of contenders finds automakers thinking creatively about passenger compartments – how to make them more spacious, functional and stylish.
A handful of entries (namely the BMW i3 and i8, Jeep Renegade, Kia Sedona and Nissan Murano) suggest automakers are giving designers newfound freedom to reimagine the role of the interior.
Setting these vehicles apart are unique applications of ambient lighting, bold splashes of color, distinctive trim, far-reaching materials or clever packaging.
Eight WardsAuto editors based in Southfield, MI, select the winners after spending February and March evaluating and scoring the 42 vehicles based on these criteria: fit-and-finish, comfort, material selection, ergonomics, information/displays, value, safety and design aesthetics.
To be eligible, an interior must be completely new or significantly improved. There is no price cap, unlike with Ward’s 10 Best Engines, which limits base vehicle price at $60,000.
Winning automakers will receive their trophies during a ceremony at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference being held May 13 in the new Grand Riverview Ballroom at Detroit’s Cobo Center.
In scoring each entry, editors complete score sheets after looking closely at, for instance, the “kings joint,” a fussy mating point between the front doors and instrument panel. Any misalignment of trim can result in point deductions.
They look at stitching and seams all over the vehicle – on doors, seats, sunroofs and instrument panels, in cargo holds and where the headliner meets with each section of pillar trim. They check for flush-fitting vents and speaker grates. They rotate knobs and flip switches to make sure they function smoothly.
How Winners Are Picked
Aesthetics and design harmony are major factors, but editors also manipulate seat controls and reach across the center stack to see if buttons and knobs on the far side are within easy range. Are there any ergonomic challenges an automaker failed to address?
They try out touchpads and touchscreens to test their user-friendliness. They check sightlines, second-row headroom and the ease of access to third-row seats.
Editors want to find out if the design team paid extreme attention to detail by, for instance, providing a smooth finished edge where the headliner meets the windshield – a place most consumers will never see.
They watch for textures, material quality and gloss levels and may mark down a vehicle for obviously fake wood and excessive cheap plastic.
The 2015 pool of nominees is extremely diverse. In keeping with a trend noticed in recent years, mainstream brands continue refining their interiors to the point they could be competing with luxury marques.
For example, there are seven new CUVs or SUVs from traditional luxury brands, namely Cadillac, Infiniti, Lexus, Lincoln and Mercedes.
But four others (Ford Edge, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano and Volkswagen Touareg) are beautifully appointed and priced to compete in near-luxury segments.
In all, there are nine mainstream CUVs among this year’s nominees, including the Chevrolet Trax, Honda CR-V and Subaru Outback.
In addition, the field includes eight luxury cars and eight mainstream sedans, including three vehicles whose interiors clearly are reaching out to premium-minded buyers (Chrysler 300C, Mazda6 and Subaru Legacy).
Trucks in this year’s competition are the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon and Ram ProMaster city van, which is vying for attention as a low-cost cargo van that also handles second-row passenger duty quite nicely.
Sports cars in the field include the Alfa Romeo 4C, Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and Ford Mustang. The Sedona and Toyota Sienna are this year’s only minivans.
2015 10 Best Interiors Nominees
Alfa Romeo 4C
Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Lexus NX 300h
Lexus RC 350
Lincoln MKC Black Label
Lincoln MKZ Black Label
Mercedes S550 Coupe
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Ram ProMaster City van