Lexus LS instrument panel highlighted by acrylic lit surface above parallel magnesium bars Tom Murphy and Susan Kozik

Lexus LS instrument panel highlighted by acrylic lit surface above parallel magnesium bars.

2018 Wards 10 Best Interiors: What a Concept!

This year's competition saw 40 nominated interiors that were all-new or significantly improved from the prior year, and even some of the vehicles that didn't make the list pushed boundaries with regard to style, materials and colors.

From an array of blazing colors and digital dials that perform multiple functions to an in-floor storage bin that can be used to both measure and preserve caught fish, this year's Wards 10 Best Interiors winners make it clear automakers are treating passenger compartments more like dazzling concepts than mainstream production cars and trucks.

This year's competition saw 40 nominated interiors that were all-new or significantly improved from the prior year, and even some of the vehicles that didn’t make the list pushed boundaries with regard to style, materials and colors.

Red was extremely popular this year, not only as an accent color but covering complete seats and wide swaths of door panels on five vehicles in the competition – six if the burgundy-red Lincoln Navigator is included.

“Thank you to all the interior designers who have been urging their bosses to take chances and try colors that are less predictable,” WardsAuto Senior Content Director Drew Winter says.

“We know a lot of consumers end up buying black, gray or beige interiors, but there are also a lot of shoppers who want more excitement. This year’s class of winners will make those folks happy.”

The 2018 winners in alphabetical order (with price as tested):

  • Chevrolet Equinox ($36,375)
  • Hyundai Kona ($29,775)
  • Infiniti QX50 ($58,195)
  • Kia Stinger ($48,350)
  • Lexus LS 500 ($89,780)
  • Lincoln Navigator ($96,570)
  • Porsche Panamera ($201,540)
  • Ram 1500 ($65,945)
  • Range Rover Velar ($91,830)
  • Toyota Camry ($39,253)

Chevrolet wins its sixth Wards 10 Best Interiors trophy for the all-new Equinox, which demonstrates with its stylish, well-built interior why it remains one of America’s most popular midsize CUVs.

In a utilitarian segment often leaning toward the conventional, the Equinox interior revels in its abundant curves, tilted oblong air vents and angular door trim. Just about the only straight horizontal lines in the cabin can be found in the seat stitching.

WardsAuto editors praise the Equinox for its soft, premium materials, massive center console, outstanding infotainment system, excellent value and contrasting black and butterscotch color scheme. We scoured the Equinox for fit-and-finish problems and could barely find a seam out of place.

And then there’s the little touches that surprise and delight – such as the heated and cooled second-row seats, heated steering wheel, 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, wireless phone charging and, at engine shutoff, a reminder not to leave children or cargo unattended in the back seat.

Hyundai Kona.

Moving to the booming compact CUV segment, which faces even tougher cost constraints, Hyundai uses brilliant splashes of color to make the interior of the all-new Kona a hipster’s playground and one that looks and feels anything but cheap.

Black interiors are the norm in this segment, but Hyundai’s designers judiciously use neon lime trim to frame the air vents, ignition start button and transmission shifter bezel to catch the eye of shoppers looking for something out of the ordinary. The neon lime treatment carries over to the piping, stitching and head restraints for seats in both rows.

Beyond the color scheme, WardsAuto editors praise Hyundai for the high-definition head-up display and for simplifying the design of the center stack, framing the 8-in. (20-cm) color touchscreen with category buttons that take the driver into the proper sub-menu. The few buttons and knobs that remain are hefty and easy to use. This is the fifth Wards 10 Best Interiors honor for the Hyundai brand.

The all-new Infiniti QX50 is one of those interiors that has us seeing a lot of conceptual edginess appearing in production vehicles.

From the brown Ultrasuede headliner and navy blue Ultrasuede accents on the center armrest, instrument panel and doors to the creamy white semi-aniline leather trimmed in mocha stripes and stitching, the QX50 interior is one that is simultaneously effervescent, calming and inspiring.

WardsAuto editors heap praise on this luxury CUV for its gorgeous textures, “stunning array of high-quality materials” and open-pore maple wood trim that is so subtle it actually looks metallic. Who knew blue, brown, cream and metallic trim could live together in such beautiful harmony? A massive panoramic roof bathes all the interior finery in natural light.

Beyond the cosmetics, the QX50 gets high marks for a generously proportioned center console, spacious second row and overall excellent value, as well as three brightly colored display screens (two in the center stack and one in the gauge cluster).

Kia, Lexus, Lincoln, Porsche

Winning Kia’s fifth Wards 10 Best Interiors trophy is the all-new Stinger, a fresh flagship sedan that is sporty and luxurious – the perfect complement for the car’s sleek exterior sheet metal and award-winning twin-turbo V-6.

The Stinger was one of many nominees this year offering a hot-red passenger compartment, but the Kia won us over with spot-on build quality, lovely brushed aluminum trim, an ample second row and beefy seat bolsters to accommodate aggressive maneuvering.

The Stinger GT took its spot on our list with no debate. The “splendidly executed” interior is both elegant and athletic thanks to its high-quality leather and soft-touch materials and a just-right mix of black and red surfaces.

Our smartphones pair quickly, voice activation is “first-rate,” driver-assistance systems are “fantastic” and touchscreen menus are easy to understand. Designers left no stone unturned in delivering an exemplary cabin – even the grab handles are designed to match the shifter handle.

A year ago, Lexus expressed its groundbreaking new design language with the sexy LC 500 coupe, a 2017 Wards 10 Best Interiors winner. This year, the brand’s fourth trophy will honor its designers for extending that interior magic to Lexus’ flagship sedan, the all-new LS 500.

In some ways, it was easier to indulge the tight LC coupe with dramatic flourishes, but the much larger LS resides in the executive saloon segment where basic black rules the roost and where design teams from Germany to the U.S. seem terrified of risk.

Looking to gain some ground in the languishing fullsize luxury sedan segment, Lexus dresses the new LS in spectacular color combinations (including crimson in the F-Sport variant) and taps the creativity of its assembly craftsmen for hand-pleated door trim and cut-crystal trim that looks like Waterford’s finest. These two elements, alone, would have appeared only on a concept vehicle not long ago.

​WardsAuto editors recognize the LS for its “top-shelf stuff from headliner to floor,” knurled knobs, huge central screen and reconfigurable gauges and deem it “worth every penny,” even pushing $90,000.

Fans had to wait 20 years for an all-new Lincoln Navigator but it was worth the wait, as the interior in the big SUV is an absolute jaw-dropper.

It’s no surprise the ’18 Navigator, tested in Black Label dress at a price of $96,570, earns our highest cumulative score in this year’s 10 Best Interiors’ competition thanks to the vehicle’s sumptuous-and-seemingly everywhere “Venetian” leather, “Dinamica” faux suede and lacquered wood trim.

Navigator driver's seat moves 30 ways.

Lincoln breaks some new materials ground in the sub-$100,000 category with portions of wood trim finished with a tiny silver dot pattern and upper door leather so heavily perforated it’s almost webbed. It also scores highly on infotainment. The touchscreen has fantastic resolution, and menus are well-organized and easy to navigate.

On the functionality side, all second- and third-row seats fold electrically with the touch of a switch in the Navigator’s cargo hold, yielding a massive, flat load floor ideal for moving day.

What’s more, the leather, carpeting and select hard plastics are done in a fetching Mahogany Red, making you feel like “you’re swimming in a glass of cabernet,” says Editor James Amend.

Earning the distinction as the highest-priced vehicle tested this year, at $201,540, is the Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, and it doesn’t disappoint. The car’s saddle-brown leather and brushed aluminum trim are of the utmost quality and make for a beautiful pairing that wows our judges.

WardsAuto editors love the completely reworked, sleek center stack. Gone are the rows of buttons that stood for the Porsche of yore and in their place is a clean, sophisticated, intuitive layout with capacitive switches.

“Porsche has stepped up to a much more contemporary user experience and deserves credit,” one editor says, giving kudos to the large screen and corresponding large fonts that are easy to decipher.

Along the way, occupants never forget this brand’s high-performance pedigree, noting the fixed head restraints, firm seats and easy cycling through certain modes intended to deliver the Panamera Hybrid’s prodigious 680 hp.

But the car is about comfort, too, with “the best massaging seats on the planet,” says one judge, and a second row console for controlling music, cabin temperature, navigation, heated and cooled seats and much more.

Ram, Range Rover, Toyota

Keeping its reputation for extreme attention to detail is the Ram 1500, landing on this year’s winner’s list in the form of the $65,945 Limited-grade Crew Cab 4x4. The truck’s indigo/frost interior color combination is stylish and handsome, as is its cloth-mimicking film, swirling-patterned Harman/Kardon speaker grilles and distressed metal trim. Unlike other grades of the Ram that may hit you over the head with “country,” the filigreed stitching on seat shoulders is a subtle nod to the cowboy lifestyle.

Usually color, detail and materials like that are the overriding reason for a vehicle to place on our list, but the Ram’s touchscreen is equally as impressive. The giant, vertical 12-in. (305-mm) screen isn’t only a sight to behold for its bold hues and graphics, but its menu structure is logical and easy to comprehend while the vehicle is in motion.

“Whatever it costs, it’s worth it,” says Editor Drew Winter of the Ram Limited.

More incredible materials are to be found in the Range Rover Velar, another of our 2018 winners. The $91,830 Velar First Edition we tested is white, black and cool all over with its triangular perforation pattern on seats and door speaker grates and “copper weave” carbon-fiber trim, plus faux suede and aluminum.

Controls also are a plus as our Velar boasts multi-function dials for HVAC, freeing up space on the center stack and lending a serene feel inside. The dials are brilliantly designed to control seat heat, then set cabin temperature. Expect to see more of these multi-function controls in the future.

Range Rover Velar.

Fit-and-finish is stellar and comfort is high, especially when you turn the Velar’s massaging seats on. Aah, relaxation. “This is beautifully done and strikes the right balance of luxury, sport and technology,” says Editor Dave Zoia.

No, hell hath not frozen over – there really is a Toyota Camry on this year’s Wards 10 Best Interiors list. And deservedly so, as the No.1 Japanese automaker, previously not known for its thrilling cabins, kicks it up a notch or three.

Our test car came to us awash in red leather with accents of black and silver and bold, crisscrossing shapes that had us captivated from the get go. Particularly compelling is the unusual center stack that is distinctive for its lack of symmetry, broken up by a swerving bar that winds its way from the instrument cluster down around the shifter and cupholders to the left side of the passenger seat.

“Wow, this is a Camry?” one editor wrote on her score sheet.

But it wasn’t all color and surface treatment that put the sedan in the winner’s circle. The car also has a great head-up display, unique fluted center-stack buttons, extending visors, a nice gauge-cluster screen (too often overlooked for resolution and menu organization) and, the holy grail among automotive nitpickers, no exposed grab bar pins.

“Stylish, futuristic – I think it’s really sharp and raises the level on midsize sedan interiors,” says Editor Bob Gritzinger.

Now in its eighth year, the Wards 10 Best Interiors list recognizes outstanding achievement in aesthetics, comfort, ergonomics, materials usage, fit-and-finish and user-friendly electronics. There is no price cap, and each year's field of nominees consists of interiors that are all-new or have been significantly improved from the prior year.

The 2018 Wards 10 Best Interiors will be honored in a special ceremony during the WardsAuto Interiors Conference on May 30 at Cobo Conference Center in Detroit. Winning vehicles will be on display. For more information about the daylong conference, visit http://autointeriors.com.

Visit WardsAuto in the coming weeks for articles, videos and additional photos from the 2018 Wards 10 Best Interiors competition.

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