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WardsAuto editors evaluated 41 new or improved interiors in picking winners
<p><strong>WardsAuto editors evaluated 41 new or improved interiors in picking winners.</strong></p>

Line Blurred Between Luxury, Mainstream Interiors

Even &ldquo;entry-level&rdquo; cars earning Ward&rsquo;s 10 Best Interiors honors this year are delivering premium content. Each day for the next two weeks, WardsAuto will profile a winning interior.

This isn’t the first year luxurious passenger compartments have fared well in the Ward’s 10 Best Interiors competition. Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Lexus, Range Rover and Volvo have made the cut in recent years.

But the 2014 honorees, even those hailing from non-premium brands, are so lavishly appointed that a question springs to mind: Where exactly does one draw the line between mainstream vehicles and those considered “luxury?”

Climb behind the wheel of the least-expensive car on our list, the $24,010 ’14 Kia Soul+, and it’s hard to classify this well-appointed interior as down-market or entry-level.

It has leather-trimmed seats, navigation, a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, a premium audio system and the UVO telematics system.

OK, the lighted speakers, neon-green stitching and funky aesthetics are too edgy for traditional high-end customers, but the feature content is, without question, first-rate.

Same is true for the $30,415 Mazda3, the $31,470 Chrysler 200C and the Volkswagen GTI (estimated at $30,695).

Even the $37,525 Jeep Cherokee Limited, with its blue-and-brown leather interior, adaptive cruise control and ability to park itself, seems almost too swanky for the Rubicon Trail.

Consider also the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Sure, it’s expensive ($71,960), but the interior finally puts Corvette in an elite class with the Porsche 911, and it also beat out the spiffy cockpit of the $100,370 Jaguar F-Type roadster.

The only pickup truck making the list this year is the $56,685 GMC Sierra Denali, which is well- positioned to capitalize on the trend toward feature-rich pickups.

That leads us to the final three winners that no doubt are classified as luxury interiors: the $68,920 Hyundai Equus Ultimate, the $122,895 Mercedes-Benz S550 and the $372,800 Rolls-Royce Wraith.

All three of these faced intense competition from just about every premium brand under the sun and yet earned their stripes with breathtaking beauty, nap-worthy comfort and lots of clever highlights.

Other takeaways from this year’s competition:

  • Voice-activation systems are getting really good, allowing drivers to ask for a different radio station without fiddling with knobs. Eventually, much of the car may be voice-controlled.
  • The Mercedes S550 deserves a special prize for achievement in ambient lighting. Other vehicles using soft lighting as an essential design element include the Bentley Flying Spur, BMW X5, Jaguar F-Type, Kia K900 and Toyota Highlander.
  • The Koreans continue executing some really fine interiors. In addition to the Soul and Equus, the Kia K900 and Cadenza and Hyundai Genesis scored highly as well.
  • Glossy faux wood has not been abolished, but some automakers are doing excellent work with matte-finish wood (Chrysler 200C, Genesis, Mercedes E350 and Volvo XC60) and carbon-fiber trim (Audi SQ5, Cadillac ELR, Maserati Ghibli and Subaru WRX).

WardsAuto editors in metro Detroit chose the winners after evaluating 41 vehicles with new or significantly improved interiors during February and March. Judging criteria include comfort, material quality, fit-and-finish, driver information and aesthetics.

Winners will be honored at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference on May 21 at The Henry Hotel in Dearborn, MI.

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