CUVs and SUVs might be all the rage in the U.S. market, but the 2019 Wards 10 Best Interiors list finds several automakers still eager to deliver beautifully executed sedans and coupes with passenger compartments that are sleek, stylish and alluring.
Eight Wards editors based in Southfield, MI, selected the best interiors from a list of 32 nominated vehicles with all-new or significantly improved cabins available in the U.S.
Test drives in Metro Detroit were conducted in February and March, and judges scored each vehicle on design aesthetic, comfort, ergonomics, materials, fit-and-finish and the user-friendliness of displays and controls. There is no price cap for 10 Best Interiors.
This year’s honorees in alphabetical order (price listed as tested):
- Bentley Continental GT ($276,730)
- BMW M850i ($119,295)
- Genesis G70 ($44,895)
- Hyundai Santa Fe ($39,905)
- Jeep Gladiator ($51,245)
- Lincoln Nautilus ($67,630)
- Mercedes-Benz A220 ($51,935)
- Nissan Kicks ($23,330)
- Toyota RAV4 ($39,565)
- Volvo V60 ($54,690)
“Utility vehicles represent the biggest growth in vehicle sales, and automakers aren’t launching as many coupes, sedans and wagons as they have in the past, which makes it remarkable that half the list this year is conventional cars,” says Wards Senior Content Director Drew Winter.
“We’re proud of a list that includes a $23,330 compact CUV and an ultra-luxury coupe that is 10 times more expensive,” Winter says. “They both make the list because they represent meaningful achievement in their respective segments.”
This is the ninth year for the Wards 10 Best Interiors competition, and the selection process mirrors that of Wards 10 Best Engines and Wards 10 Best User Experiences.
Wards editors are announcing the winners today at the New York International Auto Show. Winning automakers will receive their trophies at a luncheon ceremony during the 2019 WardsAuto Interiors Conference being held May 9 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, MI.
The all-new third-generation Bentley Continental (pictured above) is a Grand Tourer that oozes grace and sophistication and delivers rarefied levels of craftsmanship, comfort and luxury – both inside and out.
But we focus on the cabin, which expresses a completely new styling language that pulls surfaces taut and angles the instrument panel away from the driver. Finely finished wood and metallic trim form a gentle bow on the front doors that sweeps dramatically across the instrument panel, enveloping the front seats. The visual effect is breathtaking.
The Continental GT’s fully redesigned cabin leverages first-rate digital displays and driver interfaces, while employing familiar Bentley elements, such as the chrome-plated “organ pull” vent levers, exquisitely knurled knobs and the winged-B logo applied copiously throughout.
It takes 1,000 workers 100 hours to handcraft a Continental GT interior at the plant in Crewe, U.K., including nine hours to assemble the book-matched veneer. And don’t forget the 10 bull hides from northern Europe and 310,675 stitches necessary for the handsome double-diamond embroidery on just the seats alone.
Like the Continental GT, BMW’s new M850i sport coupe (pictured above) is filled with sumptuous leather-wrapped surfaces and authentic metallic trim that make it both warm and cool inside.
The dominant color scheme in our test vehicle was tasteful saddle-brown Tartufo and black, with exceedingly supportive seats (and adjustable thigh cushions) accentuated by contrast black piping, thick bolsters and perforated fine-grain Merino leather stitched in artsy U-shaped elements that stack like vertebrae down the center of the seatback.
Our judges loved the mirrored iDrive and volume knobs, as well as the crystalline gear shifter and distinctive textured aluminum on the center console. The M850i also got high marks for ergonomics, brilliant displays and lightning-fast voice recognition that lets the driver ask for or adjust climate, entertainment and navigation functions with natural speech.
We also tested the BMW 330i sedan and X5 CUV, and they both scored highly with our judges. But the M850i takes the brand’s interiors to another level.
The Genesis G70 (pictured above) interior does everything well, from the premium microsuede headliner and quilted doors to the spot-on fit-and-finish, excellent ergonomics and superb driver-assistance and infotainment systems.
“It’s so easy to work this interior,” editor James Amend says on his G70 scoresheet. “Everything looks great, and it’s so intuitive.”
Attention to detail makes the G70 a winner, from the brushed aluminum sillplate, hanger buttons on the backside of the B-pillars and knurled finish on knobs to the textured metallic trim surrounding the front and rear cupholders, as well as the smartly placed switches on the left side of the passenger seat, allowing the driver to slide it fore and aft to make room for second-row occupants.
The second row is comfortable, with contoured bucket-like outboard seats that also are heated and fold nearly flat to free up pass-through space for big items in the trunk.
The fact that all this style, quality and content can be had for under $45,000 makes the G70 – the 2019 North American Car of the Year – an absolute steal.
The Hyundai brand has won seven Wards 10 Best Interiors trophies over the past eight years, including one for the previous-generation Santa Fe in 2013.
This year, Hyundai gets its eighth 10 Best Interiors trophy, this time for the all-new Santa Fe (pictured above), a midsize CUV loaded with standard driver-assistance technology, handsome materials, great utility, easy-to-grab knobs and a fetching dark gray/light brown color scheme, set off with orange contrast stitching.
Better yet, the Santa Fe is a phenomenal bargain at $39,905 in top-of-the-range Ultimate trim with all-wheel drive, heated second-row seats, wireless device charging, second-row privacy shades and the kind of brushed-aluminum sillplates usually found in luxury cars twice the price.
Fit-and-finish is impeccable, as the matte-finish wood-like trim carves a half-moon atop the passenger side of the instrument panel, then sweeps precisely into the upper part of the door, visually connecting the entire front row.
Truly unique are the door-mounted mocha-brown speaker grilles, which have a raised, textured appearance, resembling pebbles in a stream. For another Santa Fe notable, just look up: The headliner is uniquely woven, blending gray and ivory threads like a professor’s tweed blazer.
This spring, Jeep is offering its first pickup truck in 27 years, the all-new Gladiator (pictured above), and it’s much more than a Wrangler SUV with a bed attached to the back.
Yes, much of the Wrangler’s content from the B-pillar forward is the same, but the second row is completely new, with loads of clever storage options.
The second-row seats were redesigned to fold down for storage behind and for seat bottoms to lift up for storage below. The optional floor bins can be locked, and the seatbacks can be locked in place as well to secure goods stashed behind them, such as the optional wireless Bluetooth speaker that can be removed for trailhead entertainment.
All these locks may sound excessive, but they provide peace of mind deep in the wilderness for those who will leave their vehicles unattended perhaps for days.
Did we mention that every Gladiator is convertible? Yes, either the soft top folds back quickly and easily, or the hard-top “Freedom Panels” pull off to enjoy the great outdoors.
Light, airy and beautiful are the best words to describe the interior of the Lincoln Nautilus Black Label (pictured above).
The midsize luxury CUV is immersed in creamy, off-white goodness, from its Alcantara headliner, inner steering wheel and upper doors to the lower instrument panel, center console and Venetian leather seats, perforated in a distinctive Arabesque diamond pattern reminiscent of the Lincoln brand logo.
The center console is the visual focal point of the interior, as the instrument panel slopes downward and intersects with support members for the center armrest that curve gently downward toward the front footwells. Beautifully finishing that space is Silverwood trim that bookends climate and audio controls.
Also impressive in the Nautilus is the satin metallic trim, the extensive ambient color options and the Sync infotainment system, which has easy-to-understand menus and fast response time to commands, both manual and spoken. Even the cargo area is well-appointed with the Lincoln logo sewn into the carpet and a brushed aluminum protective sillplate.
Mercedes-Benz has a new entry-level car, the A220 (pictured above), but its outstanding content, styling and functionality hardly make it the runt of the litter.
For its ground-breaking MBUX user-experience and driver interface, broad palette of ambient color options, gorgeous, turbine-shaped vents and more, the A220 earns a 2019 Wards 10 Best Interiors trophy.
This is the fourth Mercedes-Benz vehicle to win a trophy in six years, beginning with the S-Class sedan in 2014, the first of several vehicles to employ two high-resolution digital display screens side-by-side behind one sheet of glass atop the instrument panel.
It’s a design that has fit well in sedans, coupes and CUVs, but in some ways the A220 gets the star treatment with the automaker’s first application of MBUX, an intelligent infotainment system with augmented-reality navigation, super-fast natural-speech voice recognition and an intuitive touchscreen.
Plus, customers drawn to ambient lighting will love the 64 color choices, and there’s a setting for mixing the colors in different sections of the interior, creating a strobe-light discotheque effect.
Perhaps most impressive is the base price of $34,500, which includes MBUX and smaller display screens.
Speaking of value, the Nissan Kicks (pictured above) takes the prize as the least-expensive honoree in this year’s competition – not just among the winners but among all 32 nominees. With a $23,330 sticker price, the Kicks comes in way below the $36,000 average price of a new car in the U.S., and yet the interior (and heck, the exterior too!) reflects no bare-bones mentality or cost-challenged design shortcuts.
It’s important in our competition to identify great interiors in affordable vehicles because the under-$30k crowd sometimes has a lot to offer. The Kicks is a great example, as Nissan designers used color and materials to dress up what could have been an unremarkable interior.
Orange stitching sweeps across the soft Prima-tex-covered instrument panel and also punctuates the comfortable seats and head restraints, giving the Kicks a decidedly upscale look and feel. The stitching ties in neatly with the red-orange backlighting on some of the center-stack controls.
Our judges also appreciated the ergonomics, finding everything within easy reach in the Kicks, and they liked its excellent around-view monitor and curbside cameras.
There are many reasons why the Toyota RAV4 (pictured above) is the best-selling utility vehicle in America, and the adventurous interior of the all-new model is certain to boost its popularity among midsize CUV shoppers.
The well-equipped Limited Hybrid version we tested with on-demand all-wheel drive was loaded with premium features, including a leather-trimmed steering wheel, five USB ports, blue ambient light, premium audio with navigation and a soft-touch two-tier instrument panel.
Last year, we celebrated some automakers for interiors that were daring to the point of seeming like far-reaching concepts. We feel this way about this year’s RAV4, with enough funky angles and shapes (such as the trapezoidal door trim and IP vents) to excite a geometry teacher.
And check out the complex shape of the center cupholder – not just a basic rectangle with two pots for a few Big Gulps.
Yet another accent is the mocha-brown trim on the cupholder bezel, a color repeated in other storage cubbies within the soothing, two-tone gray interior. Toyota is taking chances – the kind of chances this competition rewards.
In the Volvo V60 sport wagon (pictured above), what’s old is new again as the Swedish brand expertly weaves an upholstered plaid interior that is visually dazzling, environmentally friendly and uniquely European.
The delightful first impression brings back fond memories of car interiors from decades ago, and the off-white leather and mocha instrument panel provide a perfect backdrop that balances the busy-ness of all that plaid.
But beyond the fabric, the V60 shines as the interior achieves a serene sense of design harmony, from the Scandinavian simplicity of the louvered center console to the perfect-fit rubber seals along the headliner and pillar trim. Soft-touch surfaces are complemented by glistening hard trim, helping achieve an aesthetic balance that is warm and inviting.
Overall, the materials and patterns blend to create an interior that feels both open and airy and taut and protective.
We felt this way three years ago about the larger XC90 CUV when it made the Wards 10 Best Interiors list and ushered in Volvo’s new interior design language. We can’t wait to see the next interior home run from Gothenburg.