Inner Beauty for the Masses

Editors selected the Ward’s 10 Best Interiors after spending February and March evaluating 42 new interiors and scoring them on design aesthetics, materials, ergonomics, safety, comfort, value, fit-and-finish and driver information. Trophies will be awarded May 13.

April 16, 2015

8 Min Read
Nissan Murano interior punctuated by smooth flowing lines extending from IP to center console
Nissan Murano interior punctuated by smooth, flowing lines extending from IP to center console.

Three sedans, two 5-door hatchbacks, two pickup trucks, two CUVs and a minivan round out the 2015 Ward’s 10 Best Interiors, a collection of accessible vehicles from mostly mainstream brands with exemplary passenger compartments.

While last year’s winners included four vehicles priced above $68,000, such as the $372,800 Rolls-Royce Wraith, the 2015 class is downright proletarian: The most expensive interior honored comes in a top-of-the-line version of the all-new Mercedes C-Class sedan, priced at $65,000 with all-wheel drive and a 329-hp bi-turbo V-6.

“It’s important that great interiors be available in every class of vehicle, not just luxury models that most consumers will never be able to afford,” says WardsAuto World Editor-in-Chief Drew Winter.

“In this year’s competition, we saw a lot of evidence that automakers are thinking creatively about interiors and putting a lot of design horsepower into not just luxury vehicles, but pickups, minivans and family sedans. And they are investing more in high-quality trim materials, electronic features and other details that will surprise and delight shoppers,” Winter says.

This year’s winners in alphabetical order with as-tested sticker prices:

  • ’14 BMW i3 ($52,550)

  • ’15 Chrysler 300C Platinum ($51,175)

  • ’15 Ford F-150 King Ranch ($60,675)

  • ’15 GMC Canyon SLT ($40,465)

  • ’15 Honda Fit EX-L ($21,590)

  • ’15 Jeep Renegade Limited ($33,205)

  • ’15 Kia Sedona SXL ($43,295)

  • ’16 Mazda6 Grand Touring ($33,395)

  • ’15 Mercedes C400 ($65,000)

  • ’15 Nissan Murano SL ($41,905)

WardsAuto editors selected the winners after spending February and March evaluating 42 interiors that are all-new or significantly redesigned for the U.S. market.

Each vehicle is scored based on materials, ergonomics, safety, comfort, value and fit-and-finish. In the category of driver information, editors test the user-friendliness of the human-machine interface to see how effectively vehicle information is communicated.

The most important category, worth 20 out of 100 points, is aesthestics and design harmony. Does the color scheme work, and does the interior match or at least complement the exterior styling? Do the individual elements work well together? Does the interior sell the vehicle?

BMW i3, Chrysler 300, Ford F-150

The i3 electric vehicle comes across as the type of interior seen in concepts at auto shows, often followed by production versions that lose some of the far-out edginess.

The i3 boldly goes where many automakers have yet to tread: deeply into the future. WardsAuto editors pick the i3 for its utility, use of recycled materials and for breaking ground with clever new interior design elements.

From a materials perspective, editors consider the i3 an absolute moonshot, not only for its carbon-fiber tub and thermoplastic exterior body panels but also for the recycled pop bottles and hemp used extensively throughout the cabin and the leather tanned with olive-leaf extract.

It’s a wild, surprisingly roomy interior that manages to be beautiful while fitting with the offbeat exterior.

Chrysler takes its well-regarded 300 sedan up a notch, playing even more comfortably in the space of near-luxury brands with a well-equipped rear-wheel-drive premium offering.

Before the revamped ’15 model arrived, the 300 interior was no slouch, having earned a Ward’s 10 Best Interiors trophy with its Luxury trim edition in 2012.

For ’15, all-new design elements include a standard 7-in. (17.8-cm) full-color information cluster that glows bright blue at night and pushes the speedometer and tachometer farther apart.

From the creamy quilted Nappa leather seats and lightly finished natural-pore wood to the meticulously stitched Foligno leather-wrapped instrument panel, steering wheel and center console, the 300C Platinum is dramatic and soothing, a fine companion for a long jaunt or a short trip to the office.

We’ve marveled at the brisk market for premium pickups in recent years, and the Ford F-150 King Ranch is the latest entry to redefine light-duty trucks for customers who want it all: brute strength and a cabin that is stylishly rugged, comfortable and as spacious as the prairie it’s designed to traverse.

Two years ago, gentleman cowboys would have been shopping the $55,390 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn. But the all-new F-150 takes the reins with rich genuine Khaya wood that dresses the instrument panel and center console and cascades down the door panel from the window line, edged in brightwork.

There’s the full-fisted shifter, caramel colored accent stitching and squiggly snake-shaped logo for the ranch, located in Kingsville, TX. But other features are meant to be used, rather than seen, such as the multi-contour massaging seats and a suite of active-safety technologies. Oh, and this fullsize pickup can parallel-park itself.

GMC Canyon, Honda Fit, Jeep Renegade

There wasn’t much life in the midsize or compact pickup segment until last year, when General Motors launched the all-new GMC Canyon and less-expensive Chevrolet Colorado.

For years, this sector has been about basic utility and affordability, but the Canyon demonstrates that shoppers need not buy a loaded fullsize pickup to get lots of soft surfaces, a Bose audio system, supple and durable leather, an easily navigated touchscreen and advanced safety features.

Our $40,465 SLT test model also came with heated power front seats and a second row that accommodates three comfortably and folds up for additional storage space.

Its extensive feature content, contrast stitching and thoughtful layout erase the dark memories of old-school compact work trucks and make the Canyon more like a well-equipped SUV, but with a bed in back.

The Honda Fit arrived in the U.S. in 2006 as part of an emerging class of subcompact 1-box 5-door hatchbacks, but the Fit distinguished itself with attractive features generally absent in vehicles with starting prices around $15,000.

The third-generation ’15 Fit now available has a more spacious cabin, a new interior configuration and lots more rear legroom, thanks to a longer wheelbase.

And for under $22,000, the Fit can be had in EX-L dress, fully loaded. The Fit retains the second-row “Magic Seats” that fold upright and lock in place for easy storage of bikes and other large objects – a wonderful feature that remains innovative.

Honda expertly realizes entry-level buyers don’t like to settle and instead prefer a unique, upscale alternative to the econobox.

The Italian-built Jeep Renegade shares its architecture with the Fiat 500X compact CUV, but Fiat Chrysler designers in Auburn Hills, MI, had their hands all over the Renegade in the planning stages.

The work is plainly evident as the interior, carrying the “Tek-Tonic” design language, repeatedly pays tribute by integrating Jeep’s famous round headlamps and 7-bar grille on seatbacks, speaker grates and the base for the rearview mirror.

But truly setting the Renegade apart is its vibrant color scheme, blending creamy gray leather with the “Bark Brown” carpet, door trim and instrument panel. Pulling it all together, unexpectedly, are crisp lava accents and contrast stitching.

The Anodized Orange finish is applied lavishly by framing in speakers and air vents, as well as the gear shifter and cupholders.

Kia Sedona, Mazda6, Mercedes C-Class

The Kia Sedona is the first minivan to win a Ward’s 10 Best Interiors trophy since 2011, when the Honda Odyssey was honored. Given the level of comfort, style, flexibility and feature content, it’s no surprise the ’15 Sedona now takes the spotlight.

Kia applies a daring black-and-tan color scheme, set off by white piping on the Nappa leather seats, along with orange accent stitching. Few other minivans have taken so many chances.

Reasons to love the Sedona go beyond the aesthetic. There’s the user-friendly infotainment system, adaptive cruise control, heated steering wheel, Infinity premium audio and, of course, the second-row First Class lounge seating, with footrests. There is no better roadtripper.

When the new Mazda6 launched two years ago as a ’14 model, we said it was arguably the best-looking midsize sedan on the planet, inside and out. Today, that statement remains true as a refreshed ’16 Mazda6 arrives with interior upgrades that put this sedan farther ahead of its rivals.

The center console and instrument panel have been expertly redesigned to incorporate a new display screen and human-machine interface that works wonderfully. Gauges are upgraded, and brightwork has been added to the steering wheel.

The Mazda6 is not the best-selling midsize sedan in the U.S., but this refreshed entry is gaining steam in the sales race and is bound to continue making progress due, in part, to its state-of-the-art passenger compartment: It truly is a near-luxury sport sedan.

Mercedes set a new standard for luxury-car interiors with last year’s launch of the S-Class sedan. Many of the features that dazzled us then, such as the multiple ambient-light options, massaging front seats or the stunning brushed-aluminum surfaces, return in the C-Class, at less than half the price.

Our test vehicle, base-priced at $48,590, carries $16,410 in optional equipment, most of it dedicated to enhancing the experience in the cabin. It all gets the job done, from the panoramic sunroof and head-up display to the premium crimson leather ventilated seats and intuitive 8.4-in. (21.3-cm) high-resolution color display.

You could pay a lot more for a luxury car, but it will be hard to find a nicer interior.

Nissan Murano, Award Ceremony May 13

Nissan’s 5-passenger Murano sets out to jazz up the high-volume midsize CUV segment – and succeeds beautifully.

The window sticker undersells the interior with a simple name: “beige.” But it’s so much more, with a deep brown cap for the instrument panel, flowing across to the upper door trim. A pearlescent film manufactured to resemble electrified wood grain dresses the doors, IP, center console and armrest.

The rest of the interior is brilliantly executed as well, punctuated by the smooth, flowing lines that extend from the IP to the center console. Looking in from the front passenger door, it is easy to understand what designers mean when they talk about expressive, holistic styling. Good luck finding straight horizontal or vertical lines.

The Murano is elegant and contemporary while achieving a serenity uncommon among midsize CUVs.

This is the fifth year for the Ward’s 10 Best Interiors competition. All new and significantly improved interiors are eligible, and editors select the winners by using the same model applied to Ward’s 10 Best Engines, evaluating 42 vehicles during their routine commutes in and around metro Detroit.

An extensive package profiling the winners will appear on beginning April 27 and will be featured in the May issue of WardsAuto World digital magazine.

Awards will be given to winning automakers at a special ceremony during the WardsAuto Interiors Conference May 13 in the newly renovated ballroom at Detroit’s Cobo Center.

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