2016 Wards 10 Best UX: Surprise and Delight

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

September 22, 2016

TRANSCRIPT

Automotive companies for years have pinned customer loyalty on the notion of brand identity, or those predominately visual cues, such as logos and colors, that clearly convey the sportiness of a Porsche, the approachability of a Chevy or the luxuriousness of a Lexus.

But in today’s car business, where entry-level vehicles share much of the latest technology with premium nameplates, surprise and delight creates the buzz. It goes beyond interior and exterior styling to establish an immediate emotional or sensory connection with the brand or the vehicle. Surprise and delight features could be a puddle light illuminating the footprint of the vehicle in the dark, or a welcome greeting on the display screen as the driver settles into his seat. It might also be unique chimes, a console pad for wireless phone charging or an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot.

Whatever the approach, surprise and delight builds goodwill toward a brand and the ultimate automaker prize, longtime loyalty.

WardsAuto editors uncovered a plethora of surprise and delight features during testing for the first-ever Wards 10 Best UX, or user experience, competition.

On models such as the Ford Escape, Genesis G90, Bentley Bentayga and Volvo XC90, we never tired of opening the rear liftgate with the convenient kick of a leg. And who would not want a cargo bed like that of the Honda Ridgeline with its giant exterior speaker system for the ultimate tailgate party?

The Cadillac CT6 scored big points for a cubby at the front of the center console to hold a smartphone. But the cubby also includes a wireless charging pad, and a phone tucked neatly into the space resembles the pocket square of a tailored suit.

Appealing ambient lighting accents a gorgeous interior on the Jaguar F-Pace, but we were especially smitten by the luxury CUV’s innovative Activity Key. It’ll cost you $400 as an option, but if hiking, biking, swimming and other outdoor activities is your thing, the lightweight, waterproof wearable wraps around your wrist like a watch so you can leave the cumbersome key fob behind but still lock up your $72,000 car.

The redesigned Mazda CX-9 large CUV carries over a lot of the same bits and pieces from other products in the brand’s portfolio, but its luxurious textures, colors and surfaces combine to make the cabin a pleasant family space. The technical highlight, however, is the first application of the automaker’s new windshield-based head-up active driving display.

But not every tested vehicle knocks it out of the park. The Kia Optima has some pleasant entrance chimes but fails to impress much further, while Nissan missed the opportunity of both Pathfinder and Maxima redesigns to implement surprise and delight elements. And a cool $111,500 might get you arguably the world’s finest sports car in the Porsche 911, just don’t expect the unexpected in terms of the user experience.

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2017 10 Best UX

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