What Makes a Great Interior?

This year’s Wards 10 Best Interiors field consists of 47 nominees, including 18 utility vehicles and 15 sedans. The competition serves as the launch pad for Wards 10 Best User Experiences, which will be dedicated to judging the effectiveness of the newest human-machine interfaces in today’s vehicles.

March 30, 2016

4 Min Read
Volvo designer John Kinsey right discusses XC90 door trim with WardsAuto editors Christie Schweinsberg Steve Finlay and Drew Winter
Volvo designer John Kinsey (right) discusses XC90 door trim with WardsAuto editors Christie Schweinsberg, Steve Finlay and Drew Winter.Tom Murphy

Sedans and utility vehicles big and small are proliferating as WardsAuto editors are evaluating 47 vehicles as part of the 2016 Wards 10 Best Interiors competition.

The field of all-new and significantly improved cabins includes 18 SUV or CUVs, 15 sedans, five hatchbacks, three coupes, three pickup trucks, two convertibles and one minivan.

Luxury brands also make a solid showing in this year’s competition, as 19 vehicles representing premium brands vie for recognition.

The line continues to blur between luxury and mainstream brands, as vehicles such as the new Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Nissan Altima apply premium materials to passenger compartments and leverage many of the same connectivity, driver-assistance and infotainment systems found in current luxury cars.

We Deep-Dive Each Interior

Eight WardsAuto editors based in Southfield, MI, select the Wards 10 Best Interiors after spending February and March evaluating the vehicles and scoring each based on materials, ergonomics, driver information, safety, comfort, fit-and-finish and aesthetics.

There is no price cap for 10 Best Interiors, but value remains an important judging criteria. To be eligible, an interior must be completely new or significantly improved.

This is the sixth year for Wards 10 Best Interiors, and in that short time we have seen OEMs make significant progress in eliminating unsightly panel gaps, expanding storage space, selecting higher grades of materials and incorporating upscale features.

Often, improvements tend to be incremental, but the new Audi TTS coupe seeks to reinvent the interior. For instance, there is no central display screen for the passenger to see. The only screen is directly in front of the driver and is visible from the passenger seat. Climate controls and seat heating buttons are intuitively integrated within the five vents on the instrument panel.

The result is an uncluttered instrument panel with few buttons, making the cabin feel more spacious.

In all vehicles, we evaluate alignment of the “king’s joint,” where the front doors meet with the instrument panel. We look for flush-fitting vents and speaker grates and make sure knobs and switches function smoothly.

We climb into the third row of big SUVs to see if they can accommodate adults in comfort, and we look at stitching on doors, seats and instrument panels. Does the headliner meet cleanly with pillar trim, and are seals fitting snugly? How are sightlines?

Coming Soon: Wards 10 Best User Experiences

This year’s Wards 10 Best Interiors serves as the launch pad for Wards 10 Best User Experiences, another competition we are creating to evaluate and judge the effectiveness of the newest human-machine interfaces in today’s vehicles.

That competition will begin in July, and we will announce winners in September and give out trophies at the first WardsAuto User Experience Conference to be held Oct. 4 at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, MI.

There is overlap between the two competitions. Wards 10 Best Interiors will continue to look broadly at aesthetics, fit-and-finish, ergonomics, materials, comfort and safety.

Driver information has been and will remain another 10 Best Interiors judging criteria, and now Wards 10 Best User Experiences will look at that category in much greater detail.

​Aesthetics and design harmony are subjective qualities, but editors picking Wards 10 Best Interiors tend to agree more often than not when deciding if an interior works well and is inviting rather than appearing disjointed.

Utility vehicles in this year’s competition cross every segment, from the compact Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 to midsize luxury entries such as the Cadillac XT5, Lincoln MKX and Lexus RX to the large 3-row utes such as the Lexus LX 570 and Honda Pilot.

Sedan entries also are broadly mixed, from the Scion iA, Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat to the BMW 7-Series, Cadillac CT6 and Audi S7.

The Wards 10 Best Interiors will be announced April 14, and winning automakers will receive their trophies during a ceremony at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference May 11 in the Grand Riverview Ballroom at Detroit’s Cobo Center.

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