Wards 10 Best Interiors competition has recognized outstanding automotive interiors for six years. This installment is part of a series of interior deep dives on what made last year’s winners stand out as we test candidates for this year’s competition.
The 2017 10 Best Interiors winners will be announced in mid-April and will be on display at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference May 9 at Detroit’s Cobo Center.
Honda’s interior designers and engineers knew they needed to overcompensate for the last couple generations of bland, underwhelming Civic interiors. So they did.
“Our goal was to make the very best compact-class car in the world,” says Civic Interior Engineering Project Leader Mike Narazaki. “We achieved that by going back to Civic’s roots as a sporty, fun-to-drive car that is affordable, spacious and efficient, and our targets included premium materials, a wide, dynamic IP and a ‘high-deck-tech’center console.”
What is a “high-deck-tech” console? “The armrest and the body of the console are at the same height,” Civic Coupe Engineering Design Leader John Hwang explains. “The armrest slides, as it did before, and to its sides are long additional armrests padded and wrapped with fabric or leatherette, which makes the entire length of the console soft.”
The key enabler for this unusually tall console is the electronic parking brake, still rare in the compact class. Without a conventional parking brake lever, the designers were able to raise the console and provide that long armrest.
“And by ‘high-tech,’we mean the human-machine interface,” Hwang adds, “including how we packaged the USB port, the accessory socket and other technology parts. The cupholder slides back and forth and there are pockets for things like iPads and phones.” It also enabled a storage box deep and large enough for a couple of tablets and a purse.
They targeted cars outside the compact segment because they wanted class-above styling along with the ’16 Civic’s new technology and features. “We wanted the IP to feel really wide, like a more mature and stately vehicle,” Civic Sedan Design Project Leader Devon Fujioka points out, “and above-class materials, colors, fits and finishes.”
Civic Coupe Interior Design Project Leader Lawrence Hwang says his team spent a lot of time “making sure that the soft parts look soft, the hard parts look hard, the metal looks like metal and the shapes represent the actual materials.” And because this was a global Civic, “it needed to accommodate all sizes and shapes of customers and meet every market’s requirements with the best common solutions for everyone.”
Starting at Less than $20,000
How did they manage to do all this in a C-segment car with prices starting at less than $20,000? “We looked at costs and asked, ‘how do we make it so the customer can see and feel where we spent our money?’” Lawrence Hwang says. “We went down a list of how customers use their cars and made sure to include features they could understand and feel. And we did a matrix to prioritize and utilize our budget in the most effective way. That was the challenge, and I think we did a pretty good job.”
On the soft-touch IP, they added simulated stitching to make it look almost cut and sewn. “The luxury brands can do that because they can pay for it, but one of the challenges in the compact class is trying to make it feel as authentic as possible,” says John Hwang. “We had to integrate that technology into the tools to make it look authentic by way of the stitching details and the way it wraps around the corners, but using a lower-cost method.”
In addition to the strong fundamental design, WardsAuto judges praise the Civic interior for its ergonomics, safety, comfort and fit-and-finish.
“Most controls are placed low on the center stack, within easy reach of the driver,” they said. “The second row has shockingly abundant headroom, and its middle seat is above average on the comfort meter.” It simply is, they concluded, “the nicest compact cabin we’ve seen in a long time.”