Each year, we seem flush with luxury cars to test for the Wards 10 Best Interiors competition, perhaps because there’s no price cap and increased profitability encourages automakers to cycle new product more rapidly for well-heeled buyers.
This year, it was a veritable flood of premium vehicles for the WardsAuto editors to evaluate in February and March in our seventh annual competition.
Of the 31 eligible vehicles with new or significantly improved interiors, 13 – nearly half the field – hailed from the luxury sector, plus six more from near-lux vehicles aspiring for premium status, such as the Buick LaCrosse, Nissan Armada and Mazda CX-9.
Meanwhile, there were only 11 reasonably inexpensive mainstream vehicles in contention.
But we believe in equal opportunity around here, which means our 10 Best list isn’t dominated by premium brands.
The Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-9, Mini Countryman and Subaru Impreza impressed us as breaths of fresh air in their respective less-expensive segments.
But let’s look further at this year’s luxury entries. It was going to be tough sledding for every one of them due to the sheer volume.
Those that missed the cut: BMW 5-Series, BMW Alpina B7, Genesis G90, Infiniti Q60 and QX30, Mercedes E-Class, Jaguar F-Pace and Volvo S90.
All have fine interiors, but they also are very familiar. The BMWs carry over much of the excellence of the 7-Series that won a trophy last year. Likewise, the Volvo XC90 broke new ground last year when it won, and it clearly inspired the S90. Mercedes was looking for its fourth consecutive trip to the winners’ circle, but the three prior winners also look an awful lot like the new E-Class.
Yes, we enjoy mixing it up from time to time, when we recognize great strides on behalf of less-familiar brands, particularly Alfa Romeo, Bentley and Maserati, and those upscale brands we’ve known for years, namely Buick, Lexus and Lincoln. Seven of the winning brands appear on our list for the first time this year.
Every interior we picked represents noteworthy achievement for the respective brands and the sectors in which they compete. And every one of them answers in the affirmative a question we ask this time of year: Does this interior sell the car?
The 2017 Wards 10 Best Interiors will be honored in a special ceremony during the WardsAuto Interiors Conference May 9 at Cobo Conference Center in Detroit.
WardsAuto editors evaluate all-new or redesigned interiors available in the U.S. market, spending up to two weeks with each vehicle. We score the nominees for material selection, ergonomics, safety, value, comfort, fit-and-finish and noise attenuation.
The most important judging criteria is aesthetics and design harmony. We ask ourselves a lot of questions: Does this interior demonstrate a cohesive melding of surfaces and color, or does it look and feel disjointed? Will this interior age well? How unique is this interior? Does it raise the bar?
We also consider “driver information,” which entails gauges, display screens, the human-machine interface, audio systems and voice recognition.
This category is such a rapidly evolving aspect of vehicle development that we have created the WardsAuto User Experience conference around it (Oct. 5 in Novi, MI) and the Wards 10 Best User Experiences competition, now in its second year. We will announce winners in September.