Building consensus among the judges around each year’s selections for the Wards 10 Best Engines and Wards 10 Best Interiors is challenging, because the evaluation criteria for both are subjective. For example, how an engine sounds or how a leather seat feels ultimately boils down to one’s opinion.
But there are hard facts that tip the scales. Horsepower, torque ratings and observed fuel economy can help or hinder a nominated engine’s chances, in the same way rich, authentic materials or substandard fit-and-finish can impact scores for a particular interior.
So along comes our third competition, Wards 10 Best User Experiences, conceived to recognize vehicles that enhance an individual’s lifestyle and make technology easy to use.
That means offering display screens that are simple to read and navigate, a radio with presets readily accessed, smartphone pairing that is fast, automated systems that function the way we expect them to and voice controls that know the difference between commands such as “SXM Underground Garage” and “Find me a parking deck.”
But unlike the other two competitions, the first-ever Wards 10 Best UX reveals how assessing the emerging fields of vehicle connectivity, infotainment and safety-enhancing driver-assistance systems relies heavily on personal preference.
It’s not a matter of merely confirming that a vehicle has these features – most already do – but instead determining how well these systems work. And what works for one consumer may be a source of frustration for another.
WardsAuto editors jumped into this endeavor with gusto, evaluating 29 nominated vehicles in July and August.
Everyone submitted complete scoresheets, ranking each vehicle on nine criteria, but it was fascinating to see each editor identify a particular area on which they really wanted to concentrate. One became an expert on controls and the human-machine interface, another focused on voice activation and another extensively tested autonomous functions.
So this first 10 Best UX list represents the cream of the crop as determined by eight editors with different tastes and sensibilities. Consumers older and younger than us might select other vehicles, but there’s an important thread that ties together all of our winners: Each one offers redundant controls and can be customized in many ways to meet personal and generational needs.
The auto industry is feeling its way through this brave new world. Our input is intended to help automakers and suppliers shape the perfect user experience, as defined by everyone.