With this year’s Ward’s 10 Best Interiors competition, we are establishing a new template for recognizing the passenger compartments that set standards for comfort, convenience, material quality and style.

The previous Interior of the Year competition essentially achieved the same goal, but the format required vehicle winners in various categories, such as sports cars and trucks.

Depending on each auto maker’s launch cadence for the new model year, some of those categories could have few entries or may be overflowing with worthy contenders.

The new format follows the successful process of the Ward’s 10 Best Engines competition, which pits all vehicle interiors against each other, regardless of segment.

A Hyundai Elantra does not compete directly with the Hyundai Equus flagship luxury car, for example, and we recognize that by considering each entry within the context of its competitive set, same as our editors do when evaluating 4-cyl. engines and V-8s at the same time.

The benefit of the new rules is that they allow several outstanding interiors from the same segment to make the list.

For instance, the Elantra earns an award this year, but so does its direct competitors, the Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze. Under the old process, only one of those three would be honored.

Our editors selected the Ward’s 10 Best Interiors after driving 51 vehicles throughout February and March. All the vehicles were completely new or featured significantly upgraded interiors.

Editors filled out scoresheets for each vehicle and awarded points based on material quality, ergonomics, safety, the human-machine interface, comfort, fit-and-finish, overall value and aesthetics. Extensive discussions followed.

The 2011 interior winners will be recognized in a special ceremony at this year’s Ward’s Auto Interiors Conference May 17 at The Henry hotel in Dearborn, MI.

This comprehensive package profiling the winners also appears in the May issue of Ward’s AutoWorld magazine.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com