Consider the lowly steering wheel.

Just a few decades back, grip and leverage were the key drivers as giant diameter was needed to crank the wheels in a given direction, especially in vehicles without power assistance. With power steering came smaller wheels, but rarely did designers pay much attention to anything beyond the number of spokes and placement of the horn button or rim. The advent of air bags and their commodity placement only exacerbated the dearth of steering-wheel design.

But during our testing for the 2016 Wards 10 Best Interiors competition, we couldn’t help but notice the surprising level of attention now being paid to steering wheel feel, function and styling. It’s as though the steering wheel has become the center of attention, whether in an inexpensive entry-level Honda Civic or a maxed-out luxury machine like a Mercedes-Benz GLC300.

The ’16 Chevrolet Malibu, a nominee in this year’s competition, is a prime example of good design. It starts with the wheel’s oval shape that provides a better fit to the human hand than a perfect circle of old, says Chris Fusco, General Motors-user experience design manager for Chevrolet and GMC.

“Almost any car nowadays has a good steering-wheel design,” Fusco says. “That is the component that you grab onto and hold onto more than any other part of the interior other than the seat. And it’s the second most interactive part.”

Another good example of form and function is the ’17 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, a 2016 Wards 10 Best Interiors winner with a highly interactive steering wheel that sports a leather-wrapped rim with an inlaid alloy ring on upper-trim models.

“A good steering wheel these days is all about being in control of the vehicle,” says Chris Benjamin, FCA North America-head of interior design. “It’s not only about steering, but controlling basic functions such as the information on the cluster, volume and music source. The ergonomics have become increasingly important with the increased functionality. The real key is to strike the right balance between comfort for driving and reachability of the controls.”