Alfa Romeo isn’t the only Italian marque appearing on this year’s list. Its corporate sibling Maserati arrives with the Levante, a sporty CUV with a crafted interior that is a fascinating blend of premium brown leather, sumptuous Ebano wood, distinctive white stitching, minimal brightwork and “Zegna edition” silk fabric, which feels as durable as industrial-strength denim.

The design team wanted the Levante to represent a feast for the senses, a car that would be heard, felt, seen and smelled from the driver’s seat. The Ferrari-derived twin-turbo V-6 and 900-watt Harman Kardon sound system delivers the soundtrack.

Derived from Maserati’s Ghibli platform, the Levante clearly is configured for the driver, with easy-to-reach controls, a user-friendly UConnect infotainment system and large gear-shift paddles fixed in place like in an F1 car, in case there is any question about how the Levante is to be driven.

Reinforcing that point is the second row, which is comfortable but lacks the amenities generally offered in a utility vehicle approaching $100,000, such as rear entertainment screens. Perhaps part of an emerging trend, the automaker left out that option to keep down cost and weight and because many backseat dwellers now are using their own tablets and devices.

Mazda won a Wards 10 Best Engines trophy earlier this year for its new CX-9 3-row CUV, and now the brand can add a 10 Best Interiors award to its trophy case.

The near-luxury CX-9 does everything a 7-passenger ute should do – haul people comfortably, accommodate lots of cargo, rise to the occasion for a long road trip – with style and grace. This is the kind of upscale versatility that makes utility vehicles so popular in America.

Editors praised the CX-9 for its textured knobs and dials; comfortable third row; limited use of chrome; impeccable fit-and-finish; rubber-lined bin ahead of the shifter; knee pad along the center console; intuitive central controller and head-up display; and use of black accents against the light brown leather seats.

It’s hard to believe the CX-9 is the first Mazda to use real aluminum and rosewood on the doors, instrument panel and center console, because they blend in well enough to suggest the automaker has been using those materials for years.

The modern Mini, under BMW tutelage, has found an audience in the U.S., even though most Americans prefer larger vehicles, so the brand is evolving to meet those needs.

Its new Countryman compact CUV carries over many of the interior quirks that have charmed consumers, such as the airplane-like toggles and the kitchen-clock-like display screen atop the center stack. But the Countryman – the largest Mini ever – delivers something previous models could not: space.

Headroom and legroom are vastly improved, comparable with high-volume entries that lack the Mini’s flair, while controls remain easily in reach for the driver.

Certain elements shine in the new Countryman, such as the extended thigh support for front-seat occupants; the heavy-duty package tray above the cargo hold; the simple straps used to release and fold second-row seats; and, especially, the quilted “Chesterfield” mocha leather that contrasts with both white seat piping and black accents on the doors and instrument panel.

The Countryman demonstrates how Mini is growing up, and it’s bound to connect with a broader pool of American buyers because of it.

Subaru also lands its first Wards 10 Best Interiors trophy with, ironically, the least-expensive vehicle in its lineup. The fully re-engineered Impreza achieves a level of interior excellence never before seen from the Japanese brand, and the design team was urged to create a new styling language that could extend to other vehicles as they are refreshed.

Anchoring the Impreza’s clean interior is an all-new crisp, easy-to-use telematics screen bookended by angular vertical vents on a gently sloping instrument panel distinguished by judiciously applied contrast stitching and metallic trim. Buttons are very few but ergonomically placed.

Seats are well-bolstered and artfully sewn, and doors are finished with high-luster simulated carbon-fiber trim. We haven’t seen a compact car improve this dramatically since last year, when the Honda Civic earned a 10 Best Interiors nod.

Customers can get into an Impreza for under $19,000, and we tested two versions: the $23,615 Sport model with fabric seats and simulated carbon-fiber gauges and the $29,260 Limited edition with leather. Both interiors were well equipped with a secondary upper information screen, driver-assistance features and enough premium trim and soft surfaces to suggest the Impreza is much more than an entry-level car.

The 2017 Wards 10 Best Interiors winners will be honored in a special ceremony during the WardsAuto Interiors Conference on May 9 at Cobo Conference Center in Detroit. Winning vehicles will be on display.

For more information about the day-long conference visit