Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

Engines, transmissions, tires, brakes and steering racks are vital interaction points for drivers, but all do their jobs in isolation, separated by a firewall, sheet metal and mechanical linkages.

Interiors are different. They are dramatically more personal and susceptible to knee-jerk reactions that can sour a customer relationship forever.

Consumers can find fault everywhere, from excessive glare on a display screen to horizontal recessed switches that collect too much dust and grime. Plastic can be made convincingly to look like leather, but savvy shoppers feel duped when a tapping fingernail reveals a cold, hard surface.

Every buyer is an engineer whose daily contact with the product either forms a strong bond with a particular brand or serves to alienate. It is much easier for an interior to offend a consumer’s sensibilities than to impress.

The 2009 Interior of the Year winners entered this vicious battlefield and emerged victorious. They all impress with great styling, good value, clever packaging and innovative materials.

In choosing the winners, Ward’s editors evaluated a field of 35 vehicles that are either all-new or have significantly upgraded interiors for the ’09 or ’10 model years.

The entries were divided into six car and truck segments based on price. One winner was named for each of the six categories, plus special-achievement honorees were selected in five other areas.

Having both types of awards allows vehicles to compete with others in their segment, as well as with the entire field, regardless of price.

Throughout February and March, Ward’s editors evaluated the vehicles and awarded points for design, material selection, fit-and-finish, ergonomics, driver information, safety, value and comfort.

The winners will be honored May 21 at the Ward’s Auto Interiors Conference, to be held at the Dearborn Ritz Carlton.

Interiors might represent a battlefield for auto makers, but this year’s winners demonstrate their ability to provide a peaceful respite to road warriors everywhere.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com