Special Coverage

Ward’s Auto Interiors Show

There is a disturbing parallel between the 2008 presidential race and this year’s judging for “Best Premium-Priced Truck” in the Ward’s Interior of the Year Competition: Both have exposed deep-rooted voter prejudice.

Best-interiors nominees included the usual smattering of utility vehicles, from the sporty Mazda CX-9 to the sophisticated Volkswagen Touareg 2. But the addition of the redesigned-for-’08 Chrysler Town & Country reveals the cultural bias against minivans runs deep.

This sad truth is plainly evident when Associate Editor and sedan-driver James Amend greets his turn in the T&C with slack-jawed surprise and delight – this despite his relatively recent introduction to fatherhood, which makes minivan ownership almost inevitable.

“Someone put a gun to my head to keep me from buying this thing!” Amend exclaims.

Such was the impact of the T&C’s feature-laden interior.

Other vehicles offered greater refinement (Lexus LX 570) and more inspired design (Infiniti EX 35), but the minivan’s rich content and well-executed functionality made it the consensus winner.

Balloting among Ward’s editors was closer than the Indiana Democratic primary. With the top four finishers placing within 1.4 points of each other, premium-priced truck was the most hotly contested category in this year’s competition.

And the category’s average score was second-highest, trailing premium-priced cars by a hanging chad.

While the T&C’s elegantly discreet ambient lighting caught the eye of Associate Editor Byron Pope, Ward’s AutoWorld Editor-in-Chief Drew Winter swooned over the rich suede micro-fiber that accented the first- and second-row seats. Finished in pearlescent white leather, the seating surfaces invoked macho Drew to use the L-word (love).

But just as a successful campaign helps politicians cut through the clutter, a well-designed interior helps motorists manage it. On this issue, the T&C is a clear winner.

While the ubiquitous iPod is displacing CDs, Chrysler’s exclusive MyGIG infotainment system, upgraded for ’08 to 30-gigabyte capacity from 20 gigabytes, portends the elimination of iPods. The system can accommodate music downloads, so you can leave your iPod – and those pesky cables – in your briefcase.

At the other end of the vehicle, the power-fold, third-row split seats open and close neatly and gracefully. The inverted position, in which the seatbacks become the bottom cushions, and vice versa, is particularly entertaining, let alone a great enabler for game-time tailgating.

The T&C’s centerpiece is its second row. In-floor storage bins inspired by Chrysler’s groundbreaking Stow 'n Go seating system are a superb storage solution for first-aid kits, tools, Sudoku books – all those items that contribute to clutter.

But Swivel 'n Go portends true sociopolitical advancement. Engineered by Magna International Inc.’s Intier division, which also supplies Stow 'n Go, it allows for second-row passengers to face rearward, safely and comfortably.

Manipulated by an easy-pull lever, its functionality also can be enhanced with a removable table. Anchored or released by a twist-and-lock mechanism, the entire setup takes two to three minutes, with practice.

Just imagine the new dialogue this feature could spark. We can start with Mr. Amend. So, Jim, considering all of the above, what exactly is your gripe with minivans?

emayne@wardsauto.com