Brand Expression

Volvo C30

Electronic Innovation

Infiniti EX35

Best Redesign

Hyundai Sonata

Clever Utility

Dodge Journey

With the scores tallied, Ward’s editors met in May to discuss the entries and agree on the most deserving candidates, much like we do with our annual 10 Best Engines program.

Awards were given in six vehicle categories: economy-priced, popular priced and premium-priced cars; sports cars; and popular-priced and premium-priced trucks. Several categories required sticker prices of the vehicles tested to fall within certain ranges.

Because interior features are highly influenced by vehicle price and trim level, where a vehicle sits in a segment is determined by its price as tested, not the vehicle base price.

Beyond those six categories, our editors also gave “special achievement” awards to four vehicles that deserved recognition for outstanding features or for best expressing the brand’s character.

This is the second consecutive year Ward’s Automotive Group has followed this format in selecting the Interiors of the Year. It will serve as a template for years to come.

The format allows considerable flexibility by focusing only on those vehicles that are all-new or have new interiors in the current model year.

That means the segments we include from year to year can change slightly based on product cycles. Several sports cars are launching this year, so judges gave them a separate category, unlike last year.

Likewise, pickup trucks were scarce this year because the Chevrolet Silverado and Toyota Tundra were evaluated last year, and the all-new Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram will not be available for evaluation until the 2009 competition.

So this year’s truck categories threw a curve ball: Most of the entries were cross/utility vehicles, which fit Ward’s truck segmentation, as do minivans.

The special-achievement awards also will change from year to year, based on nifty new feature content. For example, if an auto maker launches a vehicle with seat fabric manufactured from recycled corn husks, we’d consider a special-achievement award.

The one special-achievement award we hope to bestow annually is for brand expression. This year’s winner is the uniquely sporty and wholly European Volvo C30.

Interiors have become a crucial battleground in every region of the world, particularly developing markets where first-time buyers want the best.

A vehicle with a shabby interior is bound to sit on dealer lots, while a cozy, warm, high-quality cabin can seal the deal the moment a prospective buyer slides behind the wheel. If it sells the car, it has a great chance of winning a Ward’s Interior of the Year Award.