There is nothing random, arbitrary or easy about Ward’s selection of its Interior of the Year winners.

No, eight editors spent more than two months in 40 vehicles fiddling with knobs, tapping on instrument panels, checking for sharp edges on molded plastic map pockets, scouring about for USB jacks and staying on the lookout for egregious interior panel gaps.

Editors submitted scoresheets for each vehicle and awarded points based on fit-and-finish, comfort, material selection, safety and overall value. They wrote additional comments when a feature was particularly praiseworthy, or deserving of scorn.

They also paid attention to ergonomics and awarded points for accessibility of buttons, switches and vehicle controls. They climbed into the back seats of sporty coupes and into the third row of SUVs and cross/utility vehicles to check space for head, knees and feet.

They folded down back seats to see how much usable storage space was gained and whether the load floor was relatively flat.

Most important, editors evaluated design harmony and aesthetics to see if all the elements came together to impress, delight, soothe and surprise drivers and passengers.

The 40 nominees were either all-new vehicles or offered significantly upgraded interiors for the 2010 model year. A few ’11 vehicles (such as the Infiniti M56) were included in the competition, while others (such as the new Ford Mustang and Jeep Grand Cherokee) were not available in time for evaluations and will be part of the 2011 test pool.

This year’s nominees were split into six vehicle categories, two of which were price-capped. From year to year, the categories change based on launch cycles. For instance, four hybrids were new to the market, so they were given their own category.

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Auto Interiors Conference

The four special-achievement awards hold equal weight with the winners of the individual vehicle categories.

The truck segment included both truck-based SUVs and cross/utility vehicles built on car platforms, such as the Equinox and XC60, because the Environmental Protection Agency considers them trucks for fuel-economy rating purposes. Ward’s also classifies the vehicles as trucks in its segmentation, partly because of cargo-hauling capability.

The only conventional pickup in this year’s competition was the Ram Heavy Duty. Its interior largely carries over from the light-duty Ram, which won the popular-priced truck category in 2009. Next year’s competition will include the new heavy-duty pickups from the Ford and Chevrolet brands.

The winners will be recognized in a ceremony May 19 at the Ward’s Auto Interiors Conference at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Dearborn, MI.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com