Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

Not long ago, a premium-priced truck was just a big SUV with leather seats and extra options.

Now, the best luxury brands in the business are fierce competitors in the segment, and it is tough to stand out.

In an effort to get noticed the Volvo brand, recently purchased from Ford Motor Co. by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, now is taking chances and daring to be different with some pretty audacious interior designs.

After giving the Volvo XC60 a Ward’s Interior of the Year award for premium trucks, we can only say the strategy is working.

Innovative styling usually is not the first thing you think of sitting in a Volvo, but the XC60’s interior is closer to shock and awe than mere surprise and delight.

Bold, contrasting colors, shapes and textures are used to dramatic effect. Light and dark-colored materials form an “x” pattern on the seats to refer to the XC in the CUV’s name, which designates sportiness and adventure in Volvo-speak.

Coarse- and fine-grained leathers also are deliberately juxtaposed to emphasize the vehicle’s dual road and off-road personalities.

Despite the visual drama, the overall ambience inside still is one of elegant functionality and harmony with nature.

Volvo’s signature floating center stack catches the eye first, with the ultra-slim center console suspended in the air like a piece of modern art.

Low-gloss, light-colored, natural oak trim gives the interior a distinctive Scandinavian flavor and it feels real to the touch. The wood is cut from carefully managed forests, a spokesman says.

“Beautifully done, contemporary interior with bold colors that work together,” Executive Editor Tom Murphy writes on his Ward’s Interior of the Year score sheet.

Ward’s judges also gave the XC60 high marks for simple, intuitive controls for the infotainment and heating ventilation and cooling systems.

We could not find the navigation controls at first, but once we did, at 3 o’clock on the back of the steering wheel, they were so easy to use we wondered why every auto maker does not place them there.

The rear seats are remarkably easy to fold flat and create a large rear cargo area.

Of course, you can’t talk about a Volvo without mentioning safety, and the XC60 also scored some points by having not only a boatload of standard safety features, but also offering as standard equipment a system that automatically brakes the vehicle if a collision is imminent.

In short, Volvo designers came up with an original risk-taking design and then added innovative features and intuitive interfaces. It all adds up to a new benchmark for the premium-truck segment.

dwinter@wardsauto.com