The difference between winning an Olympic medal and coming away empty-handed can be minuscule. The same holds true for contenders for the Ward’s 10 Best Interiors awards, but our judging has a little more wiggle room.
WardsAuto staff are well into this year's 10 Best Interiors evaluations, comparing comfort, functionality, design, ergonomics, connectivity and, not least, the time it takes for the cabin to warm up when it's 5 degrees outside. Scoresheets are being filled out and the 40-plus entries' grades will be averaged and ranked before we announce our honorees in mid-April.
It's not simply a matter of listing the 10 highest scores. Some interiors clearly are superior and they make the 10 Best list with little if any debate. But things can get very tight the farther down the list we go, with a half-dozen or more contenders for the eighth, ninth and 10th spots separated by mere hundredths of a percentage point. So we hash over all of them, debate their strengths and shortcomings and make our respective cases for one over the others.
We think it's only fair to give consideration to an interior that, for all its bar-raising qualities, otherwise would be excluded because one of us gave it a low grade for rear-seat headroom.
The same process takes place during our 10 Best Engines judging. Many fine engines and interiors don't make the cut.
Which brings me to Otmar Striedinger.
The Austrian finished fifth in the men's Super G Alpine skiing event at the Winter Olympics with a time of 1 minute, 18.69 seconds. Norway's Kjetil Jansrud goes home with the gold medal with a time of 1 minute, 18.14 seconds. Fifty-five hundredths of a second separated the two, but Striedinger leaves Sochi empty-handed.
(Fifth place, you say? After the silver medal is claimed by American Andrew Weibrecht, clocked at 1:18.44, Striedinger finishes two-hundredths of a second behind not one, but two skiers, co-bronze medalists Jan Hudec of Canada and American Bode Miller, each timed at 1:18.67.)
I hardly know anything about Otmar Striedinger, but I'm confident he trained for years leading up to Sunday's event. No doubt he has won other competitions in other places, and as an Olympic athlete he is by definition one of the world's very best skiers. Consider this: The difference between his and Jansrud's times were less than one-half the 1.3 seconds it takes a radio wave to travel from Sochi to the Moon.
Such is the unforgiving nature of the Olympics. Is it fair to say the hapless Striedinger was a "worse" skier than the medalists? Is it fair to say the vehicle interior with an average score microscopically close to several others, but doesn't make the Ward's 10 Best Interiors list, is "worse" than those that win our hardware?
That's why our judging isn't completely cut-and-dried. We take many variables into account. Some of us will stump for a particular interior because we're convinced it deserves to make the 10 Best list and if it doesn't, at least it stirred some passion – and the designers have done their jobs. Otmar Striedinger could appreciate that.