Special Coverage

Ward’s Auto Interiors Show

Defining a spectacular vehicle interior is subjective business. Different people like different things.

Some buyers think high-sheen piano black adds a unique touch of class, while others see a magnifying glass for annoying fingerprints. Some consumers can’t tolerate fuzzy rat-fur headliners, while others never look up. Some folks can’t survive without something to clutch their Red Bull, while driving enthusiasts view cupholders as frivolous.

As difficult as it is to identify the specific components that make up a world-class interior, there are many givens: Seams must be flush, seats must be comfortable, materials must be durable, information must be accessible, noise must be minimized, space must be ample and styling must make a statement.

The winners of the 2008 Ward’s Interior of the Year Awards check all of these boxes and more.

Ward’s editors served as judges for the competition, evaluating 36 vehicles in March and April. The pool consisted of completely new vehicles or existing models that received significant interior redesigns for ’08.

Editors submitted score sheets ranking the materials selected, ergonomics, safety, value, comfort, fit-and-finish and design harmony for each vehicle evaluated. Points also were awarded based on a driver’s ability to quickly access vital information, such as navigation routes, diagnostic data and fuel economy.

Ward’s Interior of the Year Awards

Economy-Priced Car ($16,999 and under)

Suzuki SX4 Sport

Finalists

  • Chevrolet Aveo
  • Ford Focus
  • Scion xD

Popular-Priced Car ($17,000–$29,999)

Chevrolet Malibu

Finalists

Premium-Priced Car ($30,000 and over)

Jaguar XF

Finalists

  • Acura TSX
  • Audi A5 3.2L S-Line
  • Cadillac CTS
  • Mercedes C300
  • Volvo C30

Sports Car ($30,000 and over)

Audi TT coupe

Finalists

Popular-Priced Truck ($34,999 and under)

Mazda5

Finalists

  • Dodge Journey
  • Ford Escape
  • Nissan Murano
  • Saturn Vue
  • Subaru Forester
  • Toyota Highlander

Premium-Priced Truck ($35,000 and over)

Chrysler Town & Country

Finalists

  • Buick Enclave
  • Infiniti EX35
  • Lexus LX570
  • Mazda CX-9
  • Subaru Tribeca
  • VW Touareg 2 V-8

Special Achievement

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.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com