Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

A well-done interior can accommodate every customer demand – from soothing stressed-out motorists to enabling extreme multitasking – while looking stylish, protecting occupants, cleaning up well and aging gracefully.

These are among the traits Ward’s editors consider as they select the Interior of the Year award winners. Throughout February and March, editors have been evaluating 35 vehicles that are either all-new or have significantly upgraded interiors for the ’09 or ’10 model years.

Ward’s Automotive Group will announce the winners in April and pass out the trophies at the annual Ward’s Auto Interiors Conference, to be held Thursday, May 21, at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn, MI.

More than 35 speakers will present at the conference, including Dave Lyon, executive director-interior design for General Motors Corp., and keynote luncheon speaker Stefan Sielaff, head of design for Audi AG.

For the third consecutive year, Ward’s is applying the well-established model for selecting its 10 Best Engines winners to the Interior of the Year competition.

The key difference is that all engines compete with the entire field in the 10 Best Engines program, but interior evaluations are segmented. This year’s interior categories:

  • Economy-priced cars (under $16,999)
  • Popular-priced cars (between $17,000 and $29,999)
  • Premium-priced cars (no price cap)
  • Sports cars (no price cap)
  • Popular-priced trucks (under $39,999)
  • Premium-priced trucks (no price cap)

Vehicles are categorized based on their sticker prices as tested, not on base price.

As in the past, Ward’s will give several special-achievement awards for brand expression and for clever, utilitarian or stylistic features that really stand out.

2009 Ward’s
Interior of the Year Finalists

Economy-Priced Car

  • Honda Fit
  • Nissan Cube
  • Smart Fortwo
  • Toyota Yaris 5-door Liftback

Popular-Priced Car

  • Ford Fusion Hybrid
  • Hyundai Elantra Touring wagon
  • Kia Soul
  • Mazda6
  • Mini Clubman S
  • Toyota Matrix
  • Volkswagen CC

Premium-Priced Car

  • Acura TL
  • Audi A4
  • BMW 7-Series
  • Hyundai Genesis
  • Lincoln MKS
  • Lincoln MKZ

Sports Car

  • Cadillac CTS-V
  • Dodge Challenger SRT8
  • Ford Mustang
  • Nissan 370Z Touring

Popular-Priced Truck

  • Chevrolet Traverse
  • Dodge Ram
  • Ford F-150 XLT
  • Honda Pilot
  • Kia Borrego
  • Toyota Venza
  • Volkswagen Tiguan

Premium-Priced Truck

  • BMW X6 50i
  • Cadillac Escalade Platinum
  • Ford Flex
  • Infiniti FX50
  • Lexus RX 450h
  • Mercedes GLK

Editors complete score sheets for each vehicle evaluated, awarding points – or subtracting them – based on the quality of materials used, fit and finish, ergonomics and comfort.

Points also are awarded based on the value of the vehicle relative to others in its category. The vehicle’s ability to communicate vital information to the driver is part of the evaluation process as well, especially the human-machine interface and its ease of use.

Safety is an important factor. Judges consult crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, while also considering visibility, the application of airbags and the number of backseat head restraints in awarding points.

The most important category, worth 20 of the total 100 points, is aesthetics and design harmony. This can be extremely difficult to achieve for a vehicle program on a tight budget, but some auto makers manage nicely with clever touches that communicate readily a sense of cohesiveness for the interior design team.

Ward’s had hoped to evaluate several other vehicles for this year’s competition, but production schedules did not allow for some now launching, such as the Chevrolet Camaro, Honda Insight, Hyundai Genesis coupe and Audi Q5. Those vehicles will be eligible for evaluations in 2010.

Once the scores are tallied, Ward’s editors will meet in early April to select the Interior of the Year winners, which will be announced shortly thereafter.

The award ceremony will be held at 1:30 p.m. May 21 in the main ballroom at the Ritz Carlton.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com