The inaugural selection of the best “user experiences” in today’s vehicle yields a list with three American automakers, three German, three Japanese and a Korean, illustrating that every major market in the world is engaged in this vital and rapidly growing aspect of vehicle development.

The 2016 Wards 10 Best UX competition was created as a spin-off of 10 Best Interiors, which looks more generally at aesthetic, ergonomic and design aspects of today’s passenger compartments.

Wards 10 Best UX drills more deeply into the user-friendliness of vehicle systems designed to minimize distraction and frustration, prevent accidents and improve safety in neighborhoods and on the highway.

“We’re paying close attention to touchscreens, navigation systems and infotainment, and we want to know if voice controls work well and if connecting your smartphone is simple,” says WardsAuto Senior Content Director Drew Winter in explaining the judging criteria.

“We’re trying to quantify how easy it is overall to interact with a vehicle,” he says. “Are controls easy to understand, or do you have to consult the owner’s manual? Are the driver-assistance systems, such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping, functioning reliably, and do the interior materials enhance the user experience?”

After spending July and August evaluating 29 all-new or significantly redesigned light vehicles available in the U.S., the WardsAuto editors find these 10 (listed alphabetically) to deliver outstanding user experiences:

  • Audi Q7 ($72,875 as tested)
  • BMW 7-Series ($128,445)
  • Chrysler Pacifica ($48,455)
  • Ford Escape ($35,370)                      
  • GMC Acadia ($52,285)
  • Honda Ridgeline ($42,270)
  • Hyundai Elantra ($27,710)
  • Infiniti Q50 ($57,475)
  • Lexus RX ($56,845)
  • Mercedes E-Class ($72,995) 

The Q7 is one of four CUVs making our list, and it gets high marks for its excellent sound system and the extreme intelligence of the adaptive cruise control system, which is linked to navigation and automatically slows the vehicle when a turn is coming up, which is helpful if the driver isn’t paying attention.

One of our judging criteria recognizes a user experience that delivers “surprise and delight” to the driver, and the Audi Q7 does that many times over.

From the high-resolution, brightly colored graphics and simple phone pairing to the much-appreciated redundant dials, available WiFi connectivity and mesmerizing Virtual Cockpit, the Q7 makes for a user experience that is intuitive and easily tailored to suit the most discerning consumer.

The BMW 7-Series is one of three vehicles making both this list and 2016 Wards 10 Best Interiors (along with Pacifica and RX) last spring.

The 750i was a shoo-in then and now, enchanting the editorial staff with seamless connectivity for phone and music and a personal tablet that can be removed from its cradle so second-row occupants can – among many other functions – change radio stations, spritz the cabin with perfume, get a massage and close or open windows, shades and sunroof.

While you’re away from your car and want to see an overhead map of its location, or find out how much gas is in the tank, an app on your smartphone can tell you.

Expensive? Yes, but the 7-Series user experience, in just about any trim level, will outgun many exotics or luxury cruisers two or three times the price. The iDrive controller works well, and the amount of information at the driver’s fingertips is staggering. And it has one of the coolest fobs ever.