Material upgrades, innovative design and new infotainment systems are plentiful this year as 46 new or refreshed vehicles face evaluation as part of the 2013 Ward’s 10 Best Interiors competition.

WardsAuto editors have been studying the vehicles since February and will announce the winners in mid-April. Awards will be presented during a ceremony May 22 at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference at The Henry hotel in Dearborn, MI.

The bumper crop of 46 new interiors includes 16 cross/utility vehicles – up from seven a year ago – and 15 luxury vehicles – compared with 12 last year. Also, seven German luxury vehicles were in the 2012 competition, but this year there are only four.

The 2013 field includes 12 compact or midsize non-luxury cars, down from 20 last year. This year’s field includes only one pickup truck, the Ram 1500; last year there was none.

The list of nominees is dictated by production and launch schedules.

For instance, several highly anticipated vehicles will enter the market soon, including the Jeep Cherokee, Range Rover, Infiniti Q50, Jaguar F-Type, Maserati Quattroporte, Lexus IS, Mercedes CLA and E-Class, and Chevrolet Corvette and Silverado, but the vehicles were not available in time.

Those vehicles will be in next year’s competition.

Leading the way with the number of nominees this year is General Motors, which offers nine new or redesigned interiors in vehicles such as the Cadillac ATS, Chevrolet Impala and Buick Encore.

Toyota follows with seven nominees, including the Lexus LS 460L, Scion FR-S and Toyota Avalon. Honda has five entries, including the Acura RLX and Honda Accord.

The selection process mimics that of the Ward’s 10 Best Engines competition, in which editors rate vehicles based on their daily commutes in and around metro Detroit.

Editors pay close attention to fit-and-finish, checking to see if seams are straight and match up cleanly on armrests and instrument panels.

Material selection is another criteria. Plastic is ubiquitous within vehicles, but a good interior will use higher-quality finishes and textures. Matte finishes tend to score higher than those that are high-gloss, and real wood and metallic trim always trump faux.

Editors climb in and out of back seats and third rows in larger CUVs and SUVs to check overall comfort levels and headroom and legroom. They fold seats and play with switchgear and controls to determine how ergonomic the layout is.

Editors consult crash ratings and look for blindspots and head restraints for each occupant in scoring vehicles for safety.

Another increasingly important category is driver information. Bluetooth phone links are common now, so editors are connecting their smartphones and experimenting with voice- activation systems.

Unlike 10 Best Engines, the interior competition has no price cap, which explains why the $116,600 Fisker Karma EcoSport is a nominee, with its dramatic styling inside and out.

Still, editors are looking for the interior that offers the best value for the money yet stands above its competitive set.

Finally, the most important scoring category is aesthetics and design harmony: Does the interior philosophy match that of the exterior sheet metal? Do the lines of the instrument panel flow cleanly into the door panel, and vice versa? Does everything in the cabin work together in unison? Does the interior sell the vehicle?

Bold colors are risky and monochromatic interiors are safe, but in either case it must draw in a prospective customer.

Ultimately, WardsAuto editors are looking for interiors that raise the bar in design, comfort and functionality.

This is the third year for Ward’s 10 Best Interiors, which replaced the Interiors of the Year competition after Ward’s Automotive Group took over the Auto Interiors Conference in 2005.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com

2013 Ward’s 10 Best Interiors Nominees

  • Acura ILX 
  • Acura RDX
  • Acura RLX
  • Audi Allroad
  • Audi RS 5
  • Buick Enclave
  • Buick Encore 
  • Cadillac ATS
  • Cadillac SRX
  • Cadillac XTS
  • Chevrolet Impala
  • Chevrolet Spark 
  • Chevrolet Traverse
  • Fiat 500e
  • Fisker Karma
  • Ford C-Max
  • Ford Escape
  • Ford Fusion
  • GMC Acadia
  • Honda Accord
  • Honda Civic 
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
  • Hyundai Elantra GT
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
  • Kia Forte
  • Kia Sorento
  • Lexus ES 350
  • Lexus GS 450h
  • Lexus LS 460L
  • Lexus LX 570
  • Lincoln MKZ
  • Mazda6
  • Mercedes SL550
  • Mini Paceman
  • Nissan Altima
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Porsche Boxster S
  • Ram 1500
  • Scion FR-S
  • SRT Viper GTS
  • Subaru Forester
  • Subaru Legacy
  • Subaru Outback
  • Toyota Avalon
  • Toyota RAV4