Many Americans spend as much time in their cars as they do in their family room these days. Automakers have taken notice.
Ralph Gilles, who has worn many executive hats at Chrysler, explained how the team revitalized the Dodge Journey over the last decade by focusing on giving it a first-class interior.
That trend was echoed at GM, where upgraded interiors became a company-wide priority.
All of this brings us to the 2014 crop of Ward’s 10 Best Interiors. To be eligible a vehicle must have a new or significantly redesigned interior. There are no price categories, and this year’s winners range from the $24,010 Kia Soul to the $372,800 Rolls-Royce Wraith. Prices are “as tested.’’
Eight Ward’s editors spent two months evaluating 41 nominees. They judged the vehicles for ergonomics, driver information, fit-and-finish, materials, value, safety, comfort, and design harmony.
“In each vehicle, the interior plays a pivotal role in establishing the vehicle’s brand character and making it intensely desirable to buyers,’’ says Drew Winter, editor in chief of WardsAuto World.
The Top 10 in alphabetical order with tested sticker price:
Corvette Stingray ($71,960): Optional interior accents such as carbon-fiber trim, a microfiber headliner, and contrasting stitching combine with high-visibility reconfigurable digital graphics in the instrument cluster.
Chrysler 200C ($31,470): Ward’s says the 200C is Chrysler’s best midsize offering in years with “lovely ambient lighting, contrast piping on leather-trimmed seats, ergonomically ideal angled center console, clever sliding cupholder, and a roomy back seat. Technology includes self-parking and a feature that makes it impossible to lock the keys in the trunk.’’
GMC Sierra Denali ($56,685): Ward’s gave the GMC the nod over its sibling, the Chevrolet Silverado, noting both have first-class interiors. The Sierra Denali’s interior offers a “no-nonsense urban flair with brushed metallic trim and both electrical and USB plugs, storage cubbies, heated and cooled front seats, and a heated steering wheel.’’
Hyundai Equus Ultimate ($68,920): Judges called it a car “for a billionaire with a strong sense of value,’’ citing its impeccable finish and same limousine-like passenger experience as long-wheelbase luxury cars priced well into six figures.
Jeep Cherokee Limited ($37,525): Wards says the “Cherokee interior stands apart from the risk-averse CUV pack and is everything a ute should be.’’
Kia Soul ($24,010): Five years ago, editors honored the Soul for the industry’s “grooviest interior,’’ a title the redesigned Soul retains while offering outstanding comfort, space, ergonomics, and value.
Mazda3 ($30,415): Says Wards, “It’s not every day an entry-level model can be had with beautiful interior styling, a sophisticated central controller that resembles that of an Audi, and advanced safety features such as radar-based adaptive cruise control, forward-obstruction warning, and lane-departure warning.’’
Mercedes-Benz S550 ($122,895): Judges say, “The S550 rewrites the interior playbook not only for its own brand but perhaps for all German luxury cars … the S550 also can steer itself and lock on to the speed of the vehicle ahead in stop-and-go traffic.’’
Rolls-Royce Wraith ($372,800): Ward’s says the Wraith “celebrates elegance in much the same way the brand has been doing for 110 years: with handcraftsmanship.’’ A fiber-optic headliner guarantees a starry night even on a cloudy night. “We’re talking absurd money but an unrivaled driving and riding experience.’’
Volkswagen GTI ($30,695-estimated): The seventh-generation GTI goes on sale this year with bright red interior stitching that Ward’s says “ties together the entire cabin in a way that captures the straightforward and purposeful design that punctuates great European interiors without breaking the bank.’’
Smart Rearview Mirror
Something as simple as the next generation of rearview mirror may have far-reaching implications for the auto industry.
Nissan is introducing a Smart Rearview Mirror—an LCD monitor that helps provide clear rearward visibility without the normal obstacles of cargo, tall passengers, inclement weather, and, most importantly, the design of the vehicle.
It’s a traditional rearview mirror with a built-in LCD monitor tied to a high-mounted rearview camera that provides the driver with an unobstructed view of the vehicle’s rear flanks.
A switch on the bottom of the mirror allows the driver to toggle between the traditional mirror view and the LCD monitor. The camera has been designed to function in bad weather and to minimize glare in sunrise-sunset conditions or from a following vehicle with strong headlights.
The company is displaying the system on a 2014 Rogue at the current New York Auto Show. The Rogue, interestingly, is one of the more radical auto designs on the market.
“This system offers the possibility for new and exciting designs for our upcoming models, ensuring that appearance no longer has to be compromised for visibility and functionality,’’ says Andy Palmer, chief planning officer for Nissan. “We’ll have the flexibility to create new shapes and to further improve aerodynamics for better driving dynamics and fuel efficiency.’’
Nissan also plans to install the mirror on its NISMO race cars, including an experimental entry for the 24 Hours of LeMans. “Retaining a clear view is of utmost importance for the race driver,’’ says NISMO president Shoichi Miyatani. “We have high expectations towards improving the cars’ aerodynamic design, thanks to the Smart Rearview Mirror expanding the possibilities.’’
April has been designated National Distracted Driving Awareness Month since 2010.
For longer than that, Gary Jaffarian, president and CEO of Jaffarian Volvo Toyota, has been speaking at local auto schools about driving safely, including not texting or talking on one’s cell phone.
Through this month, the fourth-generation, family-owned dealership has been conducting its “Take The Pledge!’’ to drive cell-free campaign.
For every pledge on the company’s Facebook page, the company is donating $1 to FocusDriven, the national advocacy group that urges drivers to commit themselves to cell-free driving.