Some highly dubious entrants made it onto this year's Wards Auto list.
Every year, Wards Auto picks and pokes at pretty much every new model on the market and chooses its list of ten best interiors for us to then criticize and debate. This year I feel like they’re making it easy with the Chevrolet Equinox leading off the alphabetically ordered list. That’s unfortunate, because the rest of the list seems entirely reasonable, but we’ll get to those later. Wards Editors were of the opinion that the Equinox has a “stylish, well-built interior."
The crossover was praised “for its soft, premium materials”, and “could barely find a seam out of place” despite scouring it for fit and finish flaws. This leaves us scratching our heads, because I myself found the interior of the Equinox’s GMC Terrain twin decidedly average, if not below, observing that: “Interior quality was utilitarian at best—not because it was cloth and not leather, but because of the overall feel and fit of everything in the cabin. The clearly-not-wood plastic woodgrain trim was creepy rather than stylish, plastics were hard and coarse and some switchgear felt like it was one clumsy fumble away from snapping off.”
Okay, that’s the Terrain, so what about the Equinox itself? “While GM has upped its game for the Equinox, it’s still far from a class-leading execution. Controls are easy to use, well laid out, and material quality has increased. Still, Chevrolet’s over-reliance on chrome trim pieces, its use of a dated-looking instrument panel, and dull grey plastics certainly hold the Equinox back from being the cream of the crop.” We weren't overly impressed then. In case you think we have some kind of beef with Chevy or GM, we do not, we love many things that they do well, like pickups and Corvettes, and we’re not alone in the industry.
None other than Consumer Reports lambasted the Terrain for its “low-rent ambiance featuring lots of drab, black, hard plastic” and laid into the Equinox as well: “Even though there are some soft-touch materials and a bit of chrome scattered about, the overall feel of the interior is a bit on the cheap side, reminding us of a cut-rate rental car.” Wards Auto may have been unduly swayed by the butterscotch color scheme that we find gross, or the admittedly excellent infotainment system in top trims — the more basic system we encountered in the Terrain neither looked as slick nor worked as well — but if they think the Equinox has good fit and finish, well, we question their sense of touch and attention to detail.
Anyhow, the Equinox is not alone on the list and other vehicles that we feel are deserving are front and center. Other vehicles in the affordable mainstream bracket include the new Toyota Camry, whose funky, colorful and asymmetrical cockpit they liked. Meanwhile, the Kia Stinger and Hyundai Kona take home awards for the Korean conglomerate with good materials and feature content for their price points and easy to use infotainment systems. Representing the truck crowd is the Ram 1500, whose Limited Crew Cab trim was dressed in subtle high-tech luxury rather than an overt country theme, with a big, easy-to-use 12-inch touchscreen at the center of it all.
An unexpected spot on the list goes to Lincoln for its Navigator. Unexpected not that it doesn’t deserve to be there, but that Lincoln made such a leap from always falling short in materials quality and overall execution so many times, but finally delivers a total package, with the look and feel of American luxury finding the right places for chrome, wood, leather and large screens. Wards Auto highlights the seats and the burgundy color of their Black Label model, but I loved the astral-themed graphic in the gauge cluster marking the speed and revolution on the tach — it’s a tiny thing, but it feels special, and luxury is all about making the customer feel special.
There is no shortage of options in the luxury market, and several gorgeous interiors were left off the list, but Wards Auto definitely got it right with the Range Rover Velar, which could easily be the best of any new car. Striking modern design and well executed technology paired with sumptuous traditional materials and excellent mix of patterns and colors bring it all together. Massaging seats sure don’t hurt either. Rounding out the top 10 are the Porsche Panamera – at over $200K as tested, I should hope it’s as nice as they say – Lexus’s flagship LS500 displaying some unique textures and colors and the new Infiniti QX50 also showing off an attractive and unconventional color scheme to go along with microsuede everything.
The list isn’t perfect, and Wards Auto may be a victim of trying to be too populist, forcing the Equinox into the mix just to have another mainstream brand when other worthy options like the funky Volvo XC40 and boring but well-executed Honda Accord were on the list of nominees.