Editorial

What Is The Best Material For A Car's Interior Trim?

We weigh the pros and cons of several car interior materials.

WARNING! We are about to hit you with some opinions here, so you may want to brace yourself. When you go to spec out a car, there are generally plenty of decisions to make in regards to giving it that personal touch. We've all been in that situation where we know what car we want, but the choice between an exterior color or interior combination drives us crazy. We give a lot of thought to our car's color combination, but many people tend to gloss over another important feature, the interior trim.

Unfortunately, interior trim is not always customizable unless you are buying a really expensive car. Porsche, for example, will give you the choice between aluminum, wood, carbon fiber, and more. A Ford Fiesta on the other hand, may only have one option. This still made us think, what is the ideal material for a car interior? In the past, the sign of a luxury car used to be that it had wood trim. Plenty of manufacturers have been known to throw in some tacky faux wood plastic in order to give it a luxurious look. There are plenty of materials that look beautiful as interior trims, and we wanted to take a moment to talk about why each is great, and propose some new materials that would be cool.

We'll start off with wood, because it is still the material of choice to show that a car is luxurious. When wood is done really well, like in a Rolls Royce, it looks amazing. Unfortunately, nobody does wood as good as a Rolls Royce. The result often being some tacky looking brown plastic that will only resemble wood on the day you return home from having eye surgery. Lexus has always done a pretty nice job of making wood trim look good at a reasonable price, so you don't have to spend Rolls Royce money to get something that doesn't look like crap. Unfortunately, wood is starting to become old fashioned, and manufacturers are moving away from it in favor of lighter materials.

When you build a sports car, everything is supposed to be as light as possible. That is why it would be silly to have a race car with decorative wood panels in the interior. That's why many luxury car makers have been chasing the whole "race car for the street" trend with carbon fiber trim. Carbon fiber is really just a fancy plastic, but we would be lying if we said it doesn't look spectacular as an interior trim material. The unique weave pattern that carbon fiber uses just screams expensive. Unfortunately, like wood, lower-cost manufacturers have gone overboard making plastic that looks like carbon fiber. Sorry Subaru BRZ, but you aren't fooling anyone with that price tag.

You can't expect to have real carbon fiber trim without spending a fair bit of change on an options list. Ferrari goes so far as to charge you over $3,000 for a tiny amount of carbon fiber on the cupholder. The one problem that we have with carbon fiber trim is that it only really makes sense on a lightweight sports car. MotorTrend recently tested a BMW M6 Gran Coupe which had a carbon fiber interior, and that car weighs 4,400 pounds. It is great that carbon fiber weight less that other interior trim materials, but on such a heavy car, the benefit just seems rather unnecessary. If you're buying the track-variant of a car like the GT4 Cayman or M4 GTS, then carbon fiber is a must-have.

There are plenty of other materials that have become popular in recent years as interior trim. We love well-executed piano black interior trim because it's not very expensive to make, but it does look elegant. Unfortunately, even the expensive stuff will attract dust like a Swiffer Sweeper and become full of finger prints if you dare to touch it. We also love aluminum trim. Audi used to offer a really nice-feeling aluminum trim in the B7 generation A4, which felt cold to the touch. The tell tale sign that you have interior trim that isn't fake is when it actually heats up and cools down with the weather. Plastic will always feel normal, but real metal will change temperature.

We want to know what your favorite interior trim is for a car. Perhaps you have a favorite, or perhaps, like us, it depends on the type of car and the interior color combination? We also want to hear from you if you can think of any cool materials that you would love to have in your car. Bentley recently offered a unique stone trim from its bespoke Mulliner division. There are an endless number of materials that would look really cool on the dashboard of a car. We thought of some like marble or even just a new take on plastic that doesn't just emulate metal or wood. With new technologies like 3D printing, we hope that car manufacturers step outside the box to make interior trims that look really cool.

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