By on November 11, 2009

Ryv asks:

Whenever I read a TTAC car review or read comments I see nothing but complaints of hard plastics and ill fits. It made me wonder, is there some ideal vehicle interior out there being held as the standard to all others? I sat in a Lamborghini Gallardo at last years NAIAS and thought the suede covered dash looked ridiculous – but thats probably the opposite of the hard plastics people complain about. Maybe I am just interior challenged that I don’t notice these things but unless my dash is peeling, and as long as it’s pretty intuitive control wise, it’s appealing. So what is the benchmark interior, the standard that all interiors should strive towards?

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


44 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Benchmark Interior?...”

  • avatar

    Infiniti Q45

  • avatar

    In recent memory, two cars’ interiors stand out to me, and I also find their excellence was underrated or underreported:

    – The first-gen Acura TSX (2004-2008) has one of the most tasteful interiors. Design-wise, it was handsome, clean, crisp with no gimmicks or gaudiness. Materials-wise, the quality was high, the plastics were soft to the touch and to the sight and the fit and finish was good.
    – The E46 BMW 3-series (1999-2005) had a great design, pleasant to the eye and ergonomically good, save for the center-console-mounted window controls. Quality of materials in this – as in all BMWs – is top-notch. At the various touch-points, the materials were even that much softer (such as interior door grab handle, where your arm would rest on the door or center console, etc…)

  • avatar

    62 Chrysler 300, that’s an interior

  • avatar

    To complete my previous post, some pics:

  • avatar

    I don’t think there is one standard.  I certainly don’t want my focused track toy to have the same interior as my GT or my luxury sedan/everyday transportation.  Trucks should be a whole separate issue.

    If you used one interior for all those 3 cars there’d be compromises everywhere.  But the standards as I see them:

    Sports car/track toy: Ferrari F430 Scuderia/Lotus Elise.  Minimalist but with maximum information about the road.

    GT: Maserati Granturismo/Caravaggio Corvette.  Sporty, wild color combos, art in motion.

    Luxury: Lexus LS600hL.  All the toys (but can operate easily without the toys – no MMI/iDrive), rich materials.  I’d put Bently/RR here but they fail in the toys department.

  • avatar

    My benchmark would probably be a Volvo 940.

  • avatar

    For the cheap set I have to give a shout out to the VW A4 interiors. I’ve had two of them, they’re a model of simplicity with quality. Both my Golf and Jetta beat most everything I’ve seen in their class by a mile, either by the overwhelming geegaws, weird layouts, obtuse placements of controls that can’t be used without taking your eyes off the road and hard plastics that just don’t have the same tactile quality that the VW has.

    • 0 avatar

      The interior of my Mk4 99.5 Golf GLS with 100k miles easily outshines, in near every way, that of the 2005 CR-V EX (used with 27K miles) that replaced it.  Actually, it was my wife’s car and I’d planned to sell it.  But I need something to drive after I sold my 2004 F-150 FX4, whose interior also paled compared in both comfort and quality  to it’s predecessor, a ’98 F-150 STX/XLT.  I never understood the rave reviews the revised (’04) F-150 got.  The interior, especially with the FX4 gauges,  looked great in the color brochures.  But in person it was obviously cheap and chock full of those sucky hard plastics everyone complains about.  The seats were really uncomfortable too.   Anyway, I liked the Golf so much I decided to keep driving it and spend the grand it cost to have the timing belt replaced, and another $500 for new rear springs.  The Golf cockpit really is amazing for it’s price point.  Style, fit, finish, quality of materials, all seem to belong to a much more expensive car.  My only complaint (about the interior) is that a lot of that soft-touch plastic has started to feel sticky and peel.  I found the Mk5 Rabbit interior was a distinct step down from the Mk4, again because of the cheap feel and hard plastics.   Was interior degradation some kind of industry trend a few years ago?  Things seem to be improving somewhat with the MK6 Golf, but black-only and no manual tranny with a 4-door gas engine are both deal breakers.

  • avatar

    Detroit iron: 1965 Chrysler 300L. High style, yet everything solid and no tinny stuff anywhere. Comfortable bucket seats and console. Excellent visibility. Choice of more than half a dozen colors. Mine was white with black carpets and dash.
    Imported: I’ve enjoyed the functionality of all my Accord interiors, from the 1980 to the present 1999. Also, the old 1964 230SL was still nice inside when I had it, and nicely laid out.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Actually, soft plastics are stupid. Why would you want your car to be fitted with something you wouldn’t accept in your home? Soft plastics smell, in fact they emit vapors that are downright unhealthy. Manufacturers themself recommend airing a new car on a regular basis. What’s more, plastics get a negative charge and therefore attract filth more than natural materials do.
    Many cars from the 1950s or 1960s are superior to what you get nowadays. You’ll have metal surfaces, cloth and leather. All are honorable, honest materials that do not pretend to be something they are not.
    I could write an article about why the Facel Vega HK500’s painted dash is superb, or why any post-war Citroen has a useful and aesthetically-pleasing interior. I could wax about the simple beauty of the Rover SD1’s dash, or about the work of art Harris Mann created for the first Range Rover. But don’t get me started.
    Right now, the French are doing pretty well. One of the nicest new dashboards I have seen is that of the Citroen C3 Picasso: the speedo is near-perfect. When fitted with Alcantara, the Renault Laguna’s interior is hard to beat in terms of elegant simplicity. And if you don’t mind a slightly overwrought style, then check out the Alfa 166. But what else is there?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Martin, totally agree with you. And I’m going to predict that at some point in the future, there will be a shift in that direction again. Or maybe, that’s just wishful thinking.
      Tomorrow’s CC has an interior pretty close to that.

  • avatar

    IMO, interior quality is usually one of those things where people may not know what they want – but they definitely know what they do not want. So you could have 9 out of 10 cars with perfectly fine interiors (for their price) and the average person wouldn’t really be disappointed with any of them. But writing “adequate” interior doesn’t cut the mustard. So instead you hear a common theme that 9 out of 10 cars have significant room for improvement.

    In addition, some interior items are just temporal oddities and not necessarily a description of a shoddy interior.  For example, when Mini opted to put their gauge cluster in the middle (to save costs with symmetric offerings), you could find numerous reviews about how awkward it was to drive the car.  But in reality, most people didn’t mind and the overall execution of the interior wasn’t a poor job.  Same goes with Honda doing their weird spaceship interior.  People may be uncomfortable with something but they don’t despise it in the long run.  Unfortunately, it’s always easier to rip on something.

    People who declare themselves as reviewers/pundits can have a field day criticizing interior issues.  They sit in so many cars (always new) and basically feel that unless it is perfect then it needs to be improved.  You could do the same thing touring the showroom at Williams-Sonoma… but it makes you seem smart to bash perfectly fine interiors (for their price level) because it’s the hip thing to do.   Put a reviewer into a 2001 car that you felt had a nice interior, and they’ll complain about it.  Luckily reviewers tend to stay away from suffering through older cars unless it’s their own personal vehicle. In those cases, their personal vehicle always has a top notch interior because the reviewer believes they are smart enough to always pick the best cars.

    Of course, some interiors are just plain bad – and definitely deserve to be panned across the board.  A Dodge Nitro with the YES fabric comes to mind…

  • avatar

    As a professional interior designer I would opine that the interior must fit the purpose.  A Bentley interior would look out place inside an Enzo or vice-versa.  When Audi came out with their two-tone interiors they set a benchmark that’s still being copied today, though nobody pulled it off as well as they did.  Ironically what Lamborghini sells for a premium over their leather, a material branded in Europe as Alcantara is made from polyurethane, it’s what we here in the states call Ultrasuede, I get it for my customers at under $75.00 per yard, my understanding is Lamborghini customers like it because it’s lighter than leather, so it gets sold at a premium, as if a few ounces would make a difference in car performance.  You can’t beat the smell of a Connolly hide and Alcantara/Ultrasuede smells like polyurethane.

  • avatar

    Being the man from Ford, I should point everyone to a new Taurus (which is lovely by the way) but for me, a Ferrari 166MM is perfection. Simple, effective with beautiful use of materials (wood and leather of course) but done in a way that does not distract the driver from the job in hand. Stunning!

  • avatar

    Among cars under $100k, I’d say the Audi A8.

    (Though I haven’t yet checked out the Panamera.)

    • 0 avatar

      I was able to spend some time in the Panamera interior during the Historics at Laguna Seca last August. It’s definitely world class. The surfaces, the textures, even the multi-button display was elegantly designed (almost Nokia esque—still too many buttons—but well designed). The seats were easily among the most comfortable that I’ve sat in.

      Too bad the exterior of the car just doesn’t do it for me.

  • avatar

    I cannot understand whining about hard plastics either. I do not buy cars to pet them inside.

  • avatar

    Aston-Martin. Posh speed and smells as expensive as it really is. Toy-deficient, but isn’t the whole car a toy?

  • avatar

    Perfection?  That’s something that’s very hard to pin down.  I wish interiors were offered in more colors, I wish they had more “two tone” than just black with silvery plastic, but I haven’t been offended by anything and I usually drive or get driven in just about exclusively American cars.
    My first car was a 1982 Chevy Celebrity and I knew the fake wood was dorky but there was something about it that screamed “AMERICAN CAR,” but I felt the same way about the fake wood in my 1987 Oldsmobile, and my Dad’s 1992 Pontiac Bonneville SE, even though it had a spoiler and supportive bucket seats.  Unless they fall apart, I’ve always thought interiors were a matter of taste.

  • avatar

    I’m a little prejustice, since I am lucky enough to own one, I nominate the 2005 Jaguar XK8 interior.  The burrled wood dash is a work or art and everything is in the right place.  The center stack is well layed out and very intuitive.  Everytime I get in and get a whiff of the Connley leather and grip the wood and leather wrapped steering wheel I feel good about my car.

  • avatar

    I prefer soft touch materials, whether they be plastics, leather, suede, or some facsimile thereof.   Some hard touch materials are fine, as long as they aren’t areas that are going to get touched a ton, or if they are in areas where soft touch would be impractical.
    The late 90s early 2000s Audi S model interiors with the blue Alcantara inserts were awesome.  I like Alcantara because it feels as rich as leather, but gives a nice grippyness.
    I prefer lots of buttons to things like iDrive or MMI knobs – I feel that each function should have a dedicated button.  The recent FoMoCo interiors with full 0 – 9 digits to allow you to instantly type in a radio (AM/FM or Sirius) channel are a huge step forward IMO, and something all automakers should copy.
    I also really like wood, and always prefer wood (especially real wood, but fake woof of a quality high enough to fool me works too) to any kind of metal or faux-metal trim.  I also prefer headliners that are color-keyed to the seats, a car with black leather should have a black headliner.
    All of this is, of course, just personal preference, and really, interior quality lends itself a lot towards personal preference arguments.
    I’d have to say that if anyone comes close to making a perfect interior right now it’s Bentley.  Lots of quilted soft leather covering everything, real wood with great grain, dedicated knobs and buttons for lots of functions, etc.  Then again, at home I prefer furniture with dark brown leather and brass tacks, so, I’m sure my personal tastes color my judgement for car interiors too.

  • avatar

    +1 for not being impressed by soft plastic.  I just want plastic that looks good, and doesn’t feel hollow and cheap on the parts that get touched.  So if it looks and feels like it belongs in a Powerwheels, get it out.
    I haven’t driven anything that cost more than $40k, so I can’t comment in that arena, but my favorite interior is the one in the Acura RSX.  Mostly because of the design, but the materials are still good, and the switchgear feels great.  I love a driver focused interior, and it looks like they’re bringing it back in the Honda CR-Z.

  • avatar
    Oregon Sage

    SAAB 9000, great seats, easy to use controls, Scandinavian style.
    I once had a Renault Fuego with a light grey mousefur dash….people found it entertaining, but it didn’t make driving it any nicer.

    • 0 avatar

      2nd the Saab 9000.  My Aero’s seats are, still, the best I’ve sat it.
      Another interior I really like is my dad’s e30 (M3).  Simple, and gets the job done.
      To me, an interior must be functional, and it shouldn’t infringe on usable space.  If it succeeds in being visually appealing, then all the better.

  • avatar

    I find that I am resisting the concept of a “benchmark interior” because one of the problems I have with today’s car designs is all the interiors are basically the same.  They come in the same 2 or 3 boring neutral colors, and they all have a dash with three gauge pods, and a center stack (growing wider every year) with HVAC/sound/nav controls.   We need more creativity and willingness to depart from the benchmark of blandness we already have.

    I think the most imitated instrument panel design is the entire mid 70’s BMW line.  Take a look at the first gen Honda Accord.  Even the Olds/Buick J cars tried to ape the early 3 series.

    It used to be that interiors did a lot more to evoke the personality of the car.  One of the best examples of that is the ’63 Buick Riviera:

  • avatar

    Went to a car show this year.  I thought just about all interiors where less then I was expecting. Quality was lacking all over the place. From the Genesis to the A8. Maybe a ride in a car could change my mind. I like the A6 interior better after driving it.  The Avalon I liked less.  The Audi A5 and M45S I thought had the best interiors of the cars. Althought I still wanted more.  I also like the New Mercedes Interiors a bit.

  • avatar

    I like the interiors on my 98 Caravan and 05 xB.  My former 02 Passat interior was nice.  I also like the Toyota Venza interior, but I have not owned one.
    For me, form and function are very related when it comes to interiors.  If the seats are killing me, or there is too little headroom, I tend to not care about anything else.
    The “best” interior isn’t just the most expensive; it needs to be functionally and aesthetically better than other cars in its class.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    My benchmark for interiors is the 1967 Jaguar 420G in my garage. Wood, leather, chrome, big dials, lots of cool rocker switches. Nothing else does it for me like that :). Modern Jags, on the other hand, just don’t seem to have the special presence.

  • avatar

    Leather dashboard surfaces on luxury cars look great when they are new but, honestly, good plastics will just look better longer.  Look at 15 year old exotics and the leather dashes have usually shrunken and warped.
    If you look at mid ’80’s Porsche 911s, for example, they offered a very expensive full leather option (door panels, dash, and I think even the backs of the front seats were cow hide).  These days, a used Porsche with the normal plastic dash from that era usually looks a lot better.  The leather over the air vents and defroster vents are all warped on every example I’ve ever seen.
    I’ve had some inexpensive cars with interiors I considered nice even though they were made of hard plastics.  My old Mazda Protege5 looked nice, functioned well, and looked good after 3 years.  Even my ’91 Mazda Miata which has an interior so basic a modern car buyer would think it was a refugee from an Iron Block country has held up extremely well over 19 years of hot California summers.  I like the simple layout as well.  There is a soft padded section facing the passengers but the dash top that gets the most sun is made of a hard plastic that hasn’t cracked or torn the way the old soft stuff would have.  I have to say, it looks fine to me and I rarely touch the top of my dash other than to dust it off.
    My personal peeve with some of the American interiors is not that they were necessarily of poor quality, it’s just that there appeared to be little thought given to the surfaces you contact every time you drive the car.  GM cars from the 1990s (in base trim) had greasy-feeling smushy plastic on the steering wheels, hard surfaces on the arm rests, and buttons that worked fine but just felt like they had sand or grit in their innards… unlike Hondas that had A/C buttons that felt like someone really sweated over their manufacture.
    I never understood why GM couldn’t be bothered to spend a few bucks more on a standard steering wheel that made you want to hold it.  They used the same part on nearly every model, so there should have been economies of scale.  They have made huge strides, certainly, but to me it was inexcusable 10 years ago.

  • avatar

    Lexus ES300 sadly has outclassed everything else I have been in recently. The nice big radio buttons. The easy to use air-con. The leather is reasonably soft, the gaps small, the wood a bit too shiny, and the display easy to read without stupid affectations. BMWs and Porsches have interiors that a Civic would be ashamed of in my experience. Audis are too dark and have lots of extra business as well.
    The new Jag XF looks like it has potential.

  • avatar

    Bar none, my 2006 Infinity Q45.  The king is dead.  Long live the king.

  • avatar

    I second the 60-62 Chrysler 300 interiors. Leather bucket seqats, console, vinyl and chrome doors, and a wild dash with an instrument cluster  that is beyond description. And electroluminiscent lighting besides!

    Honest materials. Metal knobs, metal transmission pushbuttons (no dorky shift levers here!), and an inside mirror sprouting from the top of the dash. It just doesn’t get any better.

    That’s why I’ve got one of these in my garage.


  • avatar

    Do cars interiors matter?  As long as it’s not falling apart & has items in the expect place(s), that works for me.

  • avatar

    What makes a great interior….

    So many levels / cars / concepts to choose from.

    *Random thought warning*

    The Panamera interior… I think is some of the best work from Porsche that Ive seen yet. I love the colors and could deal with the pleasing amount of buttons… from a viewer standpoint. To drive / own it, (not that I want to…. ghastly as it is) would confuse the hell out of me. So many damn features…. to control things that I might have never even thought about.

    I happen to like wide center consoles…. brings an air to the whole vehicle. (Besides the illusion given through the moon/skyroof). In design theory its supposed to unify the front and back, yet unify all inside and out in flowing lines and feature / design…. ;like the new / current Taurus.

    As far as other interiors go…
    My Accord from 00 is decent… has minimal buttons / distractions with a neutral color palate.

    An interior can / could always be better..

    The Civic int / dash… is typica Honda simplistic in form… but most is left in acres of upswept and mold injected hard plastic… with no real center console to speak of.

    Compared to a Mazda 3…. its well thought out. enough buttons but not too many. Tight gaps and workable… even though its just one color (black) and too often paired with a cheap black fabric.

    The luxury stuff Ive sat in.. 7series, Rover, G/Sclass, IS JUST CRAZY. @a got a bit ol honkin nav system in a interior wrought with wayyy too many materials. Also know… a good soft plastic interior is a big deal…. over fake metals and woods.

    Then ya have the Malibu LTZ…
    Nice colors.
    Nice design…
    Decent layout

    Im sorry… its hard to be happy about a int. in a GM car… whe the Vette is horrible… and has the same int as a ZR1.

  • avatar

    +a bazillion on different interiors for different purposes.

    For truck interiors, I’m a big fan of my little ’06 Ford Ranger in base trim.

    Sure, it’s basically the same dash and door panels from the 1994 Ranger, and it’s got vinyl seats with a rubber floor mat– but both are very functional, and the vinyl/rubber combo of the latter makes them easy to clean. And in recent years, the folks at Ford saw fit to make the pseudo-buckets’ vinyl a lot thicker and stronger than it had been in the past. Where previous generations of Ranger XLs wore out a thin place in the driver’s seat or on the (decently padded) center arm rest in just a couple years, mine has been strong and looks good as new with a little polishing. No exposed foam, nearly four years and 60,000 miles on!

    For long-distance driving car interiors, old Volvos have a knack for simple, elegant, comfortable seats. And all the aging BMWs I’ve driven had bar-none THE dash layout to end all dash layouts– the highest form of the art.

    Problem in both cases is, parts of the cars’ interiors (dashboards, especially) seem to go awry with age and exposure to hot sunlight/defroster. BMW leather seats (and every other part, seemingly) will wear out pretty quick if not conditioned regularly. And I’ve never seen a Volvo older than 10 or 12 years whose carpet didn’t look like some kind of nightmarish shag rug you’d roll up and toss out if you bought a house with that stuff on the floors. But maybe that says more about the Volvo owners (and their dogs, and their kids, and their rugged “Sure, I’ll take you to work in this apocalyptic blizzard” lifestyles) than the actual quality of the carpet itself.

    Lately, the car interiors I’ve been admiring most come from the Nissan Versa and the Honda Fit. Both have more room/usable space inside than my wife’s 2004 Nissan Sentra, and the fit-and-finish seem better, especially in areas like the solidity of the door “kachunk” when closed, and the seat material. Both can be had cheaper brand new (in base form) than our Sentra was as a nearly two-year-old used car in 2006 (also as a base model).

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    What the interior should be like really depends on the car. What’s appropriate in a Miata (lightweight, exposed to the elements) is not appropriate in a workman’s truck (durable, exposed to lots of tools) or in a car for an orthodontist’s wife (comfortable, exposed to lots of tennis rackets).

  • avatar

    Like stevelovescars, GM’s early-90s soft-touch plastics ruined me on “soft plastics.”  Just hearing someone beg for more of them makes my skin crawl.  My dad’s company cars were always Cavaliers between the death of the K-car and the launch of the Gen2 Prius and every one of those Cavs were grotesque.
    I’m disliking the center-stack in many cars, small FWD compacts especially.  I’m 6′-3, all my height is in my legs, and I prefer to sit as close to the steering wheel as my knees comfortably allow for better arm/shoulder ergonomics.  This rules out almost all small cars I’ve driven with few exceptions as I don’t like dislocating my right kneecap (I could tolerate the Mazda3 as long as I never put the ignition key on a keychain, and the Suzuki SX4 was tolerable).
    I miss the days when FWD cars showcased their layout with vast open expanses of tunnel-less front footwell.  My first personal experience was the 1984 Plymouth Voyager (whose interior had its own problems, i.e. flat/boring compartment-less passenger knee bolster, cupholders that only worked if the car was stationary, but it was an early cupholder adopter), but the pic I found of the mid-60s Toronado illustrates it well:

    • 0 avatar

      “soft-touch” plastic doesn’t mean padding (a la J-car).  Instead, it’s specific texturing on the plastic that makes it feel soft to touch, even though it is hard with no actual give.
      And even without soft-touch, the texture and thickness of plastic (not to mention the panel fit) can make a huge difference to the perceived interior quality.

  • avatar

    I’m with cdotson – most cars with wide center consoles don’t have enough legroom to keep your leg from rubbing on some hard, chintzy plastic. I once had to drive 600 miles in a rental Sebring – and the cruise control broke. My right knee was nearly rubbed raw…
    That Toronado is a beauty – but I imagine having to hold on for dear life while making a hard left turn (lap belt mandatory!)

    • 0 avatar

      I appreciate subtle things like consistency of font across the cockpit (does the font on the radio buttons match the window switch, and is it in keeping with the speedometer?) and whether the lines on the door panels match up with the dash, or is there a big gap.  For me, the VW phaeton is the nicest interior I’ve seen.  It has the appearance of using large slabs of wood integral to the dash and doors rather than a thin piece attached by adhesive.

  • avatar

    Mercedes W124 – plush but no nonsense.

  • avatar

    The best, bar none, is the interior of the Spyker C8 Spyder. Toggle switches, nice gauges, and everything is polished metal or leather. I like it even better finished with a leather dashboard, rather than the diamond-plated aluminum.

    Among reasonably-priced cars, I think the mid-90s Toyota Camry is pretty hard to beat. Comfortable, soft, and felt more expensive than it was. The downturn in Camry interiors since is depressing.

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • DeadWeight: With very few exceptions, Toyota is lame-a$$ company with ugly styling, cheap materials, boring and...
  • gmichaelj: Except for the ridiculously large air intakes(?) under the headlights, which seem to be all the rage these...
  • gtemnykh: “pulled a lot harder than its so-so brochure numbers said it should have” This was my...
  • PenguinBoy: I doubt Cadillac and Lincoln will ever be top tier luxury brands like Rolls Royce and Bentley, but I...
  • anomaly149: @Garrett, I’d really hope Volvo scored well in small overlap, as far as I know it’s...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote


  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States