By on July 19, 2007

wood2.jpgTrue story: as a kid, every fall I’d ride my single-speed bike three miles to the local Chevy dealer. Inexplicably, the dealer staff let this mouthy, curious kid sit in their expensive, newly launched iron. In the autumn of 1968, I clambered into a brand spankin’ new ’69 Impala. Its lines were angular where the old ones were bulbous. As a “Chevy man” (boy), I was ready to show it some major love. But one detail grabbed my eye and just wouldn’t let go. Unlike previous Impalas, the dash and doors were covered with very large expanses of fake wood. A pet peeve was born.

If you haven’t spent quality time in a ‘70s GM car, you don’t what I’m talking about. The fake wood of the day was so bad it couldn’t fool a 13-year-old brand apostle who wanted to be fooled. The material had strange angular and cylindrical indentations: the obvious products of metal stamping. The screen-printing dots were so coarse they could be seen with the naked eye from a normal viewing distance. In short, the Impala’s fake wood made today’s Buick LaCrosse look like yesterday’s Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.

Decades later, I read there was a GM CEO who had a thing for fake wood. He thought the public would regard it as classy. So he ordered it installed into virtually every higher trim level GM product. Yet another clear case of the blind trying to lead the [perceived] dumb.

Fast forward a few decades, GM’s in decline, the transplants have arrived and horrendous fake wood is still with us. For example, the Hyundai Azera’s faux timber radiates a half-coagulated blood maroon unlike any tree product on planet Earth. It blights the dash, doors, console edges, shift knob and interior door handles. Worst of all, fake wood informs the majority of the steering wheel. It’s bad enough to make you long for the lower-line Azera with its all-leather helm.

Why do they do it? Most of the other materials that make the Azera’s living room so inviting are the real deal. The leather actually once said moo. The fabric over your head is real fabric. The gauges are real neon (I think). Why ruin this classy cabin by counterfeiting the one element that has no function whatsoever except to provide luxury?

It’s true: wood really has no business being in a car, save its historical connection and its aesthetic appeal. While other materials are longer lasting, more practical and cheaper, real wood takes us back to more elemental days, when these machines really were horseless carriages. It delights us with a sensuality that no man-made material can recreate. Fake wood? Fake boobs. Same pointless (no pun intended) thing.

Anyway, I admire VW for putting real timber in Passats and Jettas. I’m cheered to learn that Volvo has added a real-wood option as a replacement for the standard polymer lumber (until I learned it’s bundled with the accursed headroom-robbing sunroof). I even took one-and-a-half looks (I can’t sincerely say I got to the second-look stage) when Ford offered a hand-me-down of Lincoln’s real-wood wheel on the woebegone Taurus.

Do carmakers research this stuff, or do they just copy each other? Does the public really like fake wood better than no fake wood? Does the fake stuff come close enough, for enough of us, that the carmakers profit more by saving the cost of the real grows-on-trees stuff? Clearly, the wood thing has become a monster eating away the inside of my brain.

A sincere question, though, for my audience: does anyone out there know how much it costs to put real wood in a car interior? Is burnishing and fitting a bit of genuine elm so prohibitive that automakers must restrict its deployment to the tippy-top of their lines?

Acura steps up for the RL — but pulls the punch for everything beneath it. Infiniti boasts real wood on the G, but on the hidden edge of the ashtray/bin door the “wood grain” mysteriously disappears just as if it were made of ink. I, personally, would pay real money for the genuine article, excepting the painfully obvious sticky-back aftermarket add-ons (and yes, I’ve even looked hard at those). I would even almost sort of start liking a Lexus ES, just to have its shiny God-given veneers.

Some time back, I threw down a mental challenge to myself: If I were the poor soul who had to rescue Buick, what would I do? I ultimately decided I’d offer real leather and real wood on even the lowliest Buick in the showroom as standard equipment. It’s too late to win on technology, but they can still deliver the materials of real luxury.

Can’t they? 

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

55 Comments on “Do Luxury Car Interiors Grow On Trees?...”

  • avatar

    Good story and good point ;-)!I think you should look at fake wood as the Big 2.8’s (oh, so unsuccessful) attempt to make the working man feel luxurious. Now, if you wanna see some real wood, enter the luxurious confines of an early nineties Startcraft conversion van! Now, there is enough REAL wood to make a saw-mill magnate envious! The instrument cladding was literally made from a 3/4 inch plank! Now that is something for the fake-makers to aspire to!

  • avatar

    All the Lincolns offer real wood except the Town Car (why bother). You can sub the wood for real aluminum – but watch out it dents!. Now if only they’d get rid of that cheesy silver painted plastic on the center console…

  • avatar

    I don’t know what it costs to put real wood in a mass-market interior, but I do know that doing it on a custom basis is expensive.

    I tried for some maple downtubes in my Mini. Nothing fancy, just a decent S&B hard white maple (without sugaring, knots, etc.) and the guy who had all the templates for making them wanted $400 per pair. Unfinished. With no warranty.

    Wood is a pain to work with in an automotive context. Think about the temperature swings (and worse, the humidity fluctuations) wood is submitted to inside a car. Here in Toronto the peak summer versus winter temperature spread is upwards of 50º centigrade; humidity is just as variable. That’s a recipe for splits in even the most seasoned wood, unless covered with an IED-proof grade of lacquer. And even then….

  • avatar

    How about fake carbon fiber? I think that’s even cheesier.

  • avatar

    There is alot of regular furniture thats made of this fake wood stuff – entire living rooms and bedrooms. Frankly, id rather sleep on the floor and sit on a milk crate. But alot of it is sold, i guess, cause its cheap. Looks SO bad – I can’t beleive people actually buy it. How far is it from a huge dining room table slathered with fake wood coating, to a huge car slathered with fake wood coating?

  • avatar

    I actually didn’t mind the fake wood in my 2003 Eddie Bauer explorer, it fit the two-tone theme nice and it sure as hell wasn’t as bad as Hyundai’s wood-stickers (not to knock Hyundai beyond this, they make great vehicles, but wood stickers? what the hell?)

    Honestly though, I’m not a fan of the current carbon-fibre trim at the moment, regardless of value I think that stuff looks worse than hard-plastic trim. Brushed Aluminum is OK, but boring looking to me. Just cover everything in leather, ok?

  • avatar

    I am just amazed of the number of brand new cars boasting the same fake wood as our 86 Fleetwood land yacht.
    The more things change, the more they stay the same!
    I think the fake wood, fake carbon fiber, and fake aluminum/chrome plastic crap should all be sent back to PeeWee’s Playhouse.

  • avatar

    The faux wood in my Solara is fairly persuasive, but I could still do without.

    Ah yes, the faux wood of 60s and 70s Detroit iron. That was terrible stuff. Maybe the powers that be think we have a hereditary memory of when cars were relatively scarce and hand built one at a time? Or probably it’s because they know that the most luxurious cars in the world use real wood, and that ‘we’ will think we are halfway their if we get some fake stuff.

    Or they are stuck in old patterns and keep doing the same thing over and over, without a fresh idea in sight (fake aluminum and fake carbon fibre don’t count).

  • avatar

    Why is the 2.8 being blamed for this when the US market demands it. look at the LR3 and its freshened interior, they added wood to the centre console because it was demanded and expected by consumers!
    It also depends how you apply it, BMW does it nicely on their interiors, Aston Martin used bamboo in the DB8/9. The interior of the Enclave was criticised on here for the wood in that interior, but that is the perception of American luxury. In general wood is also popular in contemporary interiors. Also if you wonder where this perception arises i recently bought a house, whilst looking around i lost count of the amount of houses adorned with wood panelling in lounges, hallways etc, look at your love of it in kitchens,in such poor ways and in such poor taste. I asked various realtors why there is so much wood and they said it was the American way!!
    Whether you like it or not its there because of customer demand.

    As for the question of real wood in cars, due to crash regs you can’t, dangers of splintering and lack of give when items such as your head or knees hit mean we have plastic inserts as the rule. Unless its somewhere safe where contact will not occur, we’ll be using faux for some time.

  • avatar

    I think some real wood in a car, tastefully done, can be nice. But the operative phrase here is “tastefully done.” Which generally eludes car makers.

    I have a real burlwood dash on my ’96 Saab 9000. It adds warmth to the interior and looks nice compared to the black, slightly padded plastic on my daughter’s ’95 model. But my wife’s ’03 Saab 9-5 has wood that looks like plastic. Maybe it is– I don’t know, but it’s not as nicely done as on the older car.

    Must be the GM influence.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    My 2007 Audi A-4 allegedly has real wood on the dash and doors, but the surface is so thick with shiny poly or whatever they use that, to me at least, it might just as well be a plastic. And how did they manage this: the ashtray’s cover is clearly metal, yet it matches the real wood perfectly? So I think even in an Audi, there’s still a lot of erzatz luxury that’s barely skin deep.

  • avatar


    There I said it.

    I actually prefer the new G35 interior WITHOUT wood. The brushed aluminum fits the vehicle much better.

    All you need for a luxurious interior is Leather, Aluminum, and nice densely woven carpet.

    Just say no to wood interiors.

  • avatar

    A few years ago, you couldn’t get a Subaru Legacy without fake wood interior trim. That alone stopped me from buying one.

    > Leather

    Some people won’t buy dead cow. This is a small but increasing percentage of the population. Just use real brushed aluminum and offer a wood option for those would-be Jaguar buyers.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Ah, the smell of sawdust in the air. While in college I worked in furniture shop and later I had a brief career as a general building contractor. I love the smell and feel of real wood and I think it can be a beautiful accent for a car.

    I would add to your remarks that the use of wood vs. plastic is coming full circle. In my recent test drive of Jeep’s Outlander CDR, I anticipated putting my hands on a real wood steering wheel and dashboard. However, the wood is preserved under so many layers of clear coat finish that it has taken on the appearance and feel of plastic. It might be real wood under all that, but who could know? Some of the high-end plastics are as good.

    But my biggest revulsion regarding fake wood extends beyond the inner confines of a car to the wood grain vinyl stickers that blight sheet metal. A “woodie” Chrysler Pacifica? Heaven help us if the faux timber looks as bad as it did on any car in 1972.

    Tony, great article.

  • avatar

    Amen to the article.
    I see no reason to use fake wood…or real wood.
    Think about the cheesy plastics that WERE the interiors of the “image-making” Japanese cars of the late 80s through the 90s. They didn’t pretend to be anything but cheap, durable, and consistently-made plastic. There may be a lesson to be brought out of that era.
    The two other plastic “dress-ups” that bother me:
    -Chrome (as if we need more reflective surfaces on a sunny day without painting the gauge cluster with chrome paint)
    -Leather (e.g., door panels, straps). Forget making them leather like and just coordinate the plastic.
    (Add these to the “just say no to” list along with wood and faux carbon fiber)

  • avatar

    wood likes to be 2 dimensional, it is hard to bend it and make curvaceous. but flat 2d surfaces in a car look amateur. besides ,wood represents a warm colour, while polished aluminium or chrome is cold colour and fits with blue, black and greyish.wood gives sense of luxury, and you can see how ugly the real wood trim looks in those bentleys when the car looks made in some shop, not real factory.that`s why they usually use wood sawdust from which they stamp forms and later in thermopress stamp on thin wood bark. this gives a chance to put curves and remain relatively `woody`( i am still talking about cars here,ok). real wood accents and chrome represents the value and attitude of the company. so does leather. of course ,because leather is thick, it is impossible to make leather ,say, dashboards, that would have ultra-precise curves like on lexus. even the best leather-wrapped ferraris` dash can`t compete with ,say, any hyundai santa fe, or other factory precision- stamped dashes. in a stiff( still about cars) competition every manufacturer needs to lure a customer. and wood, chrome, leather and gizmo`s are some ways to achieve it. fake wood can attract uneducated audience,( and smoothen the pricks of conscience for the suspicion of having overpaid), so judge yourself. the people who financially challenged, yet want to have luxury, would go for fake one. It is their chance to shine in eyes of neighbours, while passing them….. we want so much to look better than we are….at least in the eyes of strangers, and in the eyes of our girl/boyfriends for some time.

  • avatar

    Never had to deal with fake carbon fiber – though I think it looks horrible.

    However, my Mustang GT looks much better for having the fake silver/chrome on parts on the interior than just black everywhere IMO.

    Oddly the only fake wood I can think of in all of my cars was my 2001 Altima GXE “Limited Edition” It had fake wood around the center stack… sadly my friend with a 1999 was envious of the touch of “class.” I didn’t mind it, but didn’t think much of it either… kind of like the rest of the car.

  • avatar

    Jeff and William:

    I concur with your statements above. I’ll add the new 5 series to that group. There are so many coats of poly on that dash that I can’t tell if its real or faux. I guess because its a BMW, I give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Kind of like the Tammy Fay Baker phenomenon. You want to believe its real…but you’ve never seen anything like it…and it just doesn’t look right.

  • avatar

    It is ironic that most women with fake boobs attract men with fake wood, so I guess cars with fake wood would have boobs be attracted to that feature.

  • avatar

    Well d996 beat me to it on the “wood” double entendre, so I’ll regretfully leave that alone.

    Maybe wood in the car is supposed to remind us of the good old days of heading west in a wagon train. If you’re a 162-year-old Buick buyer, I guess. I dunno, don’t see the point of wood real or fake in a car.

    It’s one of those symbolic things that persist despite no longer having a real function, like lapels or military officers’ swords or Madonna.

  • avatar

    jurisb, excellent points (about cars). The typical consumers want to feel satisfied that they purchased a nice car with some class. However, they usually aren’t so detail-oriented that they will be turned off by the fact that the wood is fake (or that the leather is cheap–I still don’t believe my dad’s 5 year old Suburban has real leather because it’s cracked to hell and disintegrating).

    That said I think anything resembling wood, real or fake, is abominably cheesy in any car. What’s really unfornuate is that it’s actually getting more difficult to avoid it. For example, I really like the Acura TSX. But if you want black exterior (my fave), you have to get a tan interior (which I already don’t like), which automatically comes with goddamn fake wood (or real, who cares, it’s terrible!) I knew we were in trouble when the Japanese started putting it in typical cars. Deal breaker.

    Tony, thanks for a great article!

  • avatar

    I kind of like the fake wood – cheaper and more durable than the real stuff. It is a car that will go from 20 below zero to 120 degree above in it’s life. It can be done correctly, and done incorrectly, but the right kind adds warmth to an interior in my opinion.

    What I miss is the old woodgrain station wagons. I’d pick up one in Colony Park for the wife if Mercury still made them.

    Style is a matter of taste – I like being so square that it is hip. Even the european sports sedan crowd has their own conformist style they have to follow.

  • avatar

    There used to be 2 schools of thought regarding in-car-lumber from the European luxury makers. There was the English school, think Rolls/Jaguar, with a thick slab of highly shellaced walnut or somesuch that basically supported all the gauges and switches. And the German school, typically the high end Mercedeses, with more exotic veneers used as accents on the dash face, and more uniquely, the window frames. Once timber makes its way into the more prosaic sedans, the “wow” factor fades (see also, power windows and a/c.)
    That said, I like the warmth that “fake-but-passable” wood-tone brings to a car interior. I find that its ersatz-ness is lessened by a thick coat of poly-whatever, just like the real wood in a Benz or a Jag. The recent Jeep Grand Cherokee is a good example…

  • avatar

    How safe is real wood in a crash, especially on the dash or steering area? Is that why it’s often finished so heavily? Any control on it splintering in a dangerous way?

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    I love the look and feel of well designed and finished wood furniture. That’s why I like the warmth and charm real wood adds to a car interior. I have avoided wood steering wheels. I don’t think they can tolerate the use and sun exposure.

  • avatar

    The only wood I like is the gray poplar in BMWs.
    The problem is that I only like black interiors (yay Audi!) and I think brown wood looks bad with a black dash.

    The gray poplar with a black interior is awesome, though.

  • avatar

    As a follow-up to this article, please write one on leather interiors.

    It is unfortunate that leather is mandatory on high-end cars (not counting the animal rights arguments). It’s too sticky in the summer and too cold in the winter even with heated/ventilated seats.

    How about some cashmere/goretex hybrid? The space age synthetic cloth on German-domestic BMWs isn’t bad at all….but in America leather = luxury.

  • avatar

    It’s been said by others above… gotta say it again… fake or real, wood doesn’t belong in an automobile.

  • avatar

    first, great article: I’m just like you. This wood thing always frustrates me. I actually thought that wood in cars was the stupidest thing when i was younger. But now, I kind of see the point. It DOES have a certain warmth and sense of luxury and classiness to it. I really like the wood accenting in my girls last gen BMW 328i. I dont know if its real or fake, but it’s probably real (its a bimmer). The one car that has a lot of wood inside that I really fell in love with is the Mercedes CLS. The burl wood with the creamy interior leather is just so seductive. Almost too much wood in hat car though. :)

  • avatar

    I’ll add to the list – no wood (fake or real) in cars. Of my last 5 cars, 2 had real wood (Lexus, MB) and 3 had no wood accents (GM, Mazda). Even real wood doesn’t…give me wood, so to speak.

    Cars aren’t closets…skip the wood.

  • avatar

    I think that the use of “wood” (real or fake) should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis; for some cars/demographics it works, for many, it doesn’t. Rented a Buick LaCrosse last year; the vast expanse of shiny “fake wood” was not only annoying, but generated unwanted glare at certain times of the day. On a side note: That same Buick just didn’t look right with blackwall tires — must have been the crappy hubcaps, or something.

  • avatar

    BostonTeaParty / ThresherK:
    Crashworthiness has nothing to do with it. It’s all about the cost of real vs. faux wood.

    I worked with the stuff for four years, and steering wheel wood is typically all real with gobs of lacquer so that it never scratches, dents, or looks real. (There are one or two exceptions where faux wood is used on steering wheels)

    And to answer Tony’s question on cost, let’s say the price of a normal steering wheel is $X, then adding leather raises the price to double $X, and adding wood to the top of the wheel raises the price to 10 times X. So the cost really is significant – faux wood will run about 7 times $X.

    As for the other interior wood components, it all comes down to cost. If the program has enough in the budget for real wood, it will be real, if not, faux rules.

    The thing I never understood is that after the 18 coats of lacquer on the steering wheel the real wood didn’t look real anymore, so why bother with the extra cost?

    According to marketing: even if it looks fake, the sticker says real, so it will sell more cars.

    Judging by my personal preferences and the posts here, I would beg to differ.

  • avatar

    It’s all a matter of style plus the fact that wood and wood tones provide us with a sense of connection with our natural environment. For the same reason we use wood in our homes we like the look of wood or wood accents in our cars. The interior of the car has to be made of something, and the faux or real wood accents are better than just plain old black, metal or vinyl covering.

    The bigger question for me is why do we have tachometers in cars with automatic transmissions. And why are the automatic gear selectors on the floor taking up valuable cup holder space?

  • avatar

    When I bought my Buick Century (1999), I ordered the Limited edition of said car. It came with Wood inserts. It certainly does a good job of breaking up the monotone grey of the interior. They are obviously fake wood pieces but strategically placed as to make a poor looking interior look not so poor. The good thing about it is over the years, they don’t crack and they retain their shine even though they look like they may fall off at anytime. Inspite of how fake the wood trim pieces in my Buick look, I dislike the plastic fake brushed aluminum dash in my MINI Cooper S even more. And then there’s the plastic molded leather textured dashes in Honda Accords. I also got cut (at the autoshow) buy a door handle where plastic aluminum-look veneer was peeling off inside a Subaru Legacy.

    So it’s not just wood. and it’s not just the Big 2.8

  • avatar

    July 19th, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    It’s all a matter of style plus the fact that wood and wood tones provide us with a sense of connection with our natural environment.

    This brings up an interesting question, would the Prius owner who purchased the vehicle to help the environment enjoy wood on the interior because it gives them a sense of the car ebing more intertwined with natural environment, or would they be put off because a tree had to die for their real wood trim?

    If only Toyota would start making some GM-esque mistakes, an oddity like this might make it into production for us all to see the fall out.

  • avatar

    Forget factory fake wood, what about the after-market faux wood stick-on kits? The first car I ever bought on my own was a Honda Prelude that had just such an after-market “improvement”. It was almost a dealbreaker for me. I mean, you can SEE that it’s just stuck on! Who are you fooling, and what are you trying to get them to believe???

    And no, I didn’t take it out after I bought it. In the end I decided the stick-on wood gave it a kind of cheesy charm that went along well with its general boy-racerness.

  • avatar

    Like Mr Montgomery above, I have also dabbled in the building profession also working on some pretty snappy custom yachts as well. Tick sticks anyone?
    The issue of temp/humidity shifts is not of terribly great concern and the expense is not too bad considering the scale of most automakers.
    The answer lies in the marketplace demands as others have mentioned. The cold truth is that plastic works. Its stable, endlessly workable, and the price is right. My current Legacy limited has silvery-red fake wood but to my eye it looks terrific against the black leather. Now before you laugh, my own home is full of custom made quarter-sawn white oak, so Im not exactly the easiest of critics. I also have a real aversion to fake wood in cars as well, though every once in awhile its done tastefully.
    Never the less, this is an excellent topic. My response to the complaint is to make your own trim. Tune in PBS, watch some Normie Abrham, buy a few tools and have at it folks. Its not THAT hard, and you already have templates (plastic wannabe trim). You might just suprise yourself, and the payoff in pride is worth the effort alone.

  • avatar

    Oh, I’m reminded of all the custom wood dashboards I used to make in my shop for FIAT 124 Spiders, X 1/9s, and an assortment of Triumphs and MGs (a bird’s eye maple veneered dash stained in a medium gray was truly outstanding in a charcoal colored 124 Spider with black leather interior). In those afoementioned cars, the dash panels were flat and we used plywood covered in veneer, finished with a satin sheen poly. The cost was pretty high back then on those panels.

    As has been mentioned, wood doesn’t like to go around curves and be shaped. To do so is horrendously expensive. As has also been brought up, solid hardwoods are prone to slpitting and checking in harsh enviroments, which auto interiors are.

    One application of real wood that I think might have a chance is a “floating console” that is made from laminated plywood in a curvy “wave” form. The face of it is flat which allows the installation of radio and accessories, but not flat in that it has no character. The one I saw was adapted to a Volvo S50 wagon.

    I also agree that wood on steering wheels blows.

  • avatar


    Notice how it actually looks like real wood? That’s how you do fake wood.

  • avatar

    Hi, your humble scribe Tony here (I can’t figure out how to change my handle as Robert tried to help me do). Great thoughts:

    •bostonteaparty, I agree it’s not just a Detroit thing, and that consumers demand wood in luxury cars. I recall Mercedes privately complaining some years back that they saw no point in the stuff, but American dealers screeched in unison that their customers would go nuts without it. Of course, if American car dealers are setting the aesthetic bar for all our high-end rides, thank God they didn’t report back to the Fatherland that we “demanded” padded landau vinyl roofs.

    •zerofoo, I dislike the Infiniti wood for a different reason than you. Unlike some of the people in this thread, I actually like the glossy stuff with the 63 coats of lacquer. The fun for me in looking at real veneer is moving my head back and forth, seeing the 3D depth in the grain’s reflections as I do so. (Although ultimately, of course, I’m sure the greatest satisfaction is on the INSIDE of my head.) I can’t do that with Infiniti’s “sophisticated” matte finish. And by the way, that’s exactly what I dislike about the Legacy’s “Scandinavian” fake planks on the console edges.

    •neilberg, I suspect a slight bit of revisionist history here. F’rinstance, I look back at my dad’s late-80s Nissan Stanza. At the time, I thought the car was a revelation. In retrospect, there was a whole lot of cheap translucent polyethylene that they’d get excoriated for on boards like this one if they tried it today.

    •Kevin, love your line about Madonna.

    •ejacobs: Funny you mention the TSX’s “terrible fake wood.” God help me for grading fake woods on the curve, but I guess that’s what I’m down to. I’ve actually remarked to friends that the TSX is one of the best fake timbers I’ve seen.

    •ThresherK, and whoever else raised the crash safety question, I don’t think that’s an insuperable problem. I recall Lexus running a spread ad several years back where they said they’d engineered their wood (hmmm… “engineered wood”? That’s the lumber industry’s modern euphemism for particle board. Hmmm…) so it broke up into nice regular-shaped bits in a crash. And of course, there are lots of places to put wood where it’s unlikely to perforate you, such as the shifter base and the power window control shelves on the doors (exactly where the Accord, e.g., puts the fake stuff).

    •William C, I loathe fake wood on a steering wheel for one simple reason that eclipses all others: my aversion to third-degree burns on my palms. Anywhere else in the interior it doesn’t matter, but what were they thinking with this one? It also doesn’t help matters that I saw a lightly used Azera whose wood-tone wheel had little chips in it, a la beat-up Formica. Which raise another problem with any fake material—no matter how convincing it looks at first, it ages differently than the real one and starts to lose its resemblance.

    jurisb, thank you for your enlightenment on the stamped-sawdust-plus-veneer process the carmakers are using. That answers my Lexus ramble above, I guess; it IS particle board.

    greenb1ood: Thanks for bringing some informed perspective on the cost question—I’m keenly interested in it. Can you attach some dollar figures to that? Do five modest-size interior pieces (not the wheel) add $200? $1,000?

    Thank you all for the kind words.

  • avatar


    I second that.

    The problem of fake wood doesn’t date from the ’70s. Cars in the ’40s had dashes and door caps and window surrounds made of metal, painted to look like wood. Except that it wasn’t very convincing.

    Paint can be used to exactly simulate wood (No wood is ever needed though) I used to paint metal front doors on houses and make them look exactly as if they were made of oak. And I mean, you couldn’t tell w/o rapping on the door. I can’t believe it can’t be done by machine.

    Concerning other interior materials, I say NO to brushed aluminum. I’d rather have cheesey looking plastic wood than brushed aluminum. Aluminum – the luxurious metal. ???

    Don’t care for leather either, as others have mentioned it’s hot and sticky in the summer, cold and uninviting in the winter. Though I did have a Caddy once with Leather trim around cloth seating. Not bad that way.

    I think it’s time Detroit rediscovered mohair.

  • avatar

    The people at Maserati hear you :)

    What about the new horrible trend – carbon fiber (WTF), and [far worse] fake carbon fiber?

  • avatar

    I have a question for any of you that work in the auto industry. How come they haven’t pulled products and resources from the commercial building industry. There are about a dozen companies that make a beautiful lamanate flooring product that looks real, is extremely durable, available in many colors, grains and species, has the touch feel of real grain, and can be molded into about any curved shape since it’s so thin and pliable. I’m not talking about that cheap junk you seem them always use in the home improvement shows. This is just one of many items I discover all the time that could be integrated into the auto industry. I mean finish items not engineered parts like: carpet that is 100% stain resistant, fabrics that are almost impossible to fray/stain wear out, etc.

  • avatar

    Thresher: It’s not harmful in a crash – because typically it’s a veneer a few millimeters thick, at most. Between that and the thick layer of varnish, it’s identical to plastic for crash purposes.

    (I remember reading about refinishing veneer in an old Mercedes – it’s evidently Very Hard because the veneer is so thin that it’s hard to get the coating off without sanding right through the wood.

    Not surprisingly, I haven’t bothered to even attempt it on mine.

    The other advantage of it being very thin is that it’s possible to make it curve with relative ease.)

  • avatar
    Brian E

    For example, I really like the Acura TSX. But if you want black exterior (my fave), you have to get a tan interior (which I already don’t like), which automatically comes with goddamn fake wood (or real, who cares, it’s terrible!)

    While I disagree with your opinion of the TSX’s fake wood, according to the Acura web site you can get the TSX in black-on-black. The only exterior color option which requires tan is green, which is not my favorite color. I’ve the black interior in my Milano Red, but I probably would have gotten the tan with the black interior.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    How about some cashmere/goretex hybrid? The space age synthetic cloth on German-domestic BMWs isn’t bad at all….but in America leather = luxury.

    Volvo seems to be the only upmarket manufacturer who consistently provides cloth options in their cars. The T-Tec synthetic in the S40 is quite nice, and if I’d have chosen the S40 I would have specifically requested T-Tec over leather.

    That said, modern glass tinting and proper insulation does wonders to alleviate the “freeze or burn” properties of leather. Even with black leather, my TSX is both significantly cooler in the summer and significantly warmer in the winter than my coworkers’ much cheaper and cloth-clad cars. Seat heaters also do a wonderful job of warming up the posterior on a cold winter day.

    I would never have purchased a car with black leather until I test drove the TSX (with black interior) on a hot summer day and was amazed at how cool the interior was.

  • avatar

    Leather in cars, other than the seats, is overrated. Used to have a leather dash that was great when it was new, but a few summers later, it certainly didn’t look so good anymore. Of course, the manufacturer (Porsche) only used leather to cover up the horrible plastics used on the dash that made it crack and warp anyway, so whatchagonnado.

    Gimme some good quality synthetics any day.

    Actually, if it wouldn’t be such a health hazard, a metal dash painted in the car’s exterior color a la VW Beetle would work just fine.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen a few examples of wood, faux or otherwise, used in an aesthetically pleasing way. One is the Infiniti M35. Check it out with and without the wood:

    I used to like all black interiors when I was younger. Now, I find an all black cabin to be too “Welcome to the Machine”. I dig a two tone interior as long as they don’t use that nasty tobacco yellow color as one of the components.

  • avatar

    I can’t see the point of wood in cars. Why? Good quality synthetics, that’s where it’s at…

  • avatar

    Good quality synthetics = cheap plastic. A discerning eye can spot fake wood a mile away.

  • avatar

    I know how you feel as I am continuously baffled by the world of automotive wood trim, so while I’d love to help others better understand the equation…I don’t think my employer would appreciate me posting competitive pricing on a public forum.

    The trick is that automotive OEM’s have very rigid testing and specifications that must be followed, and tend to pay low margins so I imagine that most manufacturers of consumer goods are hesitant to jump into the world of automotive OEM suppliers.

    Brian E:
    Off topic, but you have just brought up my biggest beef with Volvo. I have a 2006 S40 with Leather, and would like to trade it in for a new one with AWD, and offset the extra cost by downgrading to T-Tec. But their website states that the only way to get a moonroof (which I have now) is to buy the premium package which includes leather.

    So there is no way for me to get a factory moon roof and T-Tec seats.

    Maybe I’ll just wait and buy a C70 with T-Tec…that would certainly solve the moon roof problem!

  • avatar

    I like the idea of a return to mohair. I loved Grandpa’s Olds and Dad’s Buick seats as a kid.
    In my particular case, however, the mohair would have to be a convincing fake.

    My poor wife and her allergy-prone family all were allergic to wool. They spent the mohair era on “seat condoms” of crinkly plastic. Having no one in the family with wool allergies, I didn’t understand why some people covered up their seats like that.

    I agree that car interiors ought to go back to the color-co-ordinated theme of the 50s and 60s.
    I am sick of the “any shade of grey or baby-shit brown you’d like” color schemes of the past 15 years or so.

    IMHO, the T-Bird revival didn’t fail because the car was “slow”–the majority of the original 2-seaters had 2-barrel 292s and slushbox automatics.
    The reason was that the interior totally mismatched the exterior. Lincoln funeral cars had more pizzazz.

  • avatar

    Tony, I am assuming you would be pleased with the teak decking on the tonneau of the 2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe. It needs to be oiled during service intervals. If you have not seen it, check it out… Worth drooling over, but clearly impractical for the masses…

  • avatar

    I’m glad someone mentioned Maserati. The most beautiful leather I’ve ever seen in a car. And their wood trim is top-drawer as well, plus that wonderful Italian sense of style.

  • avatar

    Wood done well can contribute to perception of value and specialness. However, while I can accept wood as an interior element in a vehicle, I don’t seek or require it. Given how real wood is finished to meet modern standards of durability, most people don’t seem to be able to tell the difference. A thick polyurethane finish obstructs the tactile rewards of wood from reaching your fingertips.

    I have a couple dozen high-end guitars, so I have intimate contact with wood every day. Even a properly thin nitrocellulose finish hides some of wood’s tactile reward, but such a finish transmits the real character of wood with far more tactile and visual transparency than polyurethane. But Poly takes much more punishment and won’t develop finish checks. So synthetic finishes over real wood rule in automobile interiors. Satin just gives you the illusion of texture.

    So now people are easily confused. My Cadillac XLR-V has Zingana wood for some of its interior trim. I’ve seen raw and hand-finished Zingana, and the Caddy’s timber is unmistakably the real thing. Yet more than one reviewer and non-owner amateur commentator on the web have criticized the car’s “fake wood trim.” The same error has been made on other cars using woods with dramatic or vivid grains.

    Setting the Wayback Machine to my early driving days, I recall the wood dashes in some of my British sports cars. They were teak or walnut veneer on ply for stability, and oil-finished. They felt like real wood, and for people who left their cars out in direct summer sun (and rain) with the top stowed, those panels quickly demonstrated why wood isn’t a great material for a car. UV, condensation, temperature swings, freezing — all conspired to crack, fade and flake wood. I stayed ahead of it through simple preventative maintenance: periodic cleaning and light oil treatment, and I didn’t leave my car parked anywhere with the top down. Those precautions eliminated the problem for me, but no company can count on similar customer follow-through today.

    I’m no fan of plastic wood, but fake aluminum is worse. Every dead-tillered, mouse-powered Camry or Solara I’ve been forced to accept at an airport rental counter has scratched, chipped and flaking silver paint marring its esteemed (here, anyway) interior. Carbon fiber? This stuff is showing up on watchfaces in $30,000+ timepieces and it looks like crap there too. FAKE carbon fiber? Well, why not? How many carbon fibers do you find freely available in nature? Aluminum? Well, OK, but check that it’s more than foil and know that your first dent is only a matter of time.

    Alcantara has emerged as a luxury item in interiors, which is a laugh since it isn’t leather at all and costs much less. But it is functionally superior to suede on high-wear surfaces and feels like a luxury item. It is, of course, synthetic — a non-woven microfiber fabric.

    Yes, there’s a reason to look to Maserati for inspiration. Everyone else is a piker by comparison. Yeah, Ferrari has it too, but they don’t have Maser’s visual flow. Aston-Martin is nearly there. But even a few minutes in a Maserati Coupe or a Quattroporte will amply prove that it takes both materials and shapes, plus careful, holistic designing of the tactile experience to make the luxury car real. If there’s a little wood in the mix, well…so be it. With Maserati in the market, anything not Maserati is rendered undifferentiated in interior quality. Really, next to a Maser, you can just pick the powertrain and chassis you want, because there’s no meaningful difference in interiors between a Mercedes, Cadillac, Lexus, Audi, BMW, Lincoln or Infiniti relative to that.


Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • probert: It has no trunk…badoing.
  • probert: KIA/Hyundai’s have buttons, knobs and levers for critical functions. Easy to use and everything falls...
  • probert: I think it is a very good looking car, not sure why the writer assumes it is a forgone conclusion that it...
  • probert: just a hint – yes
  • Lou_BC: @SoCalMikester – Yup. My dad would use a rag soaked in diesel.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber