2011 Chicago – Day 2 Interior Report

If you happened to read yesterday’s report yesterday, I’d like to apologize as it appears half of it went missing. The report is corrected now and all 4 test tracks have been reviewed. Today we’ll cover some highs and lows of the interiors, something that’s possible due to the increased space and limited crowd of the Chicago show. And considering it is our first interior post, please excuse us for covering some “old news” by reviewing vehicles that may have been introduced elsewhere.

2012 Audi A6

Is their any doubt Audi still leads the pack when it comes to interior design? The new A6 has such a beautiful interior its hard to describe in words. The combination of finishes, like the use of piano black right next to satin chrome that really brings out the sumptuousness of the overall design. The picture above shows the passenger side because I really like how the dash seems to meld seamlessly into the door panel, something that must be difficult to pull off because so many vehicles do it poorly. While the A6 is not the first Audi to include gloss black interior trim, it uses it more as a focal point rather than just an accent.

On the other end of the spectrum from gloss black is milky white, as in interior lamps. Whereas exterior lighting underwent its first big change in the 90’s to clear lens technology with reflector optics, the typical interior lamp continued to use lens optics and has only recently been subject to new designs. The advent of powerful LED’s has revolutionized the interior lighting landscape and which seems to lead to a renewed emphasis on aesthetics. Colored ambient lighting has become de rigueur and the advent of powerful white LED’s may be changing the look of map lamps forever. In the area of dome lamps, there are several new models that now sport a milky white lens color. While this design element is not new per se, I don’t recall the older lamps with this finish as having a quality appearance like the newer ones. Perhaps something has changed in the materials used, because color can make a big impact on a person’s perception of quality (for example, I always thought amber lenses looked cheap).

Speaking of opposite ends of the spectrum, the way different manufacturer’s use the same materials is always interesting to look at. Take the door panels pictured above and below, for example. Can you guess which one is the domestic brand and which is the premium import? The attention to detail like the use of contrasting stitching on leather seems to be on the upswing, as its use was seen in many vehicles including the new Dodge Charger R/T pictured above. On the other hand the Infiniti QX56 below shows a different attention to detail. At first I thought the vehicle was just a prototype or a bit long in the tooth and was suffering from typical show car abuse syndrome, but research on the web showed other vehicles with the same level of “bunching”.

I personally am not a huge fan of the interiors that are basically monochrome. I think the combination of various finishes and textures shows an attention to detail and makes the interior look much more expressive and expensive. The Infiniti QX56 above is a great example of this issue, adding a little more contrast and accents would make it better in my opinion. Plus I would not be very interested in trying to keep this clean, especially considering I have children.  Perhaps I am a little bit over-sensitive as I had a Fiero Pace Car years ago with a white and light grey interior. It looked awesome when new, but never looked that good again. The new Fiat 500 has a white steering wheel, I can only imagine what that will look like in a few years.

Even though it’s not possible for me to drive every new car when it’s introduced (I wish! – any one know of any openings at a car mag?), I do at least try to sit in every one. The Cadillac CTS, for example, has been out for a couple of years and while I found the interior interesting, I had never noticed that there was an accent “hockey stick” trim piece in the door. Perhaps it’s because the piece is situated so low on the panel? Its location is perfectly obscured by the arm rest on the driver’s side and the passenger’s leg on the other. If it hadn’t been for the fact I was taking pictures of door panels I probably still would have missed it.

One boy racer touch that seems to be gaining traction (pardon the pun) is stainless wrapped pedals. It was no surprise to find them in Hyundai’s new Veloster, but when I went down to Mercedes’ booth and also saw them on the new C-Class I have to admit I was a bit surprised. I counted them on at least a dozen cars in the show, is this a trend or still a boy-racer themed extra?

Last, I took a long, hard look at the new Buick Verano. The Enclave is an awesome vehicle and seems to have single-handedly redefined the Buick brand. The LaCrosse and the new Regal appear to be continuing the renaissance, but the Verano is the first real badge engineered car so I was curious if GM is back to their old ways.

From the driver’s seat it seems to compare favorably to the C-Class above, with just the right amount of silver accent on the steering wheel (some other Buicks are a bit overdone). However, a little messing around with the switch gear shows there is still a way to go, the most likely result of being based on the Cruze. And I found the door panel a bit odd in its execution. The shape of the vertical trim piece that connects the arm rest and the door handle area felt awkward to my hand. I asked a few others milling around the car and they gave me the same answer. In today’s crowded and competitive market, it cannot just be about looking right, a car must feel right as well.

Come back early next week as we wrap up the Chicago Show with some comments on exterior trends. And in the weeks that follow we will also have the first post from Autorama, “America’s Premier Custom Car Show”.

About Frank Schwartz

Frank Schwartz is the founder of CarFriend.me and Advanced Automotive Consulting Services, partner in The Middlecott Sketchbattle Experiment and serial entrepeneur. A long time automotive enthusiast, Frank started reading car magazines at the age of 8 and has spent 30+ years working inside the automotive industry. In his spare time Frank races with the Sports Car Club of America, spends time working on his numerous project cars and supports many local charities.
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