In Search of Interior Features Going Outside the Box

“Why don’t they all have that?”

This question kept popping up while I was testing some of the 42 vehicles competing for this year’s Ward’s 10 Best Interiors honors. It was my reaction to a feature creating what the automakers call “surprise and delight” for the customer.

I found some surprising and delightful goodies I’d like to have inside my next set of wheels.

Let’s be clear: Some of these features appear on more than one of the vehicles we evaluated. I’m listing the ones I came across first, so apologies in advance to rival designers and engineers who came up with basically the same thing. I also acknowledge the technical and financial constraints that are in play.

That said, here are some features that got me wondering, “Why don’t they all have that?” (as opposed to, “Why does the Lincoln Navigator have two volume settings for its chime?”)

  • The retractable running boards on the Ford F-150 and Navigator. While not expressly part of the interior, they allow sure-footed ingress and egress and are significantly wider than competitors’ running boards that are more hindrance than help.
  • The graphic relayed to the IP from the rearview camera in the Lexus NX 300h. Instead of innocuous lines that grow in intensity or alarms that activate either too soon or too late, the NX graphic flashes at the appropriate time the CUV is getting too close to what’s behind it.
  • The F-150’s miles-to-empty readout directly over the fuel gauge. Redundant, yes, but one or two fewer buttons to push to get that information.
  • The Toyota Sienna had this first, but the Kia Sedona’s footrests turn the second row of seats into dual La-Z-Boy recliners. Extra points for overhead reading lights in the third row.
  • The BMW i8’s push-button door opener. A handle would get the job done, but the ergonomically friendly buttons that raise what BMW calls “swan doors” further distinguish the already-exotic plug-in hybrid.
  • The i8 also features daytime ambient lighting that hints at the interior’s sensuous nighttime glow for a few seconds when the doors are unlocked. Ambient light these days can be found even in floorwells, but in the Volkswagen Touareg it’s executed particularly nicely. 
  • The red, relatively large triangular blindspot warning light in the Mercedes GLA’s exterior mirrors. It’s a feature not unique to this car but so clearly superior to other vehicles’ minuscule amber warning lights that I have to say, well, “Why don’t they all have this?”
  • My personal favorite, although I’m in the minority here: A cupholder mounted left of the steering wheel in the Honda Fit. As a left-hander I must say, “Right on.”


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