With drivers spending more than a day a year sitting in traffic jams, we reveal the best car interiors in every class
They say it’s what’s inside that counts – and new research suggests that car buyers are really taking that to heart, prioritising an appealing interior over price, exterior styling and fuel economy.
What Car? asked 4000 consumers what they look for when choosing a new car, and more than half (56%) of those polled stated that a relaxing and quiet driving environment is crucial.
Almost as important is the quality of the interior finish, with 55% citing this as a priority. Fewer were concerned about price (54%), exterior styling (47%) and fuel economy (44%).
Brand and resale values were important to 34% and 25% respectively, while 19% of drivers rated connectivity features (such as Bluetooth and a wi-fi hotspot) as a crucial factor when buying new. Just 15% cited CO2 emissions.
With this in mind, What Car?’s team of expert reviewers has picked out the classiest and most relaxing interiors on the market, across every car sector.
City car – Best: Volkswagen Up
The Hyundai i10 may be more practical, but the Up is the plushest city car on sale; even the lower-end versions look and feel surprisingly smart inside. Meanwhile, the High Up model is even better, with glossy dashboard panels, chrome-rimmed controls and plastics that are of a uniformly high standard throughout.
Also consider: Hyundai i10; Kia Picanto
Small car – Best: Audi A1
You’d never guess that the A1 is Audi’s smallest and cheapest model from looking at its interior. It has densely padded, squishy plastics in all the right places, and while a few more rugged finishes are present, they’re kept down low and well out of sight. The switches and buttons on the dashboard don’t let the side down, either; they look and feel expensive.
Also consider: Mini hatchback; Volkswagen Polo
Family car – Best: Audi A3
Another class, another Audi. The A3 is the benchmark for how a family hatchback should look and feel, with the whole interior built from the sort of high-grade materials you’d usually expect to find in an executive saloon. The A3 is also as quiet as anything in the class.
Also consider: Skoda Octavia; Volkswagen Golf
Small SUV – Best: BMW X1
While the original X1 had hard, cheap-feeling plastics throughout its interior, this latest model is about as classy as small SUVs get. The X1 has the kind of solid build quality and premium feel that you’d hope for from a premium-badged German car. If you really want to push the boat out, leather upholstery is standard on high-spec xLine models and optional on all other trim levels.
Also consider: Audi Q2; Volkswagen Tiguan
Large SUV – Best: Audi Q5
Audi’s habit of showing other manufacturers how to make a car look and feel good inside continues with the Q5. Press something that’s meant to move, such as a switch, and without exception it will click with precision. Press something that’s not meant to move and it won’t, because the fixtures and fittings are really robust. Noise is really well supressed at speed, too, partly due to the standard acoustic glazing on the windscreen.
Also consider: Skoda Kodiaq; Volvo XC60
Luxury SUV – Best: Bentley Bentayga
The materials around you are what elevate the Bentayga above other SUVs, with leather and veneer, turned aluminium air vents and their organ stop adjusters all reminding you that this is a car that has had a lot of attention paid to its creation. There is a tremendous feeling of quality, especially the detail on the chrome bezels on the switches and on some of the panels.
Also consider: Audi Q7; Porsche Macan
Estate car – Best: BMW 5 Series Touring
There’s no danger of you feeling short-changed when climbing into your new 5 Series Touring, because all of the materials feel of suitably high quality. What’s more, this big estate is equally impressive on the move; it’s exceptional at keeping road and wind noise outside.
Also consider: Audi A6 Avant; Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate
Executive car – Best: Audi A4
The A4’s dashboard, and its interior as a whole, is a smorgasbord of soft-touch materials and well-damped switches. Real metal trims on the centre console and wood veneer across the dashboard add to the ambience, and the overall fit and finish is a grade or two above every other car in this class, with minuscule panel gaps throughout the interior.
Also consider: Audi A3 Saloon; Volkswagen Passat
Luxury car – Best: Rolls-Royce Ghost
The Ghost may draw heavily on the BMW 7 Series for its mechanicals, but the hardware is bespoke and incorporated in that unique Rolls-Royce way. From the chromed switches on the dashboard and doors to the beautifully polished wood and the gorgeous little art deco lights, the car oozes class. And the outside world always stays exactly that: outside.
Also consider: Mercedes-Benz S-Class; Porsche Panamera
Electric car – Best: BMW i3
For the most part, the i3’s interior is actually better finished than that of many regular BMWs, with expensive materials (including exposed strips of carbonfibre) and appealing wood finishes such as eucalyptus taking pride of place. What’s more, the i3’s electric motor is impressively refined; there’s none of the high-pitched whine that you get in, say, the Nissan Leaf.
Also consider: Tesla Model S; Volkswagen e-Golf
MPV – Best: BMW 2 Series Active Tourer
The interior of the 2 Series Active Tourer is more conventional than the i3’s, but it’s no less impressive. You get soft-touch plastics in all the right places, the switches feels substantial and everything is solidly built. The fact that on-road refinement is class-leading merely adds to the sense of relaxation and wellbeing.
Also consider: Citroën Grand C4 Picasso; Volkswagen Touran
Hot hatch – Best: Audi RS3
Audi’s regular A3 is impressive enough inside – and it’s more of the same in the hot RS3. Its flat-bottomed steering wheel is a lovely thing to hold, embossed RS logos on the cross-stitched leather seats add a touch of class and, in line with the rest of the facelifted A3 line-up, the interior of the RS3 can be enhanced with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display.
Also consider: Mercedes-AMG A45; Volkswagen Golf R
Sports car – Best: Audi R8
Everything in the R8 feels beautifully constructed and is finished with tactile materials, such as the soft Nappa leather on the seats. The 12.3in Virtual Cockpit customisable display, which replaces conventional instruments, adds to the wow factor, and the R8’s two pedals line up nicely with the supportive driver’s seat, so you don’t have to sit at an awkward angle.
Also consider: McLaren 540C; Porsche 911
Coupé – Best: Rolls-Royce Wraith
Quality in the Wraith is just as exceptional as you’d expect. Swathes of the finest-grain wood and leather cover nearly every visible surface, and chromed knobs and handles only add to the feeling that no expense has been spared.
Also consider: Audi TT; Mercedes S-Class Coupé
Convertible – Best: Rolls-Royce Dawn
The Dawn is essentially a convertibe Wraith, and is every bit as relaxing a place to spend time. It sits in a rarefied class of specialness, and with the roof up, supplies the kind of silence that most people will only encounter in a vestry.
Also consider: Audi A5 Cabriolet; Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet