Sure, we get excited about muscle cars with a lot of horsepower, cars that hug corners, and those that boast sensuous styling.
But what really matters to us at the end of a day is just how comfortable a vehicle's interior is. What makes an interior special isn't just that it boasts comfortable seats or good utilization of available space, it's that it can make even an ordinary car, truck, SUV, or crossover feel genuinely special. That's easy enough to do at the upper end, where the extra cost of wrapping some trim in real leather or exotic wood is easy enough to absorb with a high sticker price.
We've also been impressed with the attention to detail found in some less pricey vehicles; in our ratings system, several vehicles that merit an 8 out of 10 or higher can be found for well under the average price of a new car today, which recently topped $34,000.
MORE: Here's how we rate cars
To earn points on our scale, cars need to provide good comfort for the number of seat belts allotted, they need to offer terrific utility given their intended missions and there needs to be exhibited a close attention to detail in terms of textures, materials, features, and conveniences.
While by historical standards there are no bad cars on the market today, there are some lousy interiors—even at higher price points. Usually, like in the case of the Alfa Romeo 4C, these demerits are countered by other virtues or priorities. But that's not to say that there aren't some lousy vehicles.
Here's a look at our highest-rated interiors and why we picked them. They're listed here in alphabetical order.
2017 Bentley Bentayga
Any car that offers a clock within a Toyota Camry's base price of the average new home price in the United States had better shine inside—and Bentley's first SUV certainly does. Even if we ignore the Bentayga's $160,000 (optional) Breitling clock, its inner trappings are as good as they get. And it wins points over the rest of the Bentley lineup for its cargo utility. Your suitcase has never been better pampered; let's just hope that your luggage is suitable and not something you bought on the clearance rack at Macy's.
2017 Bentley Mulsanne, Bavarian press drive 2016
Bentley merits a second mention here for its flagship four-door, which coddles like few other vehicles on earth. At over $300,000, it should be fancy—after all, this is a list of the best interiors on the market. We especially like the Mulsanne's available exotic materials that can be tastefully (or gaudily) matched to whatever a buyer's whim is this day. What sets the Mulsanne apart from other luxury cars is that it's supremely comfortable in every seat, too—especially in the rear, where the fold-out rear seat trays are as impressive for their mechanism as anything else.
2016 BMW 7-Series
After a couple of stumbles with its range-topping sedan, BMW is back in business—at least inside. This latest 7-Series is hugely advanced with its gesture control interface, but it's also calming and comfortable. It's the most seamless blend of serenity and technology on the market today. The BMW wows us with its abilities, yet it never overwhelms. Moreover, there's not a bad seat in the house and BMW is finally learning how to tastefully offer some exotic and daring interior trims and shades.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica - Best Car to Buy 2017
There's probably not a single garage on earth where Chrysler's rebooted minivan shares space with a Bentley, but it's safe to say that owners of both will be equally pleased with their interiors, albeit for different reasons. There are nice materials and some interesting color options available on the Pacifica, and its controls are logically-arrayed, but what really sets it apart is how well it handles passengers and their cargo. The second and third rows of seats tumble into the cargo floor, leaving room for a 4'x8' sheet of plywood when needed. If peopel are aboard, the Pacifica has cupholders and USBs exactly where they ought to be; it's hard to think of any real ways to improve the Pacifica's interior short of sending one to Bentley to dress up. Hey, now there's an idea...
2017 Honda Odyssey
Here's more proof that vans make more sense than most of us are willing to admit—the Honda Odyssey. It's not quite as fresh or flexible inside as the Pacifica, but its utility is astoundingly good. A hugely flexible interior with controls logically arrayed make it about as good as it gets for a family. The only question for most buyers is to consider is whether the Honda's excellent assembly quality is worthwhile over the Pacifica's more imaginative design.
2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit
This one has staying power. The Jeep Grand Cherokee stickers for around $33,000 and can climb to double that, but each level looks and feels special—particularly when their value is considered. We've awarded the Grand Cherokee extra points for feeling like a Range Rover at a fraction of the price once it's loaded up to Overland or SRT levels. Gorgeous semi-aniline leather, open pore wood, and even plastics tinted in unusual shades help the Grand Cherokee stand out in a sea of average SUVs and crossovers. It's also a winner when it comes to utility thanks to its good cargo area and its comfortable seats.
2017 Land Rover Range Rover
The sky is the limit when it comes to the Range Rover. There are few cars on the market that offer the Autobiography model's level of opulence, but even the standard Range Rover's cabin is a special place. Authentic, fascinating materials are standard on all models—but if you really want to get decadent, the Autobiography lives up to its "bespoke" heritage like few other vehicles.
2017 Lexus LS
Serenity. That's the best way to describe the entire Lexus LS experience. Although other automakers have brought better driving dynamics and more sophisticated powertrains to the table, the LS silently excels for its interior. Not only does it muffle the outside world like no other, it's simple, convenient, and the selection of interior materials is downright decadent without feeling gaudy like so many German rivals tend to offer.
2017 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet - First Drive, April 2016
Like the Range Rover, the S-Class shines at its base level and overwhelms when all of the boxes are checked—especially at the Mercedes-Maybach level. Mercedes no longer tries to hide the fact that the Maybach is a swankier S-Class sedan, and that's fine with us. All four seats are better than any private jet we've ever dreamed about. The demeanor is understated without coming across as anything short of flagship-level.
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Class
Mercedes bills the GLS as basically an S-Class on stilts and that's about how it feels inside. There isn't a more luxurious way to tote three rows of passengers that we know of, especially when you've worked your way through the options list to build up a GLS with fine trim and leather that seems more appropriate for a saddle than a car. Mercedes' Designo collection helps buyers select an even more exclusive-feeling GLS—it's the perfect way to show everyone up in the carpool lane (unless they've pulled up in a Bentayga).