New York Auto Show – Crossover Interiors

By Igor Holas


People might be interested in the eye-candy photos of the new Saleen, or Lamborghini, but those who have seen my reviews know that I am not too interested in exotics like that – I am more interested in pedestrian – real world issues – like interior quality.

This quest began in the GMC Acadia – I finally had a chance to sit in one of these highly coveted “Lambda” crossovers, and I was enjoying my stay when I ran my hand over the top of the dash and found out it is made entirely of rock-solid plastic. Moreover, it is not some nice-quality hard plastic. The dash sounded hollow, and flexed – something not acceptable among compacts, let alone large crossovers. I was really shocked and set off to sit and prod the other major-maker crossovers as well.

The results were quite surprising; model after model, I found hard plastic. Among compact SUVs only the Saturn Vue, Nissan Rouge, and Volkswagen Tiguan offered interiors I would consider nice. They used nice soft materials that were put together with care and in a pleasing design. The others, such as Toyota Rav-4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forrester, and Ford Escape were entirely covered in hard plastic; to their credit, however the hard plastic was decent – Honda Civic / Mazda3 level of quality, which is acceptable in this class of cheap SUVs.

The story is much less consistent, and much less positive among large crossovers. These vehicles are usually sold only in US, so even global automakers like Toyota do not have to design them to European or Japanese demands. As a result, many of the cars had interiors that were not better, and sometimes worse, than their smaller counterparts. The worst case and the worst interior of the class is the Toyota Highlander. When the new 2008 Highlander was introduced, the automotive media sang praises about its “Lexus like accommodations.” After spending some quality time with the Highlander we can securely file those comments under utter BS, lies, and propaganda. While there are some nice touches to the interior, the dash itself is covered in materials of the same horrible materials used in the Ford Explorer (and those of you that have been in the new Explorer know we are talking about basement-quality plastic – the stuff rejected by Fisher-Price). As mentioned above, the Acadia was not much better – it was actually bested by its own cheaper-looking sibling, the Outlook. I always considered the Acadia the more upscale of the two, but the interior quality contradicts this notion. The Ford Edge, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9 and Subaru Tribeca also use 100% hard plastic, but as with the small SUVs this plastic is at least of decent quality. The new Murano separates itself from the previous three by a small trick – a narrow portion of the dash is made of nice quality soft plastic, helping the interior feel more upscale. However, once you move past this two-inch strip, the story is the same – decent quality, but hard plastics.

The highlights of the larger crossover group come from Ford, Volkswagen, Mazda, Buick, and Toyota. Probably the best materials are in the Ford Flex, VW Touareg, Toyota Venza, and the Buick Enclave. I did not have the chance to examine the Venza’s interior in great detail, but its dash is covered in a very rich-feeling material, a 180-degree departure from the awful Highlander. The Flex, Touareg, and the Enclave provided truly exceptional interiors in this class with rich materials, thoughtful features, and good design. It is encouraging to be able to include two of the domestics in this class.

Another big surprise was the Dodge Journey. We constantly hear about the awful Dodge interiors, and while the interior design of the Journey is not my cup of tea, the materials, assembly, and features were all top notch. Among mid-sized crossovers with three rows (Rav-4, highlander, Pilot, Mitsubishi Outlander, Tribeca), the Journey is tied with the Taurus X for the best interior.

I am still recovering from touching so much hard plastic on vehicles costing well above $30,000. I get critical of my Mazda3 sometimes about flex in the dash and hard plastics everywhere – but after today, I will lighten up on the Mazda. I am still unable to understand how anyone could call the Highlander’s or Acadia’s interior class-leading, or even good – those interiors should be used as an example of what not to do if you’re designing an interior. We’re talking about awful, cheap interiors that would make a lot of people avoid the car. On the other hand, Dodge’s Journey was a true surprise that put this excellent small crossover on my radar.

For a gallery of the cars examined and some further notes, go HERE.

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at

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1 Comment

  1. Nice piece comparing interior materials. I’m in a Toyota Highlander Sport this week. Upon receipt of the vehicle I was surprised by the acres of hard plastic used on the dash and door panels, as reviews I’d read touted the interior as “Lexus-like”. My review of the car next week will address the interior’s (and the rest of the Highlander’s) highlights and low-lights.

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