Wards 10 Best Interiors competition has recognized outstanding automotive interiors for six years. This installment is part of a series of interior deep dives on what made last year’s winners stand out as we test candidates for this year’s competition.

The 2017 10 Best Interiors winners will be announced in mid-April and will be on display at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference May 9 at Detroit’s Cobo Center.

The longer, wider ’16 Mercedes-Benz midsize GLC interior boasts major improvements over the outgoing GLK’s, with more room, especially in back, and materials and craftsmanship belying its position in the lineup. Its cabin design reminds us of the size-larger GLE (previously known as the M-Class), and its available trims extend up to rich nappa leather and satin-finish open-pore black ash wood trim.

“We like to demonstrate Mercedes-Benz values, including quality, safety and a ‘welcome home’ feeling,” says Mercedes’ Harmut Sinkwitz, director-Interior Design. “You feel like you’re driving home protected, which comes from the form and the use of materials. The appearance of quality works with a combination of three traditional materials: leather, wood and metal. The composition of these materials gives a sophisticated, elegant look. We also like to express the character of the exterior, so the interior looks very powerful.”

The design philosophy for the compact CUV includes what Sinkwitz calls the stimulation of contrasts.  

“We have very friendly haptics with the matte treatment on main surfaces contrasting with high-tech areas surrounded by glossiness. The contrast of matte where you touch and glossiness where you look is like a frame around a picture,” he says. “Also, we should not get bored in the car. We spend so many hours in traffic that it is important to be surrounded by richness and details that we can look at. There is a lot of entertainment coming from the main forms and graphics.”

Changing the center-stack infotainment display to a freestanding screen mounted on top of the instrument panel allowed it to be larger and placed more directly in the driver’s line of sight to minimize driver distraction. The concept was controversial when Mercedes first introduced it several years ago but it now is widely accepted.

“We have set a standard with this freestanding screen,” Sinkwitz says. “The idea has become very popular and I could list several brands that have followed. The advantage is that you can integrate it into a more well-thought-out design compared to a pop-up screen.”

He will get no argument from WardsAuto editors.

Sinkwitz also says Mercedes was first with bonded glass screens and that its computer graphics are the industry’s best. “It is very beautiful, very precise. Everything is put together in harmony, like a symphony of rich details. We have invested millions of Euros to have beautiful pictures, and it has been done with love.”

Even though our test car featured a more traditional look, Mercedes, like many other luxury brands, is moving beyond traditional highly lacquered wood trim to new types of materials, textures and more natural-looking open-pore wood. We asked if this departure posed any challenges.

“There is so much knowledge and experience in our manufacturing team; they know how to make the materials look good. The open-pore wood was not a technical issue, but some management people questioned it when we introduced it. And there is always a challenge with the suppliers to get the beauty of the veneer. Sometimes it can be too subtle, but we like to see and feel it. It is very authentic. Our customers really like the open-pore wood. In the past they asked for shiny walnut, but now that is looking dated, and open-pore wood is getting more and more acceptance.”

WardsAuto editors indeed were impressed with the GLC’s interior materials. “The compact ute’s welcoming cabin pretty much nails it,” writes editor David Zoia. “Every design element exudes quality, from the honeycombed headliner material that extends all the way down the A-pillar to the brushed-aluminum accents adorning the center console, steering wheel and door trim.”

Editors also praised the human-machine interface and the overall user-experience design. The HMI and infotainment functions are simple and easy to operate through the console-mounted controller. “Clearly one of the industry’s best,” says one editor, adding there also are just enough redundant buttons and switches for the climate controls, audio and navigation to bring functionality up another notch while leaving interior surfaces relatively clean and uncluttered.