People are often first attracted to a new car by its exterior styling. But after the purchase, the owner spends far more time observing and interacting with the vehicle's interior.
A dictionary definition of the word "ergonomics" says, "an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely."
We asked the senior editor of Car & Driver magazine, Daniel Pund, who he considers a leader in automotive interior design.
"For the last probably five to seven years, it's really been Audi and VW [Volkswagen]; of course, they're part of the same company that have really taken the lead on interior quality, both in terms of ergonomics and materials quality," he said.
With Mr. Pund's rating in mind, we spoke with Stefan Krebsfanger, the manager of product strategy at Volkswagen of America. He says interior design can make or break a sale.
"You either feel at home, feel comfortable regarding the layout of the buttons, knobs… or comfortable around the materials that are being used or even the tones in the color being used," he said.
Mr. Krebsfanger says a car's interior is a sensual experience - for good or bad. Your senses are engaged - sight, touch, sound and smell.
"You can probably sense that Japanese vehicles have a certain scent to them," he added. "English vehicles have a specific scent to them, and that relates to Volkswagen as well."
If Car & Driver's Daniel Pund rates Volkswagen and Audi at the top, who does he see at the bottom in vehicle interiors? The world's biggest automaker - General Motors.
"They still have a real materials issue, they tend to have really cheap-looking, cheap-feeling hard plastic bits," explained Mr. Pund. "They don't fit particularly well and they're just not "kind" to the touch or the eye."
Japanese cars and trucks are often praised for their interior layout, the controls that seem to be just where they should be. The vice president of Toyota's California design studio, Kevin Hunter, says their location and ease of use are dictated by common sense.
"You don't want to have to be fumbling around for switches and trying to figure out the way they work," he said. "You want them in a nice, convenient location that's sensible. And, to my way of thinking, and I think Toyota's way of thinking is: this is a safety issue."