(Bloomberg) — This is not a list of bad cars.
The Chevrolet Corvette, the McLaren 570S, and Lotus Evora, for example, are among the most athletic, fun-to-drive vehicles on the market today.
But the ability to provide a thrilling experience from behind the wheel doesn’t mean a car sailed through the interior design portion of the test. Engineering prowess doesn’t always transfer to the cabin. Pity the afterthought! Much more than things to drive, cars have become the spaces in which we work, preen, eat, nap, detox, and even learn. A good interior, from driver’s seat to backseat, facilitates all that. A bad one actively gets in the way.
The interior of a car, in fact, is the most critical element of the entire driving and riding experience. It’s the only place where the body (hands, feet, back, legs) actually connects with the vehicle. The comfort of the space, the convenience of the technology, the quality of the craftsmanship when we run our fingers along the seams of the seats—this is the environment we feel and remember long after a drive. It’s like a twist on that Maya Angelou quote about remembering what people say vs. how they make us feel: You may forget the engine specifications or, say, gas mileage of a ride, but you won’t forget how you felt inside it.
To that end, here are five cars from luxury brands that are likely to leave you feeling stressed, confused, or disappointed when you walk away. It’s no excuse that many on this list are sports cars, which tend to be more minimal inside than grand touring cars and cruisers (it helps keep bodyweight down while optimizing weight balance). But Audi, Ferrari, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz all make sports cars with excellent interiors. These, unfortunately, aren’t up to snuff.
Why it’s bad: This take is going to be polarizing—the C8 is a great driving car—but then, the interior itself is polarizing. Literally. Witness the massive, curved divider that runs straight through the middle of the car. Lined with buttons and covered in low-grade leather, it looks like a part of the command helm on the starship Enterprise.
This effect is bad for two reasons. First, it means there’s no flow, no fluidity, in the space between the driver and passenger, which ruins any attempt at harmony within the car. You’ll never be able to reach over and squeeze your driving partner’s knee or use the buttons on the angled center dashboard screen while the car is being driven. Second, those dozens of buttons along the interior walls, dashboard, and dividers feel out of step with current themes and with much of the luxury segment, where brands like Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce brag about how many interior knobs and switches they’re removing—at customer request.
What’s more: The square steering wheel split from the center by two drooping spokes looks as if it were borrowed from Buick. The single-minded orientation of every button and screen in the cabin toward the driver crosses the line between just being a driver’s car and being too much; anyone unfortunate enough to ride shotgun is going to feel very left out.
Plus: As you might expect in such a low, awkwardly designed cabin, visibility near the B pillars is cut to the minimum. It’s even obstructed sometimes by the A pillar, which gets in the way of forward-looking sightlines when taking tight corners. Thankfully, a side blind zone alert system comes standard. You’ll need it.
Why it’s bad: The actual design of the interior systems in the McLaren 570S aren’t bad, once you get used to looking at a slim, vertically oriented touchscreen, find a semi-comfortable rear wedge to sit on in the unusually narrow seats, and come to recall where the spaces for cups and cell phones are hidden (and they do feel hidden).
The problem here is one of execution: McLaren is notorious for poorly finished stitching, mismatched seams along body panels, and misaligned edges on interior components. It also has notoriously delayed responses to touchscreen input in general, and don’t get me started on the complicated, confusing tech systems for such things as connecting cellphones and working the navigation. This notoriety is well-deserved.
What’s more: The car in base form comes with extremely bare bones. The seats are neither heated nor power-adjustable, the steering wheel doesn’t adjust, and there’s no cargo space to speak of. The entire thing floods with enough rough road and tire noise to fray your nerves. For nearly $200,000, you deserve better.
Plus: If you still want to buy this car, you’ll immediately need to upgrade to the Luxury Pack, which adds heated, power-adjustable front seats, an adjustable steering column, and a 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system. Even with that, you still won’t want to be inside this so-called driver’s car for more than a few hours. It’s just too uncomfortable.
Why it’s bad: The GT-R costs as much as a Bentley. And true to that price tag, it will keep up with the most notorious sports cars out there. But the interior still looks and feels like it was done on a budget … a budget by Nissan. The knobs on the radio look like those of an old CD player; the large handbrake in the center console is straight out of a ’90s movie; and every surface in the front feels plastic to the touch—because it is. The large, double-stacked speaker in the tiny rear seat only makes it worse. “Down-market” describes the interior aesthetics and quality here too kindly; think more “plucked from the parts bin of a Maxima.”
What’s more: The biggest difference you notice between the GT-R and any quality car of this caliber is the noise level—the Nissan vibrates and rattles like a tin can, while Bentleys and BMWs alike seal off the exterior world like a vault. That’s all the better for focusing on driving. There’s no medal for getting out of your sports car with ears ringing and hands tired from the vibration of the steering wheel. And that’s exactly what you’ll get in the GT-R.
Why it’s bad: The Fiat 500L should not even exist. It takes the poorly done modernized version of a once-loved icon, the vintage Fiat Cinquecento, and supersizes it. It’s bloated in all the wrong places, and the interior matches the exterior’s awkward looks. It’s fair to expect much better than what we have here. The 500L, after all, is manufactured by the same company that makes the Ferrari F8 and Ferrari Roma, beacons of beautiful, serene, practical interiors. And even though it’s inexpensive compared to the others on this list, it’s overpriced for what it offers. You can buy a capable, better-designed Toyota RAV4 for just $2,000 more.
What’s more: Even when compared to such similarly priced competitors as the Mini Cooper Clubman, it falls far behind in cabin design and fabrication, with plastic parts that do nothing to assuage the feeling of cheap. Even the most basic conveniences, such as leather upholstery and heated seats, come only in the most expensive trim variants. The tiny, seven-inch touchscreen and lone USB port are major letdowns. There should be more USB access and a bigger, more modern screen.
Plus: For a vehicle that’s supposed to be an SUV, the headroom is abysmal. Anyone over six feet—not to mention those who wear hats—will notice the limitation.
Why it’s bad: The cabin feels like a bin of components left over from 1997: The tiny, round knob on the shifter feels cheap and cobbled on, like what you’d find in a kit car. The computer screen in the front and center of the dashboard is low-resolution and small (seven inches, compared to the double-digit figures most often seen in luxury cars these days), held in the dash by a thin border of chintzy plastic. The antiquated “immobilizer” button, which renders the car paralyzed unless you activate the correct start procedure mix of buttons and turn-key ignition, just gets in the way, rather than lending additional security.
Seat leather is thick and stiff, like something Ford threw in after it made a Cortina; the only additional tech options to help bolster the awkward, inept infotainment system (you’ll spend an hour just trying to connect—and stay connected—to Bluetooth) are a nondescript subwoofer and amp.
What’s more: The sport bucket seats are adjustable only manually, and by a slim degree. You might as well forget even the thought of wondering what is behind you: The rear half of the car is dominated by the engine bay and the backs of the car’s two seats, all of which block rear visibility like the Berlin Wall.
Plus: You can have any color seat, as long as it’s black or red, according to the online configurator—hardly a plethora of options for a car in the same price segment as the likes of the Porsche 911.
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