Listen Out For The Samidova’s Song

We were pondering high-end luxury the other day and there was some debate about the Maybach’s interior. What is it up against?

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It is up against almost everyone selling a car for more than 50,000 euros. Almost any car firm can produce a very impressive interior if they put their mind to it**. Take a look at the two images in the slide show and have a guess which one is the most recent. Then we’ll take a little look at what you can sit in for less than the kind of money Maybach/Mercedes might ask for.

Should one really want to have a certain type of high-end interior, one does not have to go all that far up the price hierarchy.

2019 Kia K900 interior: source

Still with our 2019 Kia K900 interior, this is the rest of it (above). Car and Driver do a thorough job of explaining why the K900 is very good value for money. I liked this part: Ambient interior lighting in 64 colors (seven selected in collaboration with Pantone) and a Maurice Lacroix–branded dashboard clock add a touch of exclusivity, as does the open-pore wood that can now be chosen to trim the dash, center console, and door panels.”  If you want to find out about Maurice Lacroix then click here. They make watches (shades of Oleg Cassini for AMC?)

Moving over to Infiniti, this is the Q70 interior:

2018 Infiniti Q70 interior: source

Granted it’s very dark. So was the official website photo as well.

Without going all the way to the top of the Lexus tree, we find the GS which looks like this (though I note the car only has a 450 litre boot).

2017 Lexus GS interior: source

Critics may accuse the Lexus of being a bit plain and planar. I have to say it come across as a rather soothing kind of interior. Either way, there is little sign here that the driver or passengers will suffer much should they find themselves compelled to sit there.

I went over to the Kia site to find the Genesis range (it is still sharing space with its cheaper sister brand). This image stuck out as being one which ought to strike fear into the minds of premium car makers:

2018 Genesis G90 interior: source

What Maybach Mercedes have done is react to this kind of interior by making it light (as in white) and leaving the chairs in place as if removed from a small private jet. Let’s remind ourselves of that:

Maybach Mercedes concept interior. Image credit: Wired

It is easy to criticise but far harder to come up with a good alternative. Maybach’s designers clearly see that offering even more stitching and a higher part count is not going to be a winning strategy, hence the attempt at simplicity.

The images of the Kia, Genesis and Lexus interiors show that some of the non-prestige manufacturers have caught up (not Cadillac – and Lincoln’s designers seemed to have worked hard on their Continental interior only to be sabotaged by the suicidally poor exterior proportions). The excellence of Kia, Hyundai, Genesis and Lexus is staggering if you consider that in 1995 only perhaps Lexus came close to touching the quality levels of the German prestige three.

Rhapsody in blue – now that’s an American car interior. Image:

This brings us to the hen in the bed: within the framework of what constitutes contemporary quality, most of these interiors are very good indeed. I am rather taken with the Kia’s interior (especially if it came in tan  or mid-blue). However, the paradigm is broken or at least breaking. There is now too much happening inside cars. It is becoming a shouting match.

Try to imagine what is happening in advanced styling studios and production studios now: the replacements for these cars are being planned. They have two enemies. One is the model line below these cars which must be better than it is now. In that way the next G80 will have to be better than the current one, bringing it up to current G90 level.

The next G90 has to be “better” than the planned G80 and the current G90. The other enemy is the competing cars from the other brands (who are also engaged in an arms race with themselves).

There are two choices here: pointless and slightly incremental difference or a radical re-thinking of what high-quality and luxury looks like. If you want to see pointless and slightly incremental difference, look again at the slide show above. Is the 2016 car really any worse than the 2018 car? Are you sure which is which?

** The French aren’t bothering to try. Not one French car is in the same league as Infiniti or Lexus. They are often very nicely designed though e.g. the Espace present and previous. Jaguar is trying and failing as are Cadillac and Lincoln. Maserati has a patchy approach to quality: nice materials and patchy execution.

Slideshow credit: Youtube/ Car and Driver.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

11 thoughts on “Listen Out For The Samidova’s Song”

  1. Volvo – their current interiors are surely worth a mention in this context with their fresh approach to forms and, to a lesser extent, materials. Peugeot aren’t up in the higher priced echelons yet are also producing interiors that are pleasant places to be.

    1. Good point – the overall geometry of Volvo’s interiors are satisfying without needing a high part count or many curlicues. I think the matter of why this approach isn’t more widely popular is down to values. The busy interiors are direct descendents of the 70s mock-vernacular/neo-Georgian/club-room ultraBrougham designs but executed in a better way. It’s an expression of the same intent: to show a big surplus. The Volvo approach is modesty which has fewer adherents in the big-ticket car league.

    2. Yes, Volvos, particularly in light colours, are very pleasant places to be in. The new Lexus LS’ cabin is also impressive, albeit in a flawed way.

      Audi, on the other hand, have lost the plot. The visual ‘simplicity’ of having piano black touchscreens everywhere turns into the exact opposite once the finger print contagion starts spreading.

  2. Having had a ride (and a short drive) in a 1951 Citroën 15 Six yesterday, I’m even more convinced that true luxury lies in simplicity than before. It’s as basic as it can get – inviting, soft seats, a flat door card with nothing than a door handle and a window crank on it, but how nicely made: levers in real metal and all fitting in thick, soft, light grey cloth. We should have more of this today; attention to detail, no frills. Plus space and light. I don’t want to hide behind ‘privacy glass’ and be cocooned when I could also have a look at the landscape around me. Unfortunately, most people who can afford expensive cars today apparently feel better when they’re not seen by ordinary folks. It might be for a reason…

    It’s also for that reason why, on a recent trip to Paris, I enjoyed my first ride in a Renault Espace much more than the ride back in an E-Class with its high window base and thick C-pillar.

    Light colours help with all that, of course. It doesn’t have to be the clinical white of the Maybach, of course, and also it shouldn’t be restricted to the beige/tan/light brown palette. I’d apprectiate clear, light colours; why not in the bluish range?

    And yes, materials. We need more and better textiles. I hear vegan interiors are the thing to have now, but why on earth do they still have to look and feel like leather? Thanks to Range Rover for trying to show a new way here.

    1. Agreed.

      One of the reasons why I enjoy the XJ so much is because it affords me an ambience I find in no modern car. The few controls are clearly laid out, whereas all the modern amenities I need (sat-nav and, occasionally, music) are contributed by my smartphone. I don’t need more than that. Yet what I enjoy is the calmness and warmth of the Jaguar (metaphorically speaking – if the air conditioning cedes to work, the impression of warmth is quite literal), not to mention the excellent outward visibility. The honesty of the materials also lends me a sense of satisfaction: vinyl is vinyl, leather is leather, just as chromed metal and wood are what they appear to be.

      One of the reasons why I find the Range Rover one of the few acceptable ‘utility’ vehicle is because of its outstanding interior ambience, which is, on the one hand, due to its basic architecture (upright seats, large window areas) and heightened by the sublime design of its amenities on the other. Particularly in the case of the L322 generation: (yes, what you here there is the beat of my own drum)

      However, speaking of taxi rides, I must voice a minor dissent. I much prefer E-class taxis to the most popular alternative here in Hamburg, the VW Touran. I find the minivan’s seating position awkward and the ride quality less than ideal. None of this necessarily applies to the Espace, but those are hardly ever in taxi use around here, which is why I remain a champion of the saloon taxi for the time being.

    2. I have no personal experience with the Touran, so I can’t compare. Seating position is an issue with many MPVs, and I found this to be a major point in the previous Espace, unless the seat was in the backmost position and there was really plenty of room to stretch out the legs. Otherwise, the seats were much too close to the floor, resulting in sharply bent knees.
      As much as I regret the change from the airy MPV format to a more SUV-like vehicle, it seemed to have helped with the seating issue, as I didn’t notice it in the new Espace any more.

      Overall, I’d prefer a saloon taxi as well, as their ride is usually better, but most of them today have too small windows for my liking.

    3. Indeed Kris. Most, if not all, MPVs have rear seats that are compromised by the need to fold up out of the way, so are smaller or flatter than ideal. Often the floor is too high too.

      The rear seat of a sedan – particularly a Mercedes, who are undeniably good at this sort of thing – offer a much more comfortable environment.

  3. Re the Touran, I have yet to ride in an MPV that had truly comfy rear seats. I last sampled a Touran when in Düsseldorf last year and it decided me against one as a replacement for our old Xsara Picasso for that very reason. Nice big boot though, as a 6 seater at least.

    1. Lately I’ve started seeing a few Grand Scenics (current version) around London. While the SWB version is interesting but a bit dumpy, the LWB is quite a good looking car in my opinion. I can see now why Renault felt confident they could abandon the old Espace template and replace it with a pseudo-SUV.

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