Speed freaks and gear heads may care only about a car's performance, but savvy car shoppers -- especially those with long commutes -- know that a car's interior is king. You'll get to drive your car to its performance limits maybe five percent of the time. But you'll have to deal with its interior 100 percent of the time.
For drivers who recognize that, we've compiled this list of the best interiors for the money. These cars not only are a great value based on total cost of ownership over five years, but they also have interiors that professional auto critics agree are among the best in their classes.
Subcompacts: Honda Fit
One of the reasons the Honda Fit was named our Best Car for the Money overall in the subcompact class is its interior, so it's no surprise it takes top honors here. While the Fit's interior isn't luxurious, it is very nice for a subcompact, boasting an open, airy feel and plenty of passenger space. What really makes it shine is its versatility: the cabin can be configured (and reconfigured) for almost any type of cargo.
Compacts: Hyundai Elantra
The Hyundai Elantra is proof positive that the niceness of a car's interior doesn't require a high price tag. In a class where some don't even come with standard air conditioning or power windows, the Elantra is stocked with standard features. Even the base Elantra GLS has keyless entry, power windows and heated mirrors. With those convenience features and the Elantra's bargain-basement price (it's actually cheaper than the subcompact Honda Fit), nice interior materials and first-rate construction are the icing on the cake.
Mid-Size Cars: Nissan Altima and Altima Hybrid
Nissan is better known for cars with great performance than cars with great interiors. Still, the Altima and Altima Hybrid both have interiors that set them above competitors. Though they don't offer as much room as others in the class, they have so many available features that it's easy to option these two as if they're luxury cars. Dual-zone climate control, a trip computer, and an optional Bose sound system make the Altima and Altima Hybrid easy to live in. The available navigation system is even borrowed from Infiniti, Nissan's luxury brand.
Upscale Cars: Lexus ES
Lexus is known for sumptuous interiors and the ES certainly lives up to that reputation. Inside, you'll find seats that coddle, zen-like quiet and enough entertainment and comfort gadgets to keep drivers and passengers cruising along for hours. The optional Mark Levinson stereo with surround sound is a favorite feature, with some critics saying it turns the ES into your own symphony hall.
Large Cars: Toyota Avalon
The biggest question many automotive critics have about the Toyota Avalon is why it isn't a Lexus. The interior of Toyota's largest car is nice enough to belong to the company's luxury brand. The Avalon features top-quality construction, plenty of room and seats that stay comfortable mile after mile. The Avalon wins particular praise for its ergonomic setup and attractive gauges.
Luxury Cars: Audi A6
The Audi A6 has an interior that manages to split the difference between the driver-oriented cockpits from BMW and the passenger-spoiling luxury of Mercedes-Benz. Automotive reviewers say that the A6's interior is a study in design and craftsmanship excellence, with high-quality materials, a pleasing layout and plenty of comfort to go around.
Minivans: Toyota Sienna
Minivans aren't often perceived as cool, but the interior of the Toyota Sienna may come close. In addition to plenty of space and top-notch construction, it offers a number of features sure t please everyone. Passengers will like the power side windows that allow lots of fresh air in, and harried parents will like the automatic sliding rear doors that make getting everyone in and out of the car easy.
Compact Crossovers/SUVs: Honda CR-V
While some of the Honda CR-V's competitor's offer a third-row seat, those third rows are so uncomfortable that not having on in the CR-V isn't a bad thing. The CR-V's interior is comfortable, practical and kid friendly. A conversation mirror lets the driver keep an eye on what backseat passengers are up to, while an optional navigation system earns high marks from reviewers. The seats are comfortable, the materials are nice and Honda's high-quality construction make the CR-V's interior a nice place to be.
Mid-Size Crossovers/SUVs: GMC Acadia
It wasn't long ago that General Motors was known for interiors that seemed to be designed to irritate drivers. That's changed. The GMC Acadia has a stylish and comfortable cabin, with seating for up to eight and a third row that can accommodate passengers over the age of six -- a rarity even in larger SUVs. A panoramic sunroof makes the cabin feel open and a rear-seat entertainment system keeps passengers happy.
Luxury Crossovers/SUVs: Infiniti FX
The Infiniti FX packs in enough high-tech features to please anyone with a subscription to Wired, but the interior is comfortable enough to keep technophobes happy as well. Available features include smart cruise control, Infiniti's highly regarded navigation system with real-time traffic and a rear-seat entertainment system. Other highlights include the FX's seats, which some reviewers say are perfect for long drives, as well as the upscale design and materials throughout.
Full Size Crossovers/SUVs: Chevy Suburban
The Chevrolet Suburban has an interior that comes with the room you'd expect in one of the largest of the large SUVs. What may surprise you is the refinement this rugged, truck-based SUV offers. With the right options, the Suburban can turn into a (very large) luxury car, with leather captain's chairs, individual climate controls and rear-seat entertainment. GM's OnStar service, which provides turn-by-turn navigation, a satellite phone and emergency response services, is standard for one year.