Car interiors have come a long way, marrying look and feel with maximum safety, but what will the advent of the self-drive vehicle herald in terms of motoring comfort? More room to move perhaps
In 1917, the average saloon car accommodated four to six average-sized humans in two rows. Instrumentation and controls were positioned within easy sight and reach of the driver. Window area was maximised for all-round visibility. Out of necessity, interior surfaces were made from wood, leather, textile and metal. Sound familiar?
That's not to say nothing has changed in a hundred years. Over the last 70 years, for instance, cars have progressively become lower, forcing drivers and passengers to adopt a reclined, close-to-the-floor seating position. Doors have become thicker and beltlines higher to accommodate side-impact beams, airbags and motors for powered windows and locks. Injection-moulded plastics have allowed for the surfaces around driver and passenger to be integrated into a more-or-less continuous, soft-touch form. Sit in almost any 2017 saloon car and the sum total of all this evolution is obvious: while undoubtedly a safer, physically more comfortable place to be than its forebears, the car has also become more claustrophobic, with driver and passengers hemmed in by gun-slit windows, vault-like doors, and thick, blind-spot inducing pillars.
THE SAME – BUT DIFFERENT
Naturally, fashion too is a powerful influence on how car interiors look and feel. Though the designer's basic material palette of wood, leather, metal and textile has remained almost static, their treatment fluctuates – careening between
futurism, retro, stark practicality and luxury, depending on the brand, prevailing social preferences and the market position of the individual model. Epitomising the very peak of the market is Rolls-Royce. No other car so clearly articulates what has remained the same in interiors since 1917. Even in the latest Phantom, Wraith or Ghost, dashboards are veneer boards, everything that looks like chrome is chrome, and everything that looks like leather is leather. What was hand-wrought in these elemental materials 100 years ago out of necessity is now a matter of choice – and a substantial price tag befitting 'the finest of the fine'.
But even here, a slow transformation is underway. Though the materials in the latest Rolls-Royce are traditional, their forms have become less baroque and more minimalist over the last two decades. And subtly creeping in behind the traditional facade is cutting-edge technology: an infotainment screen concealed behind a veneer flap on the dashboard; fibre-optic 'stars' embedded in the wool headliner; a four-camera panoramic view system; and the inevitable Wi-Fi.
Carmakers lower down in the market hierarchy may not handcraft their interiors; the 'veneers' and 'leathers' in a mid-range saloon probably have more in common with petrochemicals than trees and cows – but they still strive to at least simulate the Rolls-Royce experience. Where simulated wood, leather and metal isn't present, simulated carbon fibre or glossy piano-black finishes are substituted as a gesture toward futurism.
This is an excerpt from the “Interiors Motives" article from the November 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.
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