ISO the perfect door pull

Since I recently wrote about “The Feel of Quality, I was pleasantly surprised to see an article in BusinessWeek about GM’s drive to upgrade its interiors.

While I agree that the upcoming 2008 CTS has a wonderful interior in terms of both design and materials, I also sat in the 2008 Malibu at the Detroit show, and despite what the talking head from Edmunds says in the BusinessWeek article, it’s no $40,000 Lexus in there. And GM’s new crossovers were the object of my criticism in the earlier blog entry.

What more could be done? I suggested a number of things in the earlier entry. But what I’d most like to see are comfortably upholstered door pulls.  Audi S8 door pullWhile at the Chicago show I did a little searching for the perfect door pull. Looking at luxury sedans, I found that only the outer surface of the door pulls on the Audi S8 are upholstered. The stitched leather on the outer part of the pull is nice. The suede on the door panel is even nicer. So why the hard plastic where your fingers actually touch? The door pulls of the new CTS are similarly constructed; I think I’ve found Cadillac’s source of inspiration. Why fully upholster the instrument panel, but have the driver’s hand grip hard plastic to pull the door shut? Beats me.

Lexus LS 460 door pullIn contrast, Infiniti wraps the door pull of the M45 completely in leather, Acura does the same with the RL, and Lexus gives you a pocket of soft padded leather to dip your hand into with the LS 460 (photo at right). Even the front side of the pocket (directly beneath the wood trim), which you’re unlikely to touch, is nicely padded and has a rich hand to it.

At one point I found myself inside a Mercedes-Benz S63 with a couple of competitive assessment engineers who work for a major Japanese manufacturer. I pointed out how the padding only reached part of the way down inside the door pulls of the hyper-expensive Benz. Below that your fingertips grasp hard plastic. They readily agreed that they’d like to do better in this area.

Kia Amanti door pull“Which manufacturer do you think is doing a great job with interiors?” one of the engineers asked. I thought for a moment, then came up with Kia. Yes, Kia. The Optima EX has perhaps the best-finished interior of any sedan under $25,000, and the Amanti (nicely padded door pull and interior pictured) has perhaps the best under $30,000. I figured they would respond with disdain, and not listen to anything else I said, my credibility shot.

Kia Amanti interiorTo my surprise, the engineer readily agreed in my assessment of this competitor. But he felt that the big Kia’s front seats were less comfortable than the rear seats. Interestingly, I’d said the same in my review of the Amanti a few years ago. But a panel member recently traded a 2005 Amanti for the revised 2007, and had reported that the 2007’s front seats were much more comfortable. I’d confirmed this earlier at the Chicago show.

I passed on this information. And so the engineers for the Japanese manufacturer left Mercedes’ flagship to go check out Kia’s.

Everyone (with the apparent exception of Chrysler) is trying to upgrade their interiors. When a major Japanese company is willing to swallow its pride and look to Kia for inspiration, there’s a chance we’ll all have nicely padded door pulls in coming years.