A huge amount of work goes into designing a vehicle, but it’s far more than just the exterior appearance. The inside requires just as much attention, covering everything from how it looks to its integration with important safety features.
For Mercedes-Benz, the interior of the redesigned 2012 M-Class SUV started with sketches at the company’s design headquarters in Sindelfingen, Germany.
The designers also use computer models and then full-size clay mockups to determine what the new vehicle will use.
“It takes a long time,” says Marina Sacco, an interior trim designer specializing in colour and materials.
“We started a few years ago and have continued to improve it.”
The design follows a basic theme that Mercedes-Benz reserves for its SUVs: the dash must have strong horizontal lines to give the feeling of spaciousness, while a dome over the centre stack controls hints at the engine’s power. The materials, meanwhile, convey a “welcome home” feeling, with soft-touch surfaces and wood highlights.
It isn’t enough to simply use home-style materials, though.
“The colours and materials have to work in all temperatures, whether very hot or very cold,” Sacco says.
“The leather must function, the plastic must function, and it can’t discolour. Everything has to stay as it is on the first day.”
To that end, everything that goes into the interior is thoroughly tested. Each material is placed under simulated sunshine, and in cold and heat extremes to ensure that it doesn’t peel, become brittle or fade.
It’s also very important that the final design and the materials used look like they belong in a Mercedes, Sacco says.
“Most customers don’t like screaming colours,” she says.
“People like black, brown, beige and grey. Sports cars are allowed a little bit of red, but on a car like this (M-Class), it’s nice to have natural colours. This is about driving the car and going to the outdoors.”
Authenticity of the materials is also important, and for the new model, the company has introduced an optional trim design that includes unfinished, open-grain wood.
“You can feel the structure of the grain on it,” Sacco says, which is very important.
It seems that, although Mercedes-Benz uses only real wood in the M-Class, some customers complained that their passengers thought the high-gloss version was actually made of plastic.