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10 Must-Experience Interiors for Under $40,000

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author photo by Doug DeMuro February 2016

It's time for the Academy Awards! Red carpets. Big limousines. Beautiful dresses. The music that reminds award recipients it's time to get off the stage so the show can move on. In the spirit of the Academy Awards, we've decided to give an award of our own: the ten must experience car interiors you can have for under $40,000. We've factored in style, comfort, design and technology to create a listing of the best of the best. Only this time, there's no music, as every interior on here can be yours for as long as you want. You can download your own music, and listen to it as you look out over your excellent new automotive domain.

2016 Acura RDX

Function dominates form in the latest RDX's cabin, where the control layout isn't beautiful, but it is beautifully practical. We like how the center control stack is pulled forward for easy access, and we like the RDX's dual-screen setup, which we find easier to use than it sounds. And then, there are the materials. The RDX benefits from soft, comfortable seats, trim that's vastly improved compared to its predecessor and a fairly sizable back seat. You can't buy many luxury SUVs for under $40,000, but with the RDX, you can have at least one with a handsome, well-designed cabin.

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2017 Buick LaCrosse

The Buick LaCrosse has been fully redesigned for 2017, and while we like what's on the outside, we really like what Buick has done to the car's cabin. Of course, you have the usual plush seats, trim improvements and roomy back seat, but the star of the LaCrosse's update is a handsome, sweeping dashboard that makes the Buick look like a far more expensive luxury sedan than it is. Simplicity is the key in the new LaCrosse's cabin, but it doesn't sacrifice equipment. Instead, it keeps gadget access in the infotainment system to remove clutter from the dashboard, ensuring that the cabin feels more relaxing and luxurious than any Buick before it.

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2016 Chevrolet Camaro

We were a little disappointed when we saw early pictures of the updates to the Camaro for 2016, since the sports car hasn't received an especially thorough makeover on the outside. Then, we climbed inside and were taken aback. The new Camaro's interior blew us away, as it traded last year's gimmicky design for a whole new look that actually reminds us of a high-end luxury sports car. We also love the huge infotainment screen and the large driver information display mounted in the gauge cluster, two items proving the Camaro isn't just the "roast the tires" muscle car of years past.

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2017 Ford Fusion

We've always liked the interior and exterior design of the popular Ford Fusion midsize sedan, but we especially like the design of the latest model, which combines a high-end appearance with an all-business control layout. No, it isn't striking, but that's the point. The Fusion's serious, mature cabin now helps the sedan look like the luxury car that some of its high-end trim levels can be. We also like Ford's new SYNC 3 infotainment system, which contributes to our feeling that the Fusion offers one of the best interiors of any modern midsize sedan.

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2016 Jaguar XE

Although the recently released Jaguar XE may not have the opulent, luxurious cabin of the brand's high-end XJ luxury sedan, it isn't far off. More importantly, it starts at just under $36,000, which means you can have luxurious Jaguar touches without paying a fortune for a new XJ ($75,500 with shipping) or an F-Type ($62,500 with shipping). So, what does the XE's excellent interior offer? In addition to Jaguar's unique rotary shift knob, which rises from the center console when you start the car, you also receive handsome trim, a full-color screen in the gauge cluster and a wide array of buttons and switches that stand up to the XE's best German rivals.

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2016 Kia Optima

The Kia Optima has been fully redesigned for 2016, shedding last year's interior (already one of our favorites) for a new cabin with nicer materials and a better control layout. The new model's center control stack could almost be mistaken for a BMW's, and that, combined with supple leather upholstery and a roomy interior, makes the Optima an obvious choice for this list. Is it better than the 2017 Ford Fusion? Hard to say, but there's no doubt both models outdo the "old guard" midsize sedans, like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

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2016 Lexus NX

Although the jury's still out about the Lexus NX's unusual exterior styling, we're thrilled with how the SUV turned out on the inside. While its sharp exterior edges can look too extreme, they translate well to the interior, giving the NX a far more youthful, modern look than many other Lexus models. While we could see car reviewers in 2026 calling the NX's interior "too 2016," that's the fate of trendsetters, and this term perfectly describes the NX's cabin. Adding to its appeal are firm but comfortable sport seats and a long list of high-tech features to further attract young shoppers.

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2016 Lincoln MKC

While the NX's cabin is daring and trendsetting, the MKC's is simple and traditional, and yet, both seem to work perfectly. No, the MKC doesn't have any bold, jagged edges or tight sport seats, but it does offer simple, smooth lines and high-end surfaces just about everywhere you might look or touch. We also appreciate Lincoln's wide variety of colors and textures, which can make the MKC's cabin look anything from sporty to opulent. Then, there's the SUV's excellent ride quality, which works in tandem with its soft leather seats. It may not be daring or cutting-edge, but the MKC's interior is an excellent place to spend time.

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2016 Nissan Murano

Although Nissan isn't necessarily the first automaker we'd think of when trying to name top interiors, the Murano's cabin stands out above its rivals. We like the thick steering wheel, the easy-to-reach controls and the high-end surfaces on upper-level trims, and we really like the screen mounted in the gauge cluster, which is handsome and easy to read. Then, there are the zero-gravity seats, which earn our version of a Best Supporting award. Although we initially thought they were a gimmick until we tried them for ourselves, it turns out they're great on long trips, leaving you without the slightest bit of soreness after hours spent behind the wheel.

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2016 Toyota Prius

Climb into the recently redesigned Prius for the first time and you might think you're in a concept car, but you're not. Instead, you're in the latest and greatest version of the fuel-sipping hatchback, one with a large center touchscreen, a huge information center at the base of the windshield and some glossy trim that makes you feel like you're driving around in the future. Adding to the "What is this?" experience is the unusual rake of the windshield and the strange dual rear window setup, which can be a surprise if you haven't experienced it before. While it may take some getting used to, we think the latest Prius has one of the coolest and most exciting car interiors you can have for under $40,000.

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Used 2016 Acura RDX AWD
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
10 Must-Experience Interiors for Under $40,000 - Autotrader