Which Car Has the Best Ambient Lighting?

Mercedes-Benz S 580 has a symphony of colors in motion, and even the Kia Soul Turbo includes 11 choices.

byKristin V. Shaw| UPDATED Apr 9, 2022 11:24 AM
Which Car Has the Best Ambient Lighting?

I was waiting for my son to finish soccer practice in a Mercedes-Benz S 580 a few weeks ago as the sun set, happily ensconced in a sea of buttery leather. As dusk settled in, the interior of the car started to glow, lit by hundreds of LEDs that encircled the cabin in colors that morphed from orange to purple to blue. Depending on how you're feeling that day, the hues could inspire you to crank up some dance club music and pretend you're 21 again or chill out with some jazz. This time, I chose the former. 

Some people think it's gimmicky and others love it. I wanted to see what you think: which cars have the best ambient lighting, and is it a selling point for you? 

Twelve years ago, Cars.com published a study about ambient lighting, conducted by BMW and the Lighting Engineering Group at Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany. The result of the study, the group said, showed that ambient lighting may increase a driver’s perceived safety and quality of the car. 

"Interior ambient lighting increases spatial perception, making the vehicle’s interior feel bigger at night," Cars.com reported. "The lights may also decrease fatigue when driving a light-equipped vehicle at night, but the study had inconclusive evidence regarding ambient lighting’s effect on 'alertness' or the light’s ability to improve a driver’s mood or performance."

BMW, Porsche, and Jeep's Grand Wagoneer use ambient light to pump up their perceived value even more. From an aspirational perspective, cars like the Hyundai Sonata harness the psychological upgrade of lighting to make the car feel more luxurious. Kia uses what it calls Mood Lighting in the Soul Turbo variant with 11 colors; on the speakers, the light pulses in time to the music you’re playing. Because it’s the funky Soul, Kia named its six mood effects Hey! Yo!, Traveling, Party Time, Midnight City, Romance, and Cafe.

I only had the S 580 for a week, but I had a ton of fun changing the colors and playing with the combinations when I wasn't pushing its 496 horsepower on the road. I wonder, though, when people buy a car with ambient light if they don't just set it and forget it, leaving the other options to atrophy in the system. What do you think? 

What's your favorite? Weigh in below or send a note to kristin.shaw@thedrive.com.