When entering a luxury car with a leather interior, you notice its aroma, followed by the plush, soft texture. With that said, leather is a mark of elegance for a reason: It’s expensive.
Enter leatherette, a catch-all term for leather alternatives that forgo the intimidating costs. Of course, that doesn’t mean the materials are cheaply made; in fact, many luxury brands use them to excellent effect, including Mercedes’ MB-Tex, BMW’s Sensatec, and Lexus’s NuLuxe.
Below is a detailed rundown of both the good and the bad of the two materials.
Leather: Pros and Cons
The vast majority of car leather comes from cows, and its processing and tanning have a huge effect on the final product.
1. It’s Durable
With regular cleaning, leather can last for decades with little wear, and it naturally resists stains.
2. It’s Breathable and Soft
Leather is more porous and breathable than leatherette, often being plush to the touch.
1. It’s Expensive
If you’re buying a new car, leather seats will add thousands to the cost.
2. It Requires Maintenance
Fail to maintain your leather with routine cleanings and it will crack and discolor. It’s also easy to scratch.
3. UV Rays Can Damage It
Even with faithful cleaning, direct sunlight can cause them to shrink and crack.
4. It Can Get Hot
On the subject of the sun, you’ve probably experienced the feeling of sticking to a sizzling leather car seat if you live in a warm climate.
Leatherette — Pros and Cons
Most leatherette is made from petroleum products, such as PVC, applied over a fabric base. Each company has its process for creating leatherette, and the results can be dramatically different.
1. It’s Affordable
Perhaps leatherette’s greatest selling point is its inexpensiveness. Compared to the cost of leather, even the most advanced and costly leatherettes are still bargains.
2. It’s Easy to Maintain
Unlike leather, leatherette often doesn’t require any special process to keep it looking nice, and since it’s waterproof, cleaning it is fast and easy. It’s also not as susceptible to damage from UV rays as its genuine counterpart.
3. It’s Vegan-Friendly
Leatherette is often called “vegan leather,” given that it appeals to buyers who avoid animal hides for moral, religious, or preference reasons without sacrificing too much texture and softness.
1. Quality Varies
While many manufacturers put money and research into creating their leather alternatives, others are happy to leave their leatherette slippery and plasticky, which can be a problem for drivers who enjoy the grip of their seats around tight turns.
2. It’s Not Breathable
Unless manufacturers go out of their way to include pores in the seats, don’t expect leatherette to be breathable.
3. Wear Can Look Unpleasant
As leatherette wears, it tends to expose its fabric base, which can look unsightly.
4. It Still Has an Environmental Impact
Leatherette may not use animal hides, but the chemicals and fossil fuels used in its manufacturing are still ecologically damaging to some extent.
Which One Is for You?
If you need leather, be prepared to spend a premium and perform regular upkeep. If, on the other hand, you prefer seats that can handle more neglect, modern leatherettes can offer a premium experience.