Whenever you shop for a new car, you may find that the top of the line model comes with leather-lined seats, door panels, and dashboards. Going a model down, or opting for the base model will often get you fabric-lined seating, but it’s good enough for your daily needs.
While a leather interior is a nice thing to have, it’s not a necessity. Though, there are exceptions such as Lexus, who have leather and ‘better leather’ as you go up in price. There are also some models that come standard with leather all throughout the lineup, like some executive midsize sedans in the Philippines. Though, if there is a leather option for your car, and if you are on the fence about springing that extra money for an upper variant because of the upholstery, should you pull the trigger?
“Leather” is not actually leather all the time
A leather-lined interior if sourced from nature will cost you an arm and a leg. The cost to produce an entire interior out of genuine leather would drive the price of cars up if upholstered as such. Most manufacturers and cars feature a fully-synthetic alternative or a mix of genuine and man-made leather. There are also premium synthetics and then there are the more basic synthetics out in the market.
Typically, synthetic upholsteries are more cost-effective when compared to actual tanned hide. They could be composed of anything from PVC, plant matter, or even plastic and other recycled materials among others. Most normal cars will feature this type of ‘leather,’ however, the same cannot always be said when it comes to the ultra-luxurious models in the market. To ensure no compromise was made, these manufacturers, like Rolls-Royce, upholster their cars with the real deal.
Advantages of leather
There are some key factors that make leather upholsteries desirable to most people. Durability and longevity come to mind when talking about leather. The material, whether synthetic or natural, is hardier than cloth which is more prone to getting ripped or damaged after tons of use. Leather interiors can also find holes in them, however, that doesn’t mean that leather is invincible.
Leather also presents an indirect advantage versus cloth, and it is with perception. Since leather can mostly be found in higher trims of cars, an OEM upholstery job usually ups the perceived quality of the car and may allow for higher resale values, since you can find these in higher vehicle trims – though there is no guarantee.
Another advantage of leather is that it doesn’t absorb moisture as easily compared to cloth. Cloth tends to stain easier than leather. When dealing with fabric seats, you might need to use some specialized solution to clean out a stain, but with leather, you can just wipe it off, unless the stain is very persistent, then a leather cleaner would be advisable.
Advantages of fabric
Just because you pay more, doesn’t mean that leather doesn’t have cons of its own compared to cloth. The cloth is more breathable, and will not be as hot to the touch as leather would be after baking out in the sun. Sitting on a cloth-upholstered seat for long periods of time is also marginally better as the material – like we said – is more breathable, and will have more flex as compared to a leather-lined interior. The upholstery also feels a bit softer, and not as rubbery like a leather would, and moving in your seat is easier and silent, because cloth doesn’t cling to clothes or skin as much as leather would.
Cloth is also more affordable than leather. You don’t have to pay a premium to get this upholstery onto your seats. Though you will be dealing with a base model, which means the features present may not be the best nor the snazziest in the lineup, but having cloth isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
If you're very careful with your upholstery and maintain it well, a fabric interior can last just as long as hide. Since most leather nowadays is synthetic, far down the line if you neglect your upholstery, the leather may crack. On the flip side, cloth is more easily punctured, and it can also wear down just like leather can.
A peace offering
There is a sort of best of both worlds approach to the dilemma of cloth versus leather, and that is in combination seats. The outer portion, which usually receives the most damage after years and years of ingress and egress, will usually be covered in durable leather, while the middle, or the part where you sit in, is clad in cloth. This type of construction makes sure that you keep the comfort advantages of cloth while ensuring durability with the strategically-placed leather panels.
So there are also subjective items that we didn’t mention because these things are preference-based such as style and feel. Every buyer would have different criteria for their car to look and feel on the inside. A leather interior, while expensive, adds a nice depth to the interior that cloth cannot. Though, cloth interiors can also sport patterns or different-gauge textiles in order to create a unique feel.
Leathers can also be dyed, and so can cloth. Leathers can feature patterns and perforations, while cloth can feature textures and patterns. There are also different types of leather like suede, which can also be cloth-like in its appearance, so really, there is no shortage of different materials and textures that can be implemented in car interiors. There is also no shortage of craftsmanship that can go into a leather interior as well, but this will come at a steep cost.
If you like leather, then get leather. If you like leather, but can’t afford it, save up some money so you may be able to, and there is no shortage of aftermarket solutions if you want to reupholster your car. Though don’t let leather be the make-or-break feature in a car for it is a feature of preference, and to some extents, luxury.