One of the most interesting automotive publications I’ve come across in recent times is the German blog, Autogefühl.
One of their authors, Thomas Majchrzak, has been trying to raise awareness of the different interior surface materials available for cars, especially those in the premium segment where the default choice has long been leather.
Now I should state, I’m not a vegetarian or tree hugger of any kind, but after careful consideration of the arguments against leather, it’s difficult to provide a sensible counterpoint.
Agricultural production has largely escaped the same level of scrutiny as other industries that are carbon intensive. Producing leather is a carbon intensive undertaking. It’s also fairly unpleasant for the animal. There are lots of misconceptions about leather production that I will let you research in order to form a view. In many instances, it’s a product that makes no sense to trim car seats in.
In Australia, especially during summer, for those not lucky enough to have a shaded car park, leather is an uncomfortable surface. Returning to your leather trimmed car after it has sat outside in the heat is an unpleasant experience. An equally unpleasant experience is cold leather seats in a southern winter. To combat this, seat ventilation and heating can often be optioned but is this whole thing necessary?
At some point in time, leather was the only luxury option for car interiors. However, we live in an age where there are many high-quality offerings from the textile world.
Artificial leather, in its many forms, has been around for a long while now. Some of the artificial leathers are very good. However, many just don’t get the final product close enough. These options are generally used in price sensitive models where keeping costs down is the main aim. Even in some premium brands, the attempts at artificial leather have been dreadful.
Some manufacturers do get it right. In the Haval H6 SUV, the seats are trimmed in Comfort-Tek, an artificial leather that is very soft to the touch, I would argue in blind testing many wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from the genuine animal skin.
If manufactured with quality in mind, the artificial option can be more durable than the processed hide.
Alcantara, one of the better-known premium surface coverings has been a fixture in plenty of cars that fall under the Volkswagen umbrella. The new Skoda SportLine makes excellent use of Alcantara and the cabin ambience is lifted as a result. Alcantara can even be optioned in the new Amarok V6, again, it gives the cabin a premium feeling.
Porsche has long been associated with Alcantara. Porsche models are able to be purchased with Alcantara on the inside of the seats, but leather remains on the bolsters.
Fans of Porsche seem to be turning off Alcantara as a legitimate option. Some fans continue to run with the joke, “Alcantara is the fastest way to make your new Porsche look like an old one.” The majority point the finger at Clarkson for being the instigator of this insight. It could be dismissed as nonsense, but the idea behind it hits the mark.
The heavies in Stuttgart have taken steps to offer something different. Porsche now offers Sport-Tex, a premium fabric option with artificial bolsters. Owners who have taken the plunge report positively on their purchase of the Sport-Tex material.
Land Rover are getting on the bandwagon with its new Range Rover Velar. The British marque has turned to European textile manufacturer, Kvadrat to offer a sustainable, yet premium alternative to leather. A wool-blend textile contrasted with a Suedecloth insert will be available as a no cost option on the Velar. The Velar’s base models will be equipped with Suedecloth and Luxtec upholstery.
It’s not just the premium brands that are looking at the interior options they provide. Mazda’s popular CX-5 range now has a Touring variant with a suede interior.
Some manufacturers do not offer a premium alternative to leather. As the term sustainability continues to make its way into the world of car manufacturing, buyers will expect, and in some cases demand a product that meets certain standards of luxury while being produced sustainably. With a number of material options now available, it’s not really an unreasonable request.
Let’s start a Car Conversation, should leather still be considered the best choice for an upmarket interior? What are your thoughts on the other interior surface options that are now available?