For a great many years now, we’ve had it rammed into us from car salesmen and the automotive media that it simply doesn’t get any better than having a leather interior in your car. Leather is often seen as the defining factor as to whether people think your car is nice. The smell of opulence, the feel… there’s just something about animal skin which appeals to our inner caveman. Leather good. Right?
But is leather the best material we use on car seats? Well, perhaps it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – and here are a few reasons why.
1. Leather is hot as hell in summer
By far our biggest beef (sorry, we had to say it) with leather here in Australia is just how damn hot it gets during the summer months. Sliding into a car with leather seats after it has been sitting in the sun for an hour or more can be absolutely murderous – and we’re not just being dramatic.
The interior of a car left in full sun can easily crack 70ºC (or around 160ºF), and unlike cloth, leather – and in particular black leather – is excellent at absorbing heat. If you’re wearing shorts – and let’s face it, you probably will be in summer – easing down into a burning leather seat is going to be downright uncomfortable at best, and has the potential to give you a severe burn at worst.
Manufacturers have attempted to combat this problem by offering cooling options which cycle air from the cabin through the seat in order to cool it down, but isn’t this like offering a solution to a problem which shouldn’t exist in the first place? In addition, the seat cooling system won’t work properly until after the air inside the cabin has cooled down first. So prepare to have your ass fried, and arrive at many a destination with sweat marks down the back of your shirt. Glamorous.
2. Leather is cold as ice in winter
In the same way that leather seats are murderously hot in summer, they’re also as cold as ice in winter – and there is nothing luxurious about a having a numb bum. But at least you still have autumn and spring to enjoy them, right?
Just like the seat cooling options used to keep leather seats comfortable in summer, manufacturers also offer seat heating to help keep you comfortable during the winter months – but again, why not go for cloth seats and kill two birds with one much cheaper stone?
3. Leather doesn’t ‘breathe’ like cloth can
Have you ever sat down on a leather sofa in summer, only to find that your body starts to overheat after just 5 or 10 minutes – forcing you to either move around or get up to prevent yourself from becoming a sweaty mess? That’s because when you put skin on skin, there simply isn’t any way for your perspiration to evaporate into the air around you – and boy does it become uncomfortable.
To get around this, some car manufacturers choose to use ‘perforated leather’ – which essentially means the parts of the seats which you come into contact with will have thousands of tiny holes in them. These holes help provide ventilation and a natural cooling effect, but it also means that dirt and small food particles can also make their way in there and prove difficult to remove.
Perforated leather also demands a more rigorous maintenance schedule in order to keep them looking their best.
4. That leather smell is actually just chemicals
Most people absolutely love the smell of a brand new leather interior, but did you know that what you’re smelling isn’t actually what leather smells like? In reality, tanned animal hides (i.e. new leathers) smell pretty darn awful, so leather goods are soaked in perfumes and chemicals in order to achieve a much more pleasant odour.
5. Leather is high maintenance
Leather is not just high class, it is also high maintenance. While leather might be better at preventing stains, to keep it looking great you’ll need to have it cleaned and conditioned with specialist leather care products every few months. If you don’t clean and treat the leather on a regular basis, it’ll eventually show signs of wear due to the sweat, dust, and dirt that seeps into it. After longer periods of time, the leather may begin to harden and perhaps start cracking.
Of course, cloth seats still require maintenance too – including periodic vacuuming, steam cleaning and perhaps Scotch-guarding every few years. But in general, most leather interior owners will tell you that their seats need a bit more TLC.
6. You’re not always getting real leather
In the never-ending quest to cut costs, car manufacturers are increasingly using fake man-made leathers (or ‘pleather’) more liberally, which is actually made from polyurethane. And we’re not just talking about cars on the cheaper end of the spectrum.
The likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi increasingly rely on fake leather in their more affordable models, and many mainstream manufacturers sell cars with a blend of genuine leather and synthetic vinyl seats – and most are deliberately ambiguous when describing what products they’re actually using.
7. You’ll pay more for the privilege
Leather is always going to cost you more than cloth – but it’s just a matter of how much more. The additional cost will depend largely on the quality of the leather, which can range from ‘fake’ (see above) to brushed to top-grain—or in some high-end vehicles, luxuriously soft Nappa leather.
So when you decide to opt for leather seats on your next new car purchase, you’d better find out what you’re actually paying for. Is it real leather? What about the backs of the seats, the sides, and the headrests?
But perhaps there is a tiny bit of good news here for leather interior car owners – and that is the extra money you paid for your leather interior should mean the resale value of your car will be a little bit higher than cloth equipped models of the same age and condition. But other factors come into play here, like the fact that many used car buyers simply want a reliable vehicle at a low price – and may not be willing to pay extra for a vehicle with a leather interior. So you’re rolling the dice.
So how about you – would you be willing to put up with all the negatives above in order to have a leather interior in your car? Let us know in the comments below.