Artico, Alcantara or recycled bottles: what material is your car seat made of?

The choice of car seat materials is now broader than ever: some of them may even surprise you. Here’s everything you should know

Gavin Conway
Oct 6, 2021

After making the tough decision of what colour you want your new car to be, it’s worth putting yet more real thought into an area where you’ll really feel the benefit: your car’s seats.

On many modern cars, you will have the options to heat and cool your seats or even have a massage. Along with these options is an increasing variety of fabrics with which to upholster your seats.

As well as more traditional cloth and leather, there are now a number of other fabrics that provide an alternative to those who do not want to sit on animal hides, catering for the increasing demand for vegan-friendly cars. Even vinyl, which is typically associated with much older cars, is making something of a comeback.

See the options available below in our guide to the seat materials on offer and why they might - or might not - be right for you. If you know what you're looking for, then use the links below to jump to the right section.

Car seat materials

Leather seats

As well as upholstering seats in cow hide, many higher-end cars slather leather across the dashboard and doors for a softer and more opulent finish than plastic.

But all leather is not equal. Standard leather, which may be known as grained leather, may have been buffed and stamped to improve their appearance and feel. In addition, some parts of leather seats may be made up of artificial - or faux - leather. The material is normally hard-wearing, but doesn't have the same luxury feel of higher-grades - such as Nappa leather.

King of leathers: what is Nappa leather?

Nappa leather is a very high quality upholstery. It’s often referred to as a full grain leather, which means it hasn’t been buffed or otherwise altered and treated to remove defects and faults with the leather. It's soft but durable, and has an expensive feel.

Often, herds of cows used for Nappa leather will be raised in areas without barbed wire to protect against scarring. It’s inherently a tough leather that ages well, without looking shabby. It's known as Windsor Leather in Jaguar and Land Rover models.

Leather seats: the good

✔ Durable
✔ Soft and luxurious
✔ Wipe clean

Leather seats: the bad

 Expensive
Hot in the summer/cold in the winter
Requires treatment

Artificial leather seats

It may look like a decent imitation of leather, but artificial or faux-leather seats are made from vinyl. Modern processes (and in-car air-conditioning) means that the seats don't stick to the back of your legs, as they did in the past, but there is a slight plasticky feel that's obvious when you compare them diectly with genuine leather.

Luxury car makers say that an increasing number of customers are specifying fake leather because they are vegan, or have concerns about animal welfare and the environmental impact of the material. It's offered under various names: BMW's fake leather is called SensaTec, Lexus has NuLuxe and Land Rover uses Luxtec. The best-known brand is Artico, which is used with enthusiasm by Mercedes across much of its range. 

What is Artico Leather?

Mercedes might describe the material as 'Artico' leather; as well as being more acceptable to vegans, it also appeals because of its price. If you order real leather for your new Mercedes C-Class, for example, Mercedes will charge £795. Artico is a no-cost option.

As with other man-made leather materials, it's made to look and feel as much like the real thing as possible. Mercedes is successful: the days of horrible, shiny, hard vinyls are long gone for most mainstream car makers. But while these materials look convincing and cost much less than the genuine article, they don’t quite deliver the tactile quality of real, high-quality leather. Nor do they possess the enjoyable and distinctive smell.

Artificial leather seats: the good

✔  Cheaper than genuine leather
✔  Hard to tell the difference unless you're looking carefully
✔  No animals harmed in its production

Artificial leather seats: the bad

Slightly plasticky feel
Stickier than cloth or leather when hot
No leather smell 

Alcantara and Suedecloth seats

These materials have the luxury feel of suede but without that material's tendency to wear down quickly and pick up stains from spillages. The plush look and soft finish of alcantara and suedecloth is most commonly found in more expensive vehicles - even the cockpit of some Formula One cars. This association with priciness is why car manufacturers generally keep quiet about what the material is actually made of: plastic.

It's sometimes combined with other materials to produce alternative fabrics; you can order a wool and suedecloth blend in the Range Rover Velar

What is Alcantara?

The first thing to know about Alcantara is that no cows are harmed during its manufacture, even though it has a very similar feel and look to suede, which is a leather product. Alcantara is a microfibre material made of polyester and polyurethane, which is claimed to give it the sort of durability and stain resistance that real suede could never hope to match. It's often combined with leather trim, as in the image above.

Suedecloth is the name used for the material by Land Rover. The company says that it's made from recycled plastic bottles, making it greener than other fabrics.

Alcantara: the good

✔  Expensive and luxurious appearance
✔  Comfortable and soft
✔  Stain- and wear-resistant

Alcantara: the bad

Short fibres trap threads, so it can be an effort to keep clean
Not a natural product
More expensive than cloth

Alternative fabric seats

Alternative fabrics are meant to be an alternative to leather, providing a similarly luxurious finish but without involving animal hides. Land Rover has begun offering what it calls Premium textile, which is a blend of wool and polyester. It feels soft and plush, and is claimed to be stain-resistant and hard-wearing.

The material is used along with panels of suedecloth but isn't a budget option, costing more than even the premium Windsor leather seats in the Range Rover Velar.

Alternative fabic: the good

✔  Does not use animal hides
✔  Does not heat up and cool down like leather
✔  Greater variety of patterns are possible

Alternative fabric: the bad

Expensive option
Untested durability claims
Price may not be reflected in used car values

Cloth seats 

Modern seat fabrics have been engineered for durability, improved stain resistance and prevention of stretching over the years. They also won't burn your legs on a hot day, or make it feel like you're sitting on a block of ice in winter, as leather can.

There are large numbers of older Mercedes E-Class cars, for example, with cloth interiors that still look fresh. Cloth interiors also give more scope for interesting styling touches – in recent years Volkswagen revived its tartan interior for its Golf GTI (above), which for many is much more appealing than plain old cream or black leather. The other big advantage is price: cloth is generally the cheapest seat fabric option.

Cloth seats: the good

✔  Usually the cheapest seat fabric
✔  Versatility makes it easy to introduce new patterns
✔  Some cloth coverings are washable

Cloth seats: the bad

Picks up stains and odours
Budget feel
More likely to generate static 

 

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