Leather vs Leatherette – What would you choose?

Car Tips | February 4th, 2009 by 76
leather1 Leather vs Leatherette   What would you choose?

How many of you have been facing this decision: leather vs leatherette in your BMW.  I have always been debating between the two options, or …

How many of you have been facing this decision: leather vs leatherette in your BMW.  I have always been debating between the two options, or most recently, cloth. Each time, I ended up choosing leatherette before leather due to several factors: cheaper, I was leasing the car for two or three years and last, my significant other, is against leather products.

But before we go into the pros and cons of the two interior options, I want to let you know that we will not turn this conversation into an ethical one and an animal welfare topic. I completely understand everyone’s point of view, but this article is not about that.

leather1 498x331 Leather vs Leatherette   What would you choose?



  • a higher resale value for your car
  • it “breathes” better
  • it becomes softer as time goes by
  • it’s a clear indication of luxury in a car
  • a unique smell, pleasant for many
  • more color options and types of leather


  • more expensive
  • wears out faster
  • the maintenance on it is costly and time consuming
  • not the best choice if you own a pet
  • it scratches easier
  • it cracks faster
  • it feels colder in the winter

leatherette11 498x486 Leather vs Leatherette   What would you choose?



  • cheaper
  • almost same look as leather
  • wears better and can be kept in perfect shape for many years
  • easier to clean and maintain, wiping it down with water it’s enough sometimes
  • no need to worry about resale value, only if you’re leasing the car
  • pets friendly, not easy to scratch or crack
  • BMW’s leatherette is one of the best out there


  • it doesn’t feel as good as leather
  • in the heat of summer, it feels somewhat rubbery and sticky
  • no resale value
  • considered a downgrade by many luxury cars consumers

Anything else that I have missed? What did you order and why?

  • [;

    In Europe there is only leather (;

    • Ruff

      It’s not true. You can also buy letherette on some markets.

    • dory

      Hi, not correct.. I have owned new bmw’s in norway and spain, and both were ordered with leatherette.

  • jkp

    ^ False. Europeans have a fabric upholstery option.

  • The Lee

    Is your significant other a Vegan, Horatiu?

    Count my vote to leather and leather only. I don’t want plastic seats in my BMW, regardless of how “leatheresque” it is. I don’t want cloth seats in my BMW either. It’s a BMW, not a Volkswagen. I want to park my ass on some dead cow.

    • jnoonan

      I am about to buy a car with Leatherette seats….but I love this post. I am buying a VW, not a BMW. In that case I would expect my ass to be parked on dead cow too!

      • bob

        Hey me too. im planning to get a vw passat. however i’m not so keen on what it feels like. i have a car that has real leather. also is this leatherette like pleather? or artificial leather? well one chair i had had fake leather and i thought it was real but it wasnt lol
        also i think leatherette is for people who care about cows, BUT WHO CARES IF U KILL THEM IN MINECRAFT

    • Ashish Maheshwari

      wait till you see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om3Ydic1o6U&feature=youtu.be

      i eat non-veg but that’s only killing animals which is fine (animals kill animals too) but we are talking about SKINNING ALIVE which is TORTURE :|

  • Gragop

    If I move to an E90, I’m considering leatherette as I want to get a dog once tax season is over…but I do agree that it kills resale and doesn’t feel the same.

  • The Lee


    Dude, just get a seat cover or something. Don’t get the plastic seats. My dad just picked up a Touareg with VW’s “Vtex” pleather. It’s horrible stuff. Has the look, smell and feel of a pool float.

    • Chauz

      What is pool float? Human Waste?

  • txdesign

    I choose leather in my 1-series because I wanted Coral Red. Would have preferred the euro fabric/leather combo, however because fabric is so much nicer in hot climates. I miss the fabric seats in my 03 Cooper S.

    • Eoimorgan

      leatherette is better

  • B-

    The last two cars I traded in (MINI), (VW Passat) had leatherette and on both options lists for the appraisal leather was written down by the person looking it over. Most people will not be able to tell the difference unless they have one. My E90 has just about every option except leather mainly because of the wear factor. My dog would just scratch it all up. And at the end of the day I just wipe it down and done.

  • Matski

    I once had a car with Denim trimmed seats. Seriously the front seats, the rear seat, all Denim – I’d take Leather or Leatherette over that! It was a Peugeot 106! After that I had an E28 5er with Cloth – they were soooo comfy. The E24’s got leather, the drivers seat is a bit ef’d, but the rear seats are mint and do look great!

    Leather’s over-rated in my opinion, I would’t wear leather trousers, so I’m not sure why I’d want leather seats in my car… having said that leatherex is horrible on hot sticky days…. dunno… leather I guess, for re-sale.

  • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

    @The Lee: yes she is

  • Gragop

    @Horatiu B.:

    Good luck, man. I know that’s a tough road to walk, one of my ex’s has a sister who’s Vegan and it was hard to go anywhere for dinner when we would hang out with her.

  • The Lee

    @Horatiu B.:
    I respect that she’s at least following her morals to the letter, unlike a lot of “vegetarians” who seem to just be doing it to fit in with their friends.

    At the same time, that kinda sucks. No leather shoes, no leather wallets, no duck breast (mmmmmm), no steak, no Jello…

    • Soutwin

      Dude my girl in into leather ,and I mean totally ,sheets ,bondage and all .I mean totally stain resistance …go for it man ……

  • Gragop

    Can someone tell me what the arm rest in the E46 coupe/sedan is? Because my seats are in good shape(I condition and clean them once a year) but my damn arm rest wore out within the first year and a half of ownership. The area just where my elbow seems to rest is worn down and the gray of the “leather” loods faded and cracked.

  • BMW Sales

    I had leatherette in my e46, and leather in my e90 and e70…to me, leather is the only way to go if you like to spoil yourself. BMW’s leather is top grade and I think its the finest on the market of premium autos. Leatherette is perfectly fine if you’re trying to reduce price or payment. Nobody ever even noticed that my e46 wasn’t true, genuine leather.

  • Gragop

    @BMW Sales: So BMW also apparently has the best Leatherette on the market too?

  • harma41

    Leatherette all the way! No one has ever been able to tell the difference when riding in my car. Feels good, less death.

  • The Lee


    No, it’s the same amount of death. You’re just lowering the demand for a certain byproduct of the beef industry, which helps to keep leather costs down for the rest of us that prefer everything be draped with dead cow skin.

  • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

    Ok guys, I said no discussions off topic, no talk about animals or anything. It’s a touchy subject and it’s not the main topic here

  • Doug

    Because leather wears more and absorbs liquids, smells, etc, I think it generally depreciates the car faster unless you take absolutely meticulous care of it. The pleather feels *pretty* good, and there are different grades and of it (down to outright vinyl). Pleather would be ideal for me if only it breathed better; car makers really need to ventilate their seats (heated seats without the heat).

    Horatiu, do you break down and have ruth chris binges occasionally? I know I would.

  • Gragop


    I love the perforated seats on mom’s E60 and our old E65, felt great and breathed much better. It seemed like they didn’t show wear and tear as much as non-perforated/ventilated seats either.

  • The Lee

    @Horatiu B.:
    I completely missed that part of the post. My apologies, Horatiu.

  • [;

    >^ False. Europeans have a fabric upholstery option.

    Of course there is a upholstery option but isn’t Leatherette. In Poland f.e. BMW without leather isn’t true BMW ;) and I think it is ok thinking. I love leather in E39…. (i havent E60 ;p)

  • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

    @The Lee: No worries, I just want us to stay on track here cause otherwise….I know where the discussion will go..:) been there

  • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

    Here is what I like about my leatherette: I can put my 85lbs dog on it and nothing will happen to it, no scratches, not much wear and tear. But, I do miss sometimes the leather feel, a little softer, especially if you drive long distances.

    But leather it’s a pain to maintain, I remember spending money on all those “special” solutions and it would still crack.

  • Gragop

    @Horatiu B.: Do you have leather in your E90 or the X3?

  • Doug

    Gragop: does it actually ventilate the seats through the perforations? With a fan I mean.

  • Gragop


    Our E65 had the actual ventilated seats which is a very nice feature(the massage feature rubbed your ass and legs and that just felt awkward) but my ex’s mom’s E65 didn’t have it and it makes a big difference in terms of comfort, especially during more extreme climate changes like Summer and Winter. The massage function was only nice for long car trips where you didn’t get out of the car much and your legs needed circulation.

    Mom’s E60 just has the leather seats – which I believe have perforated leather, I could be completely wrong on that because it’s been a while since I’ve riden in her car but I know that the leather feels much more supple and comfortable in her car over my E46.

  • Ezh

    I’d prefer the velvet (do not know how it is right in English) or alcantara.

  • Gil

    I’m not picky on that, as long as it has heated seats, I’m good.

  • http://www.iggyswebsite.com Ignace

    Are leather / leatherette the only options in the US ?
    In Europe, we don’t have the leatherette,
    but a choice of – fabric, – fabric / alcantara (f.e. sport seats),
    – alcantara / leather, and leather in different qualities.
    The “basic” leather for example for E90 is “Dakota” leather,
    more expensive is the “Walknappa” leather.
    Next to these 2 list choices, there is BMW Individual leather, called “Merino”.

  • Gragop


    I know BMW grants US customers some “Priority 1″ options in the US for certain leather colors on the 3 Series but we don’t get higher quality leather without upgrading to an M car or higher Series.

    That said, we only get Leather and Leatherette, though on the E46 Performance Package the base trim with the package was cloth inserts in the seats trimmed with alcantra around the seats. So, the US has had cloth seats recently(within last 5 years) but typically you don’t find a whole lot of E46’s with that option.

  • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

    @Gragop: Both have leatherette.

  • anthony

    Anything beats the cracked worn out uncomfortable heat scarred leather in my e36 convertible

    But if and when I order a BMW brand new, it will have leather. Not a question or so much as a second doubt in my mind. Besides, my BMW isnt going to be used for hauling pets around anyways. Thats why they have beater cars like civics.

  • DKS

    I have a BMW with each, hubby has leather, and I have plastic. I’m kinda messy so the leatherette is great. I don’t like cloth since it wears harder plus captures a load of pet fur. EVERYONE thinks the leatherette is real leather and they look at me weird when I mention it’s fake.

    Plus, I don’t like the look of leather after it is many many years old and it becomes shiny and hard. The only way I’d go with leather is if I wanted one of the unique colors like the brown or red not offered in plastic.

    May be weird, but I use the BMW leather cleaner on it–it keeps that plastic very nice and cleans it especially well. Not sure if it hurts, but so far it looks nice and clean like the day I bought the car.

  • DKS

    …in addition, I’m currently looking at other brand vehicle options and wonder why they don’t offer leatherette, I love it so much. I don’t want a cloth that stains, wears, catches fur etc. I don’t want to get anything other than a BMW, but financially it may have to come to that.

  • Mike

    Leatherette is a complete joke. Feels like vinyl.

  • rick

    Well I got the leatherette in my new 3 series I have to say I wish I had gotten leather it makes me sweat not good. I had to put a towel down towel down to sit on the seats. And the leatherette is really not as comfy as leather. It does do well with pets just wipe it down if it gets dirty LOL

  • Wain

    I live in Southern Cali so lather is out of the questions, here summer days reach the 100 mark, leather is a back killer. Some claim resale value how about driving the thing for 5 years or more pure back punishment, only my opinion but i think leather wears out too fast, just look at a 5 year old bimmer, leather looks ugly most of the time. one really must pamper that leather if you really want it looking good. bottom line leather is pure punishment on your back. If i lived in places like Washington State then i will consider heated leather seats.

  • Noel

    The wife’s new Jetta came with leatherette i asked for her imput she said she like’s it better, we took a long trip in the Jetta it felt very comfy this is the first one we get with the stuff so we’ll report back in 150K miles. leather wears out too soon especially in Japanese cars. By the way we know people who own Japanese cars with leather seats those people had ripped seats at the seams at about 30K miles the manufactures did not take any responsibility to correct the problem. Germans seem to be way better at it they been using leather on their seats far longer than Japs. I cannot comment on American made cars their leather seats seem more plastic than genuine leather.

  • MiMi

    What do you think about redwood lounge leather seats in a CooperS? Those are the pleated leather seats with piping. I’m thinking about resale here.

  • MiMi

    (Redwood lounge leather is like a deep Sienna red, not chili red, trimmed in black piping)

  • http://www.cashboxhosting.com dctommy

    I think having leather can actually downgrade your resale value. If you have ever gotten into a used luxury car it feels like someone else has totally USED it. Because the leather absorbs their sweat, smells and presence. The paint on the surface of the leather is usually cracked and it gives off the feeling of a Salvation Army special. So you totally lose that fall-in-love curb appeal factor for resale.

    Where as.. if you have something a bit more neutral and sterile like PLASTIC or quality cloth. It feels NEWER. So I think you would have more demand for resale purposes over the long-run.

  • Jimeee

    Leatherette for me. My leather seats now look completely battered partly thanks to my dog but also taking myself and team members to and fro weekend rugby matches. When the cars going to be used and abused like mine then leather is just not the option. If I come to sell it then the seats will have to be changed and at too big a cost to make the sale worth it for me.
    And to be honest, I don’t see much a difference in real leather and leatherette anyway.

  • John

    Can you order an M3 or M5 with leatherette? The option’s not available on the BMW USA “Build Your Own” pages.


  • Rita in Colorado

    Absolutely, hands down, I would choose Leatherette every time if the option was there. I had it in my Land Rover and just loved it… I needed to replace the LR last year and was so annoyed that nobody else (some BMW and LR aside) had Leatherette. It kept me from making a car purchase for months. I hate cloth (dog hair impossible to remove!) and love the look of leather. Leatherette in my LR was perfect, nobody (seriously) had any clue it was anything but leather. The one who did know? The cow who didn’t die for me! Torturing a beautiful creature just to sit my butt down on something seems so counterintuitive. Unfortunately I ended up getting a used car w/ leather (grrr) and already the seats are getting mushy and losing their spring. Leather is old-school, 70s styling and the sooner as a culture we move to Leatherette, the better. I actually think I may got BMW next time just to get the Leatherette.

  • Doug

    Would the skins be less objectionable if they were still attached to live animals? I could be down with a nest of marmots or bald kittens.

    (facetious, not sarcastic)

    I was appalled when I tried the leatherette… it was like tough vinyl – which I think it is, but they could have done much better making it feel like leather. Or even perforated some holes in it to breathe through.

  • Peedlum

    Last 3 cars I owned had leather and were all convertibles. This time I had to downgrade to a 1 series to save some money and got leatherette. Couple of points I’d make:

    1. The leather on my last car (2007 335) had that special cooler in the sun feature which actually worked and the seats stayed cool even in the summer. In my precious cars the leather would get very hot when it got past about 85 degrees.
    2. My fiancé is very pale and always wears a ton of sunscreen. Because the leather is porous, it’s very hard to get the sunscreen stains off. However, I just cleaned off the leatherette in my new car with an APC and it came right off.
    3. I live in LA, which is a very sooty city. Soot seems to infiltrate the leather somehow and is also almost impossible to get out.
    4. Leatherette does feel hot in the summer sun, but I haven’t noticed anything gummy.
    5. The look, as far as I’m concerned, is identical when new. However, it won’t wear in like leather does. It will always look likeable new surface. Personally, I like the look of a worn in leather.

    I don’t know that either would be a dealbreaker for me, but in the long run I imagine the leatherette will be easier to maintain but will never look quite as nice as a worn in leather.

  • Brett Su

    Audi doesnt even offer leatherette ;) IT’S ALL LEATHER. thats right, cause Audi’s are better!

  • R

    Didn’t know until visiting this page that BMW offered cloth seats outside the US. With the heat in Southern California, I’d greatly prefer cloth over the other options. Maybe I can get BMW USA to let a cloth seat 2011 X3 stay in the states.

  • Lissenup

    Everybody that says they want leather because it breathes is WRONG.. The only leather that breathes is the best, full grain leather, and MOST car leather is not full grain. Leather in my cars looks like crap after 5 years and doesn’t help your resale after 3 yrs. If you pay a premium for the leather, you will never get back that premium, so the resale value argument is moot.

    Leather in cars doesn’t breathe because it isn’t full grain and is dyed with dye that coats and fills the pores to make it look more perfect. How do you tell? If your new leather is perfect looking, it is most probably top grain, the cheap stuff. Try to scratch it with your fingernail, did it change or scratch?

    If you want breatheable leather, you have choices of Rolls, Bentley, and Aston Martin’s custom Connally hides, and the King Ranch Ford Truck (beautiful new, but not so much in 3 yrs when it shows every sweat and oil stain as a good full grain leather should) and perforated leather on a car seat, and it just wicks your sweat into the seat foam. Think about that when you are wearing sweat shorts, FOR 4 YEARS. I don’t want my car seats wicking my sweat to breathe, and then having my car smell like 4+ yr old sweat shorts.

    BMW leatherette RULES, except in convertibles in Texas in July. Then you better have some sheepskins on the seats or you will curse every seat not made from cloth. The leatherette looks great new, and 4-10 yrs looks good still unless you park outside every day in that said Texas heat which will initiate every plastic piece and seat in the car to fade, crack, dry out and fail.

    After you spend your 50+large on your beamer, you want that smell and the bragging rights of leather, but after 5 +yrs when your car is worth half, your kids, dog and briefcase have scratched the seats, and your bolsters look like you live getting in and out with sandpaper on your hip, then tell me your seats look better than BMW’s excellent leatherette.

    Did you know you can buy new leather smell in car smell sprays? hmmmmm

  • Jsb

    I’ll be the odd ball here. After living in Europe for 16 years and having the option of ordering a car exactly how I wanted it; with what options I wanted and not having to choose a package to get one item, I am REALLY disenchanted with BMW, Mercedes and Audi in the USA. I want rear parking sensors but have to get the full nav system.  I want cloth interior but can only get leather (in Audi while Mercedes and BMW has leatherette – yuck!).  The steering wheel is leather and the shift knob is leather and there’s real wood wrapping the dash but my ass is suppose to be parked in vinyl?  No way!  I’m still trying to decide which of the German’s I’ll pick but it’s tough.  I don’t want any markings but they come that way. I want yellow rear blinkers and only Mercedes has them (that’s strange to me why they change them for the US market).

    Ok, vent over.

  • Dan

    I don’t mind leatherette…actually the way it wears, I prefer it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rachelsings4u Rachel Merling

    I recently found out that my BMW 325ci Convertible has leatherette.  I’ve only owned it for a couple months & thought I had leather this whole time.  Well, my 2004 looks amazing.  Really looks like brand new, not a scratch or worn spot on my interior.  I didn’t understand why I would see others that looked so worn on the seats & be 2 years newer than mine.  Mine looks great, you would never guess by the interior alone its a 2004.  However, I live in Missouri.  Can we say “HUMID!”  I noticed I rarely enjoy having the top down once it gets 85 degrees or hotter out.  I feel sticky & like I’m sticking to my seats.  Gross.  So, leatherette looks great, feels…..bad.  I’m picking my X3 tomorrow, it has Montana leather.  It will be my winter car.  After reading about the 2 battling it out.  I wish I could swap the 2 interiors.  I think the leather would be nicer in the convertible & the leatherette in the SUV.  It really is a toss up.  Love that leather smell & feel.  Hate that it wears quicker & is not as durable.  Love the leatherette for looking brand new years later.  Hate the non breathable, sticky factor.           

  • Scooter

    OK I am vegan also, and I want Leatherette seats, but I can only afford a used BMW, like in the 2000 to 2003 range, how do I know I am getting leatherette and not leather? Every car listed claims leather regardless of what it actually is.

  • Dave F

    I know this is for bmw’s but my friend and I have audis and we always argue who’s seats are better. I have real leather and he has leatherette. personally i like the leather better and its not that bad to take care of. but our cars are about the same age and his driver’s seat looks a bit better than mine, except his has a huge tear in it from a fat dude sitting in it. hahaha.

  • Osity

    How about: leather is super hot and burns you in the summer
    Once he leather cracks, and it will, it does not feel nice.

  • http://www.colorgloaustin.com/ leather repair Austin

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  • http://www.latest-cars-in-the-world.blogspot.com/ Rajeshsharma7777

    I think it depends on individual taste and perception.

  • Dog guy

    Who the hell bases a car value based on leather seats? What a shallow, pea brained mindset.

  • Fred Majoor

    Where can I buy Ivory leather (BMW 6 convertible 2011) to repair my seat or what is the best dye? Fred.majoor@suriyana.com

  • LeatheretteJess

    I’ve recently purchased a 2012 VW w/ leatherette seats and I have two words. LOVE IT. I think it’s an appropriate time to apply the old adage of “Once you go leatherette you never go back”. If anyone has anything bad to say about leatherette, then fuck you.

  • JJ

    Ditch the foriegn cars and buy American. Why was America great because we built it all and Americans supported it all. Now everything is built “offshore” and we still wonder why our economy tanked????

  • Chris

    leatherette is nothing but sticky, hot, sweaty plastic

  • tropipalms


  • Go with Leather

    I went with beige leatherette- thinking that it was almost the same but a much better value (and who could tell right?) I got my car in November, and have loved it until it started to get hot. It hasn’t even hit 80 outside and the leatherette is already sticking to my back and causing me to sweat. If this isn’t a concern for you- then go for it, but, if you don’t want a sweaty lower back sticking to your seat or sweat stains stick with the leather. I had black leather in my previous car, which did get very hot in the sun, but even with my leatherette being beige the black leather was much more comfortable.

  • sun

    hi – i have a 2012 X3 with SYNTHETIC and the driver’s seat is already splitting on the lower left bolster … BMW is replacing the fabric … but WOW. 33,000 miles and the fabric is splitting? hopefully this is an exception to the norm and not the rule. all other things said, the synthetic is better. holds the driver better, feels better, and isn’t the skin of suffering.

  • oj simpqon

    I own a VW, leatherette. I came across this article because I was looking into what the difference is. The only difference I see is that the leather in a friend’s 2012 A4 seems to be “poofing up” directly into the seat, sort of like at the toe of a leather shoe. I get complimented on my seats because they’re in virtually perfect condition, my car is an ’08. It does feel a sticky in the summer now that I have read that, but I never noticed it before. I’d get it again in a heartbeat!