Much has changed in the auto industry in the past decade, especially when it comes to technological advancements and safety. One thing that has not changed is the question of whether to go with leather seats or cloths seats.
Sure, leather upholstery costs more and is a little easier to clean than cloth, but cloth is easier to maintain over a long period and a lower price for the same car is certainly a good thing in the current market. Answering the question of leather versus cloth could be seemingly easy for some buyers, but there is quite a bit more to consider than many realize.
Just because leather car seats can bring up a vehicle’s resale value and comes with that special luxurious look that cloth upholstery lacks does not mean it is always better. Cloth has several advantages over its rival material. It always helps to know what you are buying and why, so we are going to help you explore the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Leather vs Cloth: Cost
The most obvious drawback of leather car seats compared to cloth is the additional cost they incur at the dealership. There are only a handful of new cars that come with a singular leather option. Most cars, trucks, and SUVs that feature leather seats are usually part of a package that also comes with other options.
Most new cars fall under one of three categories. Cheaper cars designed for economy and value like the Chevrolet Spark or Mitsubishi Mirage do not even have a leather option. Most average vehicles have leather upholstery as an option or as an added feature on higher trims. Luxury vehicles like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi often come standard with leather upholstery, even if the base model only features faux leather instead of top-grain leather.
Regardless of which cars feature leather seats, the initial cost will almost always be higher than that of a car with cloth seats. Leather can potentially come with thousands of dollars in additional costs, depending on the other options that come with a particular trim level and the quality of the leather.
Leather vs Cloth: Maintenance and Cleaning
Car seats can be a nightmare to keep clean, especially if you have children. Leather takes the trophy again, though, at least in the cleaning department. Leather car seats are less porous than cloth and fabric seats. This makes it easier for wiping up spills and vacuuming crumbs that will inevitably get all over your nice leather interior.
The script is flipped when it comes to maintenance, though. Every material within your car’s interior will degrade over time with use. With cloth seats, you can at least buy seat covers to try and protect your seat surfaces without really ruining any aesthetic value. Most car buyers will not want to put seat covers over their new leather seats unless they are specifically trying to get more for the car down the road.
In the battle between cloth and leather, the maintenance and cleaning winner is cloth. Even though the cloth is more likely to get stained, leather must really be maintained if you want to keep it in top shape for the duration of your ownership experience. It is easy to clean leather, but a special leather cleaner has to be used a few times a year to truly keep it healthy.
Leather vs Cloth: Climate
Car buyers in particularly hot or cold climates have a serious choice to make. Do you go with the nice leather interior and risk either burning your bare skin or sitting on a frozen seat? Do you choose the cloth car seats just for those extreme times of the year? The inconvenience of black leather vehicle interiors on hot summer days can actually be detrimental to your comfort, but they do look good when you are not dealing with direct sunlight.
Any vehicle interior has the potential to get incredibly hot during the summer, but cloth seats help you avoid the leather burns that many of us have experienced during hot weather. Cold weather is more manageable as the upholstery type does not make quite as big of a difference. Even though leather can make a car seat feel colder inside, many vehicles with leather seats also come with seat warmers.
Many car shoppers that deal with a hot climate will not buy a new car with leather upholstery for the sole reason that it can make the seats and interior incredibly hot. For those who do not have to constantly contend with the hot weather, it does not matter as much. Cloth ultimately comes out on top here.
Leather vs Cloth: Appeal
Leather is the obvious winner in the appeal category. Even if you have no desire to purchase a new or used car with leather upholstery, it is almost universally recognized as being a more luxurious option than cloth. Of course, this is in large part because of the additional cost, but overall look and feel also play into the equation.
Although cloth and fabric seats can be just as sporty and look as cool as some leather seats, hand-stitched leather in high-end luxury cars cannot be matched for overall appeal. Real leather seats usually do not come with some of the fun patterns, colors, and designs that can be had with cloth seats, but that is fine with most people who can afford real leather.
In addition to the higher general appeal that leather seats bring, cars that feature cloth seats also often feature fewer nicer interior surfaces. This is not always the case, but because cloth seats are usually on lower trim levels, there are more cost-saving measures used throughout the entire vehicle, thus lowering its general appeal in more places than just the seats.
It should be noted that a vehicle does not have to have leather upholstery to be appealing though. For as nice as leather is, there are many vehicles that do not lose appeal simply because they do not offer leather seating. The Honda Civic Si is one car that is known for having flashy and sporty cloth seats while maintaining both its appeal and resale value.
Leather vs Cloth: Resale Value
Speaking of resale value, leather upholstery in and of itself does not always guarantee higher values when selling or trading your used car. Well-maintained vehicle interiors as a whole can translate to several thousand more dollars at the dealership, but getting more for leather would depend on whether the surfaces are in good condition. Vehicles with top-grain leather that has been well-maintained can have a profound impact on resale value.
Buying a vehicle with leather upholstery simply for the sake of being able to sell the car for more is probably a bad idea since leather alone does not guarantee higher resale value. Fortunately, if you have a vehicle with leather upholstery, it also has other desirable features that can help bring the resale value higher.
The resale value category ends up in a draw since any leather interior has to be well-maintained in order to mean anything when it is time to sell. Features that often accompany leather seating like a moonroof, seat warmers, upgraded sounds systems, and additional safety features often add more overall value than the leather itself.
Leather vs Cloth: Comfort
The comfort category goes to leather, if only for perception. Both cloth and leather seats can be comfortable, but luxury vehicles are often associated with comfort, and most luxury vehicles feature some type of leather seating.
With this in mind, leather can be quite uncomfortable in direct sunlight and during the hot summer months when temperatures climb. Beyond the seats, leather upholstery can cause vehicle interiors to heat up quickly, making passengers wait until the air conditioning works hard enough to cool everything sufficiently.
Weather aside, the comfort factor can be much like the resale category. Leather seats themselves may not have that much to do with the overall comfort of any given vehicle. Chances are high that if you climb into a Toyota Camry with cloth seats, then sit in a BMW with leather seats, you will most likely say that the BMW is the more comfortable of the two. Preconceived notions of the BMW’s more luxurious look and feel can play into any buyer’s thoughts of comfort.
Leather vs Cloth: Miscellaneous Factors
Beyond the most popular considerations like comfort, cost, and maintenance, there are several other factors that could play a role in the cloth versus leather debate. Though they do not affect as big a population and may not even be factors for most people, they could be considered deal breakers to others.
For some people, the thought of animal cruelty, or even just the slaughtering of animals for the use of their skin is an automatic turn-off. Cows are not the only ones subject to the use of their skins. Sheep and goats are used for top-quality Nappa leather in some high-end luxury vehicles. Convictions can easily outweigh the benefits that a nice leather interior can provide for the right person.
If you or a family member has allergies, cloth seats can be your worst enemies. Unlike leather, they tend to trap and hold dust, dirt, pollen, pet dander, and other allergens. Depending on how you use your vehicle can affect this as well. Sometimes, a single commuter can work around the issue with just a few trips to the office and regular cleaning. A family full of kids or a dirty job site can attract allergens from many more places, exacerbating the issue.
Though not as big of a factor as other items, the amount of vehicles that feature leather interiors is smaller compared to those that offer cloth seats. In many regular vehicles, leather is offered on the middle to higher trim levels. They can certainly be found but finding a vehicle with leather and the right combination of desired features may prove difficult for some.
Of course, another factor in the cloth versus leather debate is personal preference. Some of the aforementioned factors play into personal preference, but car buyers often prefer one or the other for a variety of reasons. Some have no preference at all, and it only comes down to things like price and condition.
Nailing down whether leather or cloth seats are better can be hard. Taking a look at the biggest factors – cost, maintenance, cleaning, climate, and comfort – cloth seats probably take home the trophy at face value. But that does not mean leather has to take a back seat to cloth. Many people prefer the luxurious look, smell, and feel of real leather, and the additional cost is worth it to them.
Others prefer a leather interior, but things like allergens and children prevent them from pulling the trigger on a car with leather seats. Some do not care either way. Whatever your preferences are, it is important to understand the pros and cons of each material so that you can make the best decision for yourself.