CARS.COM — Car upholstery can come in several different types, ranging from basic cloth and fabric to various types of leather in luxury vehicles. We are going to cover the differences between two of them: leather and leatherette. Now, don't let the fact that they both have "leather" in the name fool you — there are some big differences between the fabrics, and each comes with a unique set of pros and cons that might make more sense for different buyers.
Related: See the Latest in New-Car Trends
First, what is leatherette? It's a synthetic surface, usually made of vinyl or a type of plastic that is meant to simulate the look and feel of leather. Leather, of course, is the real deal: It comes from a cow. One thing to watch out for is that Alcantara, which is becoming more and more popular as an upholstery in luxury vehicles, isn't leather at all. It's a type of ultrasuede made out of polyester, which means it's synthetic, just like leatherette.
Both materials have various pros and cons attached to them. Good-quality leather feels softer and is more pliant (read: more comfortable), and it should have a pleasant aroma in your auto. But real leather will absorb dirt and spills, which means it can stain and become discolored more easily. Leather is also easier to scratch, so it’s not a good choice for your vehicle interior if you carry a dog or cat in your car unless you have something to cover up the interior to protect it. Leather may be the finest upholstery, but it requires the most care and upkeep.
Leatherette has gotten much better in modern cars, so much so that it can be hard to tell the difference between it and real leather. Since leatherette is made of vinyl (which is plastic-based), it isn't porous, and food or liquid that is spilled onto it can be wiped off easily. This makes leatherette generally easier to keep clean than leather and it won't require as many specialized cleaning supplies to keep it looking new. For those with kids who are more prone to spill on the seats, leatherette might be a better option for those seeking a luxury look along with easier cleaning and maintenance.
What are the cons? Leatherette upholstery doesn’t “breathe” like the real stuff, so it gets hotter during warm weather and is “stickier,” especially when you perspire. If you do opt for leatherette in your vehicle, ventilated seats might be an option worth considering for those who live in warmer climates.
There is a large cost difference between the two materials, as well. Opting for leather seats in your interior can cost up to thousands of dollars more than leatherette. But leather upholstery does add to the resale value of a car if it's well-maintained, and many buyers of luxury vehicles consider leather a must-have feature.
Cars.com's Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com's long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don't accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com's advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.