Without looking at a new-vehicle sticker, do you think you could tell if a given car’s interior – even a costly luxury model – is upholstered in genuine leather or a faux alternative? Maybe not, according to a recent study on seat satisfaction conducted by the market research firm J.D. Power.
Faux leather has gotten so realistic in recent years it’s become standard in many entry-level luxury cars, where it easily passes for the real thing. It’s also used to make some mid-priced models’ interiors seem far more upscale when used to cover dashboards and door panels, especially when it’s also given a hand-stitched look.
Among owners of one (unnamed) premium car line in the study, 94 percent of those queried indicated their cars were slathered in leather, when in fact about 13 percent of them were later determined to drive a model having leatherette seating.
The line between the two is blurred even further among those driving mainstream midsize cars, where leather and leatherette are often offered on varying trim levels or as options. In that class, 79 percent of owners in another unidentified model line saying their rides were fitted with leather seats, though 41 percent of them were actually trimmed in a synthetic substitute.
“It’s really a compliment to the suppliers that they can produce a synthetic material that customers indicate looks and feels so much like leather that they often times cannot tell the difference, despite automakers marketing the leatherette as a synthetic leather-like material,” says Brent Gruber, director of the global automotive division at J.D. Power. “And it’s not just the look and feel that makes it difficult for owners to differentiate between the two: the quality and durability are also very similar.”
Think that’s hokum? Take a look at a base-model Mercedes-Benz C300 on a dealer’s lot some time and you’ll be amazed how much the automaker’s “MB-Tex” leatherette used on the dashboard, doors, and seats is nicer looking and richer feeling than most cars’ genuine leather upholstery.