By on October 18, 2012

A Kia Sportage owner in the UK was in for a surprise after he found out that the “full leather” interior in his Kia Sportage was actually “…mainly plastic or vinyl.”

Dr Chris Castelli notified AutoExpress after a look at the car’s spec sheet revealed an added asterisk that wasn’t present at the time of Castelli’s purchase. The asterisk denotes “Some parts of the leather upholstery contain faux leather.”

AutoExpress contacted Kia regarding the matter, and a company rep said that the term “full leather” was intended to distinguish the interior from “partial leather”, which contains leather and cloth. Kia denied that there was any attempt to mislead customers and will discontinue use of the phrase, but did not offer compensation to owners.

Speaking to AutoExpress, Castelli remarked

“We all feel like we’ve been misled. The original brochure described ‘luxurious full leather’, but when you actually ask Kia about this, it turns out there’s actually very little leather used.

And now the million dollar question; is anything like this happening on our side of the pond? Everyone go to your cars, run your hand over the cowhide seat covers and see if it feels like an “ette” should be added to your “leather” upholstery.

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53 Comments on “Kia Peddles “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Leather” In UK-Market Sportage...”

  • avatar

    Don’t they usually say “leather faced” or “leather seating areas” only? That sure is misleading. Shame on KIA.

  • avatar
    A A

    Oh, absolutely. I really question how much actual leather is in our 2012 Sportage EX. The worst offender is the steering wheel. It is constantly flaking and peeling at the touch points. Real leather it certainly is not.

    • 0 avatar

      It could be real leather. There’s different grades of leather, and each has it’s pro’s and con’s, with the con’s mostly being cost.

      From my understanding, semi-aniline full grain leather has the most desired characteristics for automotive interiors. Aniline leathers are too fragile to handle the wear and tear, while corrected grain tend to be surface dyed only, and are ruined by deep scratches.

      And then there’s sperm whale foreskin…

      • 0 avatar

        Are we talking the leather found in SAABs and Volvo’s…with the super big grain and great scent? I’ve always felt that it was great leather, but I don’t have the expertise to tell if it really is.

    • 0 avatar

      If it is constantly flaking and peeling I can actually guarantee you that it IS real leather.

      I had an e36 a long time ago with the pleather. And I can tell you that the only durable thing about that car was the pleather.

      I would see BMWs of the same age with leather and the interiors looked like absolute garbage.

      I prefer cloth, but honestly if I was going to buy a German car right now (luckily there are cars like the Genesis Coupe, FR-S, etc., so I don’t have to) I would not pay extra for the leather. The plether/MB-tex/whatever Audi calls it is a more durable material that breathes as well, if not better than leather (obviously not as well as cloth).

      • 0 avatar

        Yep. My Mini came with leatherette, after two years of use and coffee spills they looked brand new, and most people who rode in the car assumed they were leather. Supposedly they get hotter than leather, but for those of us in mild climates that’s not a big deal. I’ll take leatherette any day.

      • 0 avatar

        “and most people who rode in the car assumed they were leather”

        Yeah, people would sit it my e36 and tell me how much nicer the BMW leather was than the leather in other cars they’ve been in. That’s both how good pleather can be and how bad the real leather is in most mainstream cars.

  • avatar

    When my mother test drove a 2012 sportage, at a Kia dealer in North Carolina, the salesman told her off the bat that it was not real leather.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately I have partial partial leather (no typo). The seats are a combination of faux leather (50% of the surface, rear, outer sides, bottom), faux suede (Alcantara) for seating areas (40%), and real cowhide only for the inner part of the bolsters (like 10%). I think the wheel took more leather than one seat… And this leather is visibly corrected-grain, so much that the faux leather looks better than the real one.
    And this is far from a new trend in Europe. I remember reading an article a long time ago (2001-2002) about the causes of this: Renault blamed an increase in prices and drop in availability of cow skins during the mad cow era, and started using leatherette a lot more than previously, of course without changing the price of the option. They never went back. You can find a few articles in French about the subject.

  • avatar

    Afaik. It is common practice in automobile country to use only leather (cow hide) on the contact areas of the seats plus steering wheel and shifter.
    The rest is chicken leather, exept when you bought yourself a Rolls Royce or something like that.

  • avatar

    I’ve got gen-yu-wine leather on the steering wheel of one of our vehicles. It’s so thin, tightly stretched and slippery that I’ve had to wrap it in vinyl. Leather is not big in my life.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    In the 2009 Audi A4 (I no longer have), they were quite clear that the leather for the seats was only on the so-called “seating areas”. Fine, except for one problem. The leather that Audi uses is so hard and lacking in any real leather character, that I could never be sure where the leather ended and the vinyl began. Since then, I solved that problem by getting a Golf TDI with cloth seats. They’re warmer in winter and less sweaty in summer, and always hold you firmly in place. And it’s pretty attractive fabric at that. Maybe those velour seats in awful colors from Detroit and Japan are what caused the leather craze. Reminds me of granite countertops in kitchens, much of which is contractor grade and hideous, but the latest home decorating cliche nevertheless).

  • avatar

    This reminds me of the time when Ford was taking Volvo keys, putting leather around them and supplying them to Aston Martin.

    All the same, the owner in question should thank his lucky stars. Black leather in particular (which is the most common color on the latest Sportage) looks horrible after five or so years of wear, compared to vinyl outfits. If I was going to order a new Mercedes-Benz, for example, I’d specify MBTex, even if it is stickier…

  • avatar

    I’ve been to the the auto show with a girl with a B.A. in fashion design with a deep knowledge of textiles, and another girl with a B.A. in Fibers who works with leather regularly. At the sight of most cars’ “leather” interiors, they turned their noses up; the stuff is so over-processed it hardly matters whether it’s real or not. The few instances where they were impressed with the leather were in high-end cars like the LS, 7-Series, and XJL – all six-figure affairs.

  • avatar

    My S2000 seats are actual leather, but the car is going on 12 years old now, and the driver one is getting a bit worse for the wear.

    I actually prefer many of the new cloth seats, and really like the one’s in my wife’s Mazda3.

    At the end of the day, unless I can find a decent condition OE seat to replace my driver one with, I’ll probably be swapping it for some form of cloth fixed-back racing seat intead.

    • 0 avatar

      My 2002 Grand Cherokee Limited had the “European stitched“ leather package which I thought was absolute crap and also a running change on a few model years, apparently these were full leather seats and not your standard kit found on the plebeian Laredo models. My driver side was replaced by Chrysler after I noticed a burning smell from the heated seat element at no cost to me. Within a month even with conditioning there were cracks and wear marks everywhere. Either Chrysler was telling the truth or they had leather unfit for naugahide duty. They were comfy seats though… spotted some at a wrecking yard not too long ago in prime condition. Might buy them and make some furniture pieces :-)

  • avatar

    Fake leather interior bits in a bargain brand vehicle? Shocking.

  • avatar

    I have questioned the leather content in our Mazda 5 GT since day one, but it doesn’t bother me. I’d rather have leather, even with an “ette” attached to it over cloth. So much easier to deal with and if it’s done right, looks better IMHO. My Altima has cloth and I had a rental Altima with leather and the seats felt much better.

  • avatar

    Though in truth, a lot of people can’t tell the difference at first glance between some of these newer faux leathers and the real thing. I had to do a double take a few times out furniture shopping. The longer you look at it, the less you are fooled.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I’ve always wondered if any of the “seating surfaces” of my ’08 Pilot EX-L (i.e. with leather) are real leather at all. It’s hard to tell the difference between that and the leatherette seats in my Z3.

    Real leather smells nice and feels soft. That plus being easier to clean than cloth is its principal advantage.

    The problem with cloth, quite frankly, unless it’s your car from new, is that you don’t know what has soaked into that cloth.

    If you want a nice seating surface, get a sheepskin cover.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      For Honda, “leather seating surfaces” means the flat surfaces of the seat bottom and back are leather and everything else in vinyl. Everything can be cleaned with a damp cloth and only the parts that need to breath are leather. Hate how they now put perforated leather in family cars, defeating the easy to clean advantage of the previous compromise.

  • avatar

    If I had my way, every car I owned would have cloth or alacantra seats. Leather is overrated, and I’ve owned a few cars with leather seats. Jaguar (too slick), Infiniti (hard), Ford, pre-Mulally era (cheap).

    My F-150 Plat has nice leather, I’m but not sure how it will stand the test of time because it stains easily and I have to clean them often.

  • avatar

    I’m sitting in an office chair with 30% leather seating surfaces and vinyl sides and back. Since I purchased it with my own money, all I care is how it holds up.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m kinda disappointed about how many times in the last few years I’ve had to supply my own reasonable office chair. Thankfully with my most recent employer this hasn’t been an issue.

    • 0 avatar

      I am sitting in an office chair that has a plastic frame with mesh seating surface with no padding, just tension applied to the mesh and a lumbar support bar. Definitely no leather. It cost ~$1,000. I did not pay for it. But it is pretty damn nice. Leather is overrated.

      I might have to find a used version for home.

      • 0 avatar

        We probably have the same “Aeron” office chair and I frankly prefer it to any leather chairs I’ve seen. As for car interiors, the ’82 Supra I had when my kids were growing up, and often walking into the back seat, included genuinely durable nylon upholstery which, unlike leather was cool when it was hot and not cold when the weather was cold. I’d happily change the leather seats in my S2000 and 335 for decent cloth seats.

      • 0 avatar

        the seats in the deux chevaux were stretched fabric over a metal frame – the whole car was less than a grand.

    • 0 avatar

      “all I care is how it holds up.”

      To include the adjustment hardware. No matter how hard I shop, I can’t find anything better than soft alloys and plastic that you know will snap or strip-out within a year.

      Okay… I weigh 260, but still….

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      But the Aerons are fun to fart in.

  • avatar

    no offense to the guy but he’s a moron. A guy living in europe is complaining about fake leather in a Kia. I think the problem is that he’s even looking at a Kia in Europe. (Insert face smack image) The stupidity of this is simply amazing, WTF did you expect a cheap arse POS with real leather, LOL. Thats something a used car salesman would push!

  • avatar

    I work int he industry and recently was doing some research on future seating trends etc. SO i was visiting a lot of our suppliers etc and trying to figure out what our future direction should be.

    I was absolutely shocked when they showed me some of the terrible leather used by a number of “luxury” carmakers.

    Our leather we used was pretty dismal and like this Kia was only a tiny portion of the seating area (one of our cars is a direct competitor). But I was surpised that marques such as Ferrari and Maserati were using cheap leather equivalent to our C-segment crossovers and hatches!

    The most impressive leather BY FAR was the higher grade Jaguars. All i can say is WOW. they were genuinely impressive, lovely materials. BMW leather was better than ours and fezza/maser but still not excellent. Infiniti was nicer to touch than BMW but didnt have much natural leather smell.

    But overall in most cars the amount of fake leather is ridiculous. Im sick of speaking to seating engineers who have wasted tons of development cash (that could have been spent on more real leather) trying to match colours and grain and hide the fact we are using crappy PVC.

    And dont get me started on the issues with PVC and seat heaters…smells, warping, etc etc etc… Oh and its more difficult to get nice crisp shapes on seats. instead we end up with bulging “bubbly” looking surfaces.

  • avatar

    You get what you pay for. A bargain brand cheaping out is to be expected.

  • avatar

    Like sunroofs.. people should be given the option if they want leather, leatherette, or cloth.

    Personally, I’d prefer a high grade of cloth to a leather. And make that no sunroof too.

    Unfortunately, to get what I wanted in a car I was forced into leather, sunroof, and HID bulbs…

    Leather is so overrated. One advantage is you can wipe spills off… and maybe it smells nice when new. But requires a lot of maintenance to keep looking new which most people wont do. Or even know they are supposed to maintain it.

  • avatar

    Just imagine how pissed he’s going to be when he finds out that the silver painted plastic bits on the inside aren’t actually metal or aluminum.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    Supposedly my 2011 4Runner Limited comes with leather, but I’m convinced there’s no way in hell something so stiff and unsupple could be. Transporting 3 dogs frequently and there isn’t a single mark or scratch….odd.

  • avatar

    My desk chair is presently the driver’s seat from an early-’80s Volvo 244, and it’s definitely leather on the seating surface and halfway around to the sides, where it transitions into passable matching vinyl. It’s easy enough to feel with two fingers on each surface.

    • 0 avatar

      “My desk chair is presently the driver’s seat…”

      Cool… when I stated working at home as a translator right out of grad school my first ‘office chair’ was the driver’s seat from a Geo Metro. Not as swanky as yours, but good back support.

      What kind of platform did you make to raise it off the ground?

      • 0 avatar

        Back in the early 90s, I built desk chairs out of a pair of aftermarket Recaros. An office chair base and arms, bolted onto a sheet of (I think) 1/2″ plywood, which was in turn bolted to the seat.

        Pretty cool-looking, but in the long term I felt that a proper office chair was still the more comfortable option.

  • avatar

    Quite happy with the leather on my 2000 Lexus. it’s a coated leather and it’s not faded at all. It has some creases, but looks better after 12 years than a lot of leather interiors do after 2 years. I don’t like that parchment paper feel that so many new cars have. I looked at a 2004 BMW X3 and noticed the vinyl seat material was cracked and showing the fabric backing, just like my 78 Chevy did.

  • avatar

    I had leather on a ’96 Eclipse and it was clearly the cheap stuff – it cracked, peeled and discolored very easily (like within the first year!). The leather in my ’03 Z is holding up better but it is starting to crack on the side bolster by the door (clearly wear from getting in/out). My guess is UV sun damage is also to blame living here in FL.

    Any tips on what products to clean and restore leather, maybe with proper maintenance I can get the leather in my Z to last longer?

    Given my above experience I general avoid leather. For my truck I special ordered it without leather, which threw the salesguy for a loop since the truck was fully loaded otherwise. The wife’s Volvo has that T-Tec fabric which is nice, but sadly already torn in places. My leather couch at home has discolored too, so we are switching to microfiber. My brother’s leather couch is holding up better, but he paid big bucks for his, so cost is definitely a factor.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    It is surprising how you guys bag the gentleman for buying a car with seats that are almost the std practice across the industry. He has a point, customers were misled (provided there wasn’t any fine print in the advertisement).

  • avatar

    Even though I’m pretty sure it’s common knowledge that all but the very top end luxury brands use vinyl for the sides and backs (actually, Rolls-Royce did it on the 1990s era Silver Dawn too), it still feels like false advertising for Kia to claim a “full leather interior” rather than just “leather seating surfaces” as just about every other automaker does. Even just taking the word “full” out of the description would be alright.

    That said, I must be in the minority of people that actually wish a simu-leather vinyl was an option on new cars for the entire interior – maybe a bit pricier than cloth but not as expensive as leather, but with the exact same look. I think I know why they don’t do this, but it would probably satisfy the majority of customers, and would be a lot more durable and less maintenance intensive too. Ford could really learn a lesson from Daimler’s MB-Tex, the leathers in current FoMoCo products really wear atrociously.

  • avatar

    Find me a car under $70,000 that DOES have real leather on the seatbacks and sides… now that would be news.

  • avatar

    VW advertises the leatherette in the Jetta and Passat as V-Tex leatherette, while advertising the higher quality leather in the Golf GTI Autobahn as full leather. So it would seem that VW, at least, is pretty honest in the US.

  • avatar

    This isn’t anything particularily new. My mom bought a new 1982 Nissan 280ZX “Grand Luxury Package” which was supposed to be a full leather interior. Like most cars, the only leather was only on the seating surfaces. Nissan did make it right, however, and sent her a check for about $900 for the misleading advertising.

  • avatar

    Seems foolish to advertise it as “full leather”, when pretty much everyone else just says “seating surfaces” or something like that. Also seems foolish to expect your Kia to have full leather.

    I’ve always thought I’m someone who knows a good bit about cars. When I bought a 3 year old CPO 2004 BMW 325xi, I had seen lists of available cars in my area, and then when I zeroed in on the one I wanted, I saw the “features” list. It was pretty well equipped, with sunroof, wood, premium package, heated power seats both sides, and it said black leather, which I assumed it had because it had almost everything else. I got the car, and I since I always thought the leather grade in the 3 Series wasn’t so great, I wasn’t that surprised that it was pretty firm and not so supple. The car also had that “BMW/German” smell that’s so distinctive. It wasn’t until quite a while later that I thought “this isn’t leather, it’s leatherette (ok, vinyl).” And the truth is, I really don’t care. It’s easy to keep clean, and I figure it’s got to be better than leather in the long run, and I plan to keep the car, since I barely use it. It’s 9 years old and has 35,000 miles, and it feels brand new.

  • avatar

    Had this problem in a 2005 Chrysler 300C. Only the center of the seat was leather, and it was obvious since Chrysler chose vinyl with the wrong grain.

    Terrible, terrible construction on that 300C.

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