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Alcantara ‘leather’ in cars: Everything you need to know

By Paul Connolly

People who like to buy higher specced cars may be used to seeing the words Alcantara, or ‘Alcantara leather’, or something similar used in the manufacturer description.

Normally beside other exclusive trim extras like 19-inch alloys, DAB radio, Apple Car Play, or panoramic sun roof.

And not just in the likes of BMW and Mercedes, you can find Alcantara promoted in many brands these days.

If it’s present, it’s generally a sign that the trim you’re getting is generally near the top of the range.

Alcantara ‘leather’ is marketed as a premium material that will enhance the interior of your car.

But what is it? And is it any good?

That’s the question we asked ourselves after seeing, for the umpteenth time, a manufacturer offering Alcantara as a leather-style trim for car seats.

What is it, exactly?

In a nutshell, Alcantara is synthetic suede. It is a patented product originally manufactured in the 1970s as an alternative to animal products (i.e. suede and leather).

Simply put, it is a synthetic alternative to animal hide.

It tends to be used on areas that humans touch a lot: like seats, dashboards and steering wheels.

What’s it made of?

Alcantara is a microfibre material composed of approximately 68% polyester and 32% polyurethane.

You can find it in many industries, including clothing, jewellery, fashion (Louis Vuitton reportedly uses it as handbag linings) and smartphone covers.

There are fire retardant versions, including those used in furnishings and cars, including in Formula One.

There is a not dissimilar product called Ultrasuede which is made globally in a similar fashion. But true Alcantara is only made by the Alcantara company in Italy.

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Alcantara ‘leather’ in cars.

What’s it like?

To the touch, Alcantara feels premium and suede-like. It is also durable and relative easy to clean.

Things like scuff marks that might spoil real suede are harder to pick up and see on Alcantara.

There are additional benefits: it can endure extremes of temperature better than dried/treated animal hide, and it is quite ‘grippy’, so when you sit on it you don’t get that feeling of sliding forward you get with some materials.

How much does it cost?

All these advantages – and by the way not everyone is a fan of Alcantara, with many preferring natural materials – come at a price.

Mostly Alcantara is included in a higher-trim models price; but if you try and spec it as an optional extra it can cost between £1,000 - £2,000.

Where will I find it?

Lots of places; Mercedes, BMW, Skoda, you name it.

Some totally random examples:

  • the bespoke £335,000McLaren 720S ‘Velocity’
  • the new SEAT Arona FR Sport
  • the Lotus Elise Cup 250
  • the new BMW X2
  • the Jaguar X-TYPE Sport.
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