Thursday, September 1, 2011

Man of the Cloth

I've decided leather seats in cars are just not as good as cloth. It's something I realized in the GTI. My previous five cars have had leather seats and I haven't been with cloth since 1997 with another Volkswagen, my Jetta. I've always thought of leather as premium, better in every way, but I'm having my doubts.

The problem with leather is it's always too hot or too cold, and once it's taken on a temperature, it's difficult to coax it to change. Leather is recalcitrant.  It's also slick and doesn't hold you in your seat when you drive aggressively unless you have enormous side bolsters. I like enormous side bolsters, but they're hard to sell to the American market with our increased ... girth. And finally, most of the surfaces you actually touch in a car with leather are plastic rather than leather, while most of my surfaces are cloth. Sure, you're sitting on leather in a leather seated car, but most arm rests are plastic, most seat bolsters are plastic, and the steering wheel is usually wrapped in plastic.

The GTI thankfully covers those plastic surfaces in cloth, with the steering wheel leather wrapped. I suppose I would call the GTI's interior "premium cloth" since some of these features are exceptional. You're going to be touching a lot of plastic in your average leather car interior.

When shopping for a GTI, you don't realize these premium additions, you just see check boxes and enormous sticker prices for things like leather and think cheapness when you see cloth. In fact, to get leather in the GTI, you need to spend $30,000 to get the top of the line Autobahn package. That leather option requires a sunroof, a navigation system and some cooler wheels. So if you really can't see yourself without leather, you might also have a problem seeing yourself in a $30,000 Golf. I would need convincing why I'm not driving an Audi or BMW (I know why, repair costs).
The down side is cloth is harder to clean. I feel a little ridiculous doing it, but I use a lint roller on all those cloth surfaces about once a week. I've noticed that my allergic reactions to dust and pollen have disappeared in the new car and I want to keep it that way. It's likely a combination of keeping the interior clean and regularly changing out the cabin air filter. So there I am rolling my little lint roller along all the cloth surfaces like some OCD nut case. Cleaning my car turned out to be my new Summer exercise program, by the way.

The other down side is that most cloth interiors look like hell to start with and only get worse over time. Sit in a five year old used Civic on a used car lot and you'll see what I mean. It's pretty disgusting. I'm told the GTI seats keep looking good for many years, but we'll see.


  1. The one luxury on a car I will no longer go without, is the one you've given up...

    I find leather consistently more comfortable than any other seat covering, and I live in a climate that is far more variable than yours.

    I was recently asked to drive a friend's Mercedes and it drove me crazy that the driver's seat had a cloth pad over the leather!

    Also, if you're driving aggressively enough that staying in your seat is an issue, then you may need to take a defensive driving class... I'm just saying ;-)

  2. I knew someone would object. ;)

    I would counter your aggressive driving comment by suggesting you drive a car that's more fun (Pathfinder guy).

    Again, ;)

  3. I like my leather - I haven't sat on cloth seats since '93. They are WAY easier to clean with the kids in tow and while they are cold in winter - that's what seat warmers are for. On those really hot days in Sonoma county, the air conditioning in my seat is... nice.

    I have not experienced the slippery on my current car, although on my wife's Camry - I do slide around - then again the seats are just terrible (if it were my car, I'd sell it for the seats alone).

    Now, if you don't have chilled seats in the summer, leather can be a drag and rather hot on a long drive, so I do see your point there.

    As for care - you are talking allergies here - cloth/carpet and filters trap more allergenic particles than leather does. I wouldn't even think of the mite rollers on cloth - just give me leather.

  4. The air conditioned seats thing is pretty high end, and from what I've read, it usually doesn't work very well. I'm glad it does in your Maxima.

    But yeah, cleaning leather is easier, although I spent quite a bit of time and money trying to kill off a mold infestation on my last set of leather seats. The Summer heat finally killed it. No doubt the same or worse could happen with cloth.

  5. "I would counter your aggressive driving comment by suggesting you drive a car that's more fun (Pathfinder guy)."

    My 4Runner is plenty fun, although it's been years since I took it off road for the real fun... try that in your GTI! :-P

  6. I would love a second off-road car, a real beater like an old Ford Bronco or ancient Land Rover. Of course, I could afford that if I didn't insist on buying new cars.