What Is Sensafin?

A deeper look at BMW's other synthetic leather option.

BMW Sensafin passenger seatsBMW


When you buy a luxury car, you might have certain expectations — a comfortable ride, ample passing power, a top-notch stereo system that produces crisp, clear sound at any volume, and only the finest upholstery for the seats. Because not everyone likes leather, many luxury automakers offer a variety of sustainable and eco-friendly interiors that are still opulent. BMW's Sensafin faux leather is one such example.

Sensafin vs. SensaTec

Sensafin is BMW's marketing term for its premium synthetic leather, or leatherette upholstery. Sensafin is a high-quality imitation leather that looks and feels reasonably close to the real thing. This is not the same as SensaTec, the upholstery material that comes standard in such BMW models as the 3 Series, 4 Series, X1, and X3.

SensaTec is a step below Sensafin, but both faux leathers are manufactured similarly. Like SensaTec, Sensafin is made by taking a layer of fabric and coating it in plastic —typically polyurethane or PVC, a type of vinyl. The outer coating is then treated to give it a texture and finish intended to imitate real leather.

Sensafin is the base upholstery choice in BMW's costlier SUV models, including the X5, X6, and X7. The seats set themselves apart from SensaTec with a diamond-stitched, quilted design and perforation, which can aid with breathability, especially on hot days. Apart from those differences, Sensafin and SensaTec are pretty similar.

Cost Differences Between Sensafin and Real Leather

One major advantage of going with a synthetic leather like Sensafin instead of the real thing is that it comes standard. By choosing Sensafin over the extended merino leather option in models such as the X5, X6, and X7, you can save about $2,000.

Full merino leather is also available in the X5 M and X6 M for about $3,500 and in the X7 M60i for nearly $3,000. The difference between extended and full merino leather is that the former uses genuine leather for the seats and a few other surfaces while the latter also features leather on the door panel inserts, dashboard trim, and center console.

Pros and Cons of Sensafin

An eco-friendly benefit of Sensafin is that it's animal-free. Real leather's origins can be problematic for a number of reasons. First, in order to make a leather seat, at least one cow has to be killed for its hide. Because cows produce the greenhouse gas methane, the leather industry contributes to climate change.

An additional advantage is that leatherette is simple to clean, just like authentic leather upholstery. The faux hide might require even lower maintenance because it's not porous like real leather. As for cons, leatherette won't smell like real leather because it doesn't go through the tanning process that the genuine article does.

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Alex Nishimoto
Alex Nishimoto is a Los Angeles-based writer with 15 years experience covering the auto industry. He spent much of his career as an editor on staff at a major automotive magazine, testing cars, writing articles, and assisting on segment-defining comparison tests. When he's not writing about cars, he's wrenching on his E30-generation BMW 325is, which he's owned since college and plans to restore one day.