What Is SensaTec?

Here’s everything you need to know about BMW's imitation leather.

2022 BMW iX M60BMW

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If you've browsed BMW's offerings in the past few years, you may have come across the term SensaTec. Here’s what it means.

What Is SensaTec?

SensaTec is BMW's brand name for its synthetic leather. It's the standard upholstery material in many models, including the X1, X2, X3, X4, 2-Series, 3-Series, 4-Series, 5-Series, i4, iX, and Z4. Synthetic leather (also called leatherette, faux leather, vegan leather, and vinyl) is made by taking a base layer of fabric and coating it with some form of plastic, like polyurethane or PVC. This coating is then treated to give it a texture and finish that mimics the look and feel of leather.

Just like the real thing, leatherette upholstery is resistant to spills and stains, making it simple to care for and clean. It can also be dyed. BMW offers SensaTec in a few hues, including beige, brown, black, and red.

Why Choose Fake Leather?

Many shoppers choose synthetic leather upholstery because it’s less expensive than the real thing. In BMW's case, upgrading from SensaTec to the real thing will run you $1,500 on most models. The 5-Series additionally offers a premium grade of leather for $2,500.

Another reason someone might choose vinyl is because it’s cruelty-free. It's no secret that automotive leather comes from cows, and if you're an animal lover, that could be a problem. With leatherette, you get many of the benefits of a leather interior without the guilt.

Is SensaTec Better Than Leather?

That depends on your priorities. If keeping the price down is your main concern, SensaTec is a good option as it won't cost you anything extra, and it's reasonably comfortable and luxurious. If you want a more premium interior experience, you might want to go with real leather. Though upholstery suppliers have gotten pretty good at simulating the look and feel of cowhide, you'd most likely be able to tell the difference between a SensaTec-equipped car and one with genuine leather in a back-to-back test drive.

Many BMW owners report that the leather seats have a softer, richer feel than those trimmed in SensaTec. Leatherette seats also won't smell like real leather, which gets its distinct aroma from the tanning process. However, SensaTec is said to be more durable and wear-resistant, and some say it's easier to clean than the real thing.

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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.