BMW Sensatec vs leather

When you purchase your new BMW you will be faced with various leather options depending on the model. Choosing the right one can be quite confusing. Knowing your leather gives you the information you need to make the right decision. For the price you are paying for your BMW, it is imperative you get the very best.

What are the key differences between Sensatec and leather?

More pricier
Car models
High-end models
Less comfortable but feels like real leather
More luxurious and soft
Moderate (lasts for some years)
Long lasting
Nappa leather for 5-series, 6-series and 7-series
More breathable hence more comfortable
Can be customized a lot

Sensatec vs. Leather – How do they compare?


Sensatec is a type of synthetic leather that is cheaper than the real leather and is found in most entry-level BMWs. It feels real and is comfortable enough but it does not have that soft touch of real leather. The most commonly used leather type for BMWs is the Dakota leather or Vernasca leather. The leather comes with artificial dyes and finishes and you will find it embossed with grain to make it look natural. Dakota leather is pricier due to the long process of tanning leather. The process is labor intensive and consumes lots of water, energy and man power.


Sensatec is quite durable but not as real leather. It will hold up in your car for many years without needing maintenance. It is also ideal for conservative people who are vegan and do mind seating on real leather. For BMW leather options the Sensatec is the easiest to maintain followed by the Nappa leather then the Merino. The Merino leather is the most costly and is offered as an option even in the luxurious 7-series.


The Sensatec is used in most entry-level BMWs while the Dakota leather can be found in mid-priced BMWs like the 5-series where it the standard leather option. For the 3-series you have the option of using the Vernasca. The leather is quite durable and requires little maintenance. For the top of the range BMWs you have Nappa leather. These is premium leather and is used for the 5-series, 6-series and 7-series. The leather option offers full grain, semi-aniline, un-split leather type. It is quite premium and natural looking.

The highest priced leather option for BMWs is the Merino leather. While the Nappa leather is standard for the premium BMW models, the Merino leather is optional for those who want to pay more and impress their passengers. The leather option does not have artificial colors and coatings and requires the most maintenance of all the leather options.

Breathability and aesthetics

Since both leather pieces have some element of artificial grain being included during the manufacturing process, they both look the same. You can have different shapes and colors added to the pieces to make them more appealing. BMW has some various customization options that ensures clients get what they want. However, when it comes to breathability the Dakota leather is more breathable than the sensatec leather.

This is because Dakota leather is natural leather and as such has is more porous. When leather is more breathable it means it does not retail so much heat hence making it more comfortable.

BMW Sensatec vs. Leather – A comprehensive overview

Sensatec leather – Overview

When you are purchasing a BMW you will notice there are several leather options including sensatec. This leather option is mostly found in entry-level BMW and is the most affordable. Sensatec is not real leather but rather synthetic. It actually feels and looks like real leather and you may not be able to tell the difference from the real one. It is comfortable but not as soft as real leather.

Sensatec leather will hold up for many years without needing maintenance. It is an ideal choice for those who are vegan and do not want to get offended with seating on cow hides. The synthetic leather holds up better on a BMW as it most other leathers have a habit of stretching and getting wrinkled. It is also easy to clean.

Sensatec leather is a vinyl-based type of leather that is not animal based. It is made from materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane (PU), or polyester microfibers. When you find it in most BMW marketing materials it is referred to as Leatherette but it also goes by name like vegan leather or pleather. During production of sensatec leather a certain petroleum based plasticizer is mixed into a tab and then an ultraviolent light stabilizer is added to protect the final product from direct sun rays. This makes the leather fireproof and flame retarder.

Coloring agents are then added to give it some personality. You also find various stylish grains that are added to the mix to make it more natural leather looking.

On the downside the synthetic leather may not be as breathable as the real leather but it does last long. Since it does not breathe easily, synthetic leather can become very hot. On the positive side is you can customize the leather as you wish with multiple colors and grain varieties. While sansatec is cheaper than the natural leather it does pose various environmental concerns as it is made from petroleum products. However, for vegan people it is a better option than slaughtering animals for their hides.

What we liked:

  • Easily customizable for a variety of shapes and colors
  • Wears better for cars as it does not wrinkle and stretch easily
  • Suitable for vegan people
  • Cheaper option to real leather

What we did not like:

It is not as soft as real leather and not breathable

Leather – Overview

For high end BMW models the leather used is Dakota. You will find this in the 5-series, 6-series and 7-series as standard. Dakota is made from animal hides with the grain corrected. It is then coated with a synthetic polymer and embossed with artificial grain. The synthetic polymer is added to give the leather a smooth feel that makes it dirt and dust resistant. It also makes it easier to clean.

One nice element of going for the Dakota leather for your BMW is that it is breathable. This is because it has more pores being leather and this makes it more comfortable to seat on. The leather also prevents it from retaining high amounts of heat. However, Dakota is not the most premium leather option for BMW cars this is something that is relegated for the Merino leather.

If you want the most luxurious leather option then you go with the Merino leather. This is offered as an option in the high-end BMW models. The leather option is so rich in texture that it does not require any artificial colors or coatings. It also require less maintenance and has a quality look.

When it comes to pricing the Dakota leather is costlier than the sensatec leather option because it the process of tanning leather can be quite tedious. The process is very labor and energy intensive and this pushes the price up. During the manufacturing process fresh skins are brought into the tannery after a long process of feeding and maintaining the cows.

Aesthetically, Dakota leather looks great with its characteristic grain surface. In both Dakota and sensatec the leather items are aesthetically enhanced with patterns, colors and designs to make them more appealing. They can also be customized to suit unique customer preferences. There has being a lot of debate as to the manufacturing process for Dakota leather, this is due to the process of tanning where chemicals are used. For some people this results in environment pollutants.

The leather option is also not that sort after by vegan enthusiasts. This is because animals have to be slaughtered to make the leather. For such people, Sensatec is more preferred. Ethically some people do prefer Sensatec leather as opposed to Dakota as it does not involve murdering of animals but if you are okay with it, Dakota leather is an excellent option.

What we liked:

  • It is breathable hence making it more comfortable
  • Can be customizable to a wide variety of color and grain options
  • The tanning process make it more durable
  • Soft to seat on

What we did not like:

Requires killing of animals and is slightly more expensive than Sensatec

Verdict: So, which is better – Sensatec or Leather

Real leather is the best option due to its durability and the fact that it is easily breathable. However, it is more expensive than Sensatec. Sensatec is a material that is used in most entry-level BMW models while real leather is used for the pricier models like the 5-series, 6-series and 7-series. The most expensive leather option is the Merino leather.


How customizable is Sensatec material?

Sensatec can be customized to a wide variety of colors, and grain types to the point it resembles actual leather.

Which is more expensive – Dakota, Nappa or Merino leather?

The highest leather type used on BMW cars is the Merino leather

Jurgen Shmidt works as an automotive engineer, his duties revolve around vehicle design, development manufacture, and testing. Shmidt is also involved in marketing, sales, and the after-sale care of cars, apart from his 8 hours job, he interacts with enthusiasts who have concerns or wish to learn about the various models of the BMW luxury cars. Shmidt believes that the demand for detailed information surpasses its availability and that is why he dedicates most of his free time, researching and compiling reliable information. The information compiled on bmwexpert has been derived from hands-on experience and not some snazzy press release, thus we believe you will find answers to your troubling questions about the BMW.

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