Why Do JDM Luxury Cars Have Cloth Seats (Instead Of Leather)?

In the west, leather is basically a byword for luxury.

Poverty pack/basic spec cars come with cloth seats, high end cars have leather … it’s that simple.

Walk into a Mercedes-Benz or BMW dealership and try to find a cloth interior – it won’t be that easy. If you can find cloth, it will either be on a focused sport model (although that’s usually some kind of alcantara anyway) or a totally base model car.

However, if you’re a JDM enthusiast (and I’m talking about proper JDM – not just any old Japanese car) then you’ll surely have noticed one puzzling characteristic … many luxury cars don’t have leather, and instead have cloth or other non-leather seats.

For example, if you take a car like the Toyota Century – arguably the peak of JDM luxury and opulence, and literally made for Japanese royalty – you’ll notice that it comes with cloth seats (in fact, these are wool seats … but the main point is that they aren’t leather).

This recent edition of JayEmm on Cars, featuring the Century, does a wonderful job at highlighting the amazing upholstery on the Century:

The same applies for the Toyota Celsior, which is the JDM version of the legendary Lexus LS400.

Here in New Zealand, you see a number of ex-JDM Celsiors on the road, and while some have leather you see many with top-quality cloth seating.

It’s not that luxury Japanese cars never have leather, but cloth/wool/non-leather has always been the go-to for cars built for the domestic market. On the other hand, cars built for export (like the Lexus LS400 as opposed to the Toyota Celsior) will tend to come with leather.

Here’s an example of a luxury cloth-style interior from a Toyota Cresta (that was sold by our friend Tim from J Cars)

But why is this?

There are two key reasons.

One of them is a matter of practicality, at least in terms of temperature management. Although here in the West we typically perceive leather as more luxurious, in some respects it is the inferior seating surface.

Cloth seats (and I’m including anything like wool, alcantara or any other non-leather material) do a better job of maintaining an even temperature.

On a hot day, the sun’s rays will quickly heat up a leather interior – sometimes to the point where the seats are uncomfortably hot to sit on until the air conditioning has reduced the internal cabin temperature.

On a cold day – e.g. after your car has been parked up overnight in winter – leather seats can be freezing, and once again uncomfortable to sit on.

Cloth seats will change temperature with the ambient conditions of the car, but not to the same extreme extent. Wool-blend seats are particularly good at maintaining a more even temperature throughout the year and irrespective of the weather.  The Japanese approach to luxury seems to be one of valuing practicality as a form of luxury, which I can totally get on board with. After all, what is more luxurious; having nice-looking leather seats that burn your arse cheeks in summer, or having cloth seats that maybe don’t look so good, but which don’t sizzle your rear end on entry.

The second reason for JDM luxury cars typically having cloth-style seats is one of acoustics. Apparently the additional noise that leather makes when entering and exiting a vehicle is considered rather unseemly in Japan. Cloth-style seats are much quieter, and don’t produce the same creaking and squeaking as your derriere moves across the surface. I have a Japanese family member, who has confirmed first-hand that this “urban legend” is typically true … many Japanese buyers dislike the noise that leather makes.

So there you have the two reasons why JDM luxury cars will typically have non-leather/cloth seats as opposed to leather. Firstly, Japanese buyers value a consistent seat temperature, and secondly, they don’t like the extra noise that leather makes.

If you’d like to learn more about the weird and wonderful world of JDM, then read our JDM meaning guide here.

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  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

1 thought on “Why Do JDM Luxury Cars Have Cloth Seats (Instead Of Leather)?”

  1. I’ve never favoured the leather seat. Impractical beyond necessity! The cloth/non-leather feel is much better, gives more friction, thus not flinging about in the corners, like you do on leather, or peeling each time you make any sort of movement, where bare skin touches the surface.

    Luxury is most certainly a nicer environment when it is quieter and softer. I have had the joy of owning an LS400 briefly and a gen1 GS300, both leather, which let them down in the comfort aspect.

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