Difference Between Sensatec and Dakota Leather(How to Pick!)

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG commonly referred to as BMW have been producing automobiles and motorcycles since 1916 and have carved out quality as a hallmark. On the inside of the BMW range of cars, quality is not left out as the interiors are crafted with beautiful leather materials but are they the same?

So, what’s the difference between Sensatec and Dakota Leather? The difference is Sensatec is made completely from synthetic vinyl materials while Dakota leather is made from natural leather sourced from the skin of animals. Also, the durability and quality of Dakota leather far outweigh Sensatec. Why? Because of the tensile strength that comes with natural leather.

When choosing seat material type for a BMW car it can be tough, in this post, I did some research and I’m ready to share some further details on the differences between Sensatec and Dakota leather that will help you make a very satisfying decision. Let’s Gear up 😀

What is Dakota Leather?

Dakota leather is a common term in the fraternity of BMW cars. It is a corrected-grain leather that is made from the split of animal skins. So to say, Dakota leather is natural or real leather but is coated with a synthetic polymer paint and embossed with artificial grains.

Dakota leather has a plastic feel because of the synthetic polymer paint coating added in the manufacturing process. This gives it a super smooth, even surface, and more importantly makes it hard-wearing to stains and dirt. It is very easy to clean compared to full-grain leather and top-grain leather.

Dakota leather inherits the breathability of leather, in general, that is super important in that the breathability allows air to pass through the pores of the leather to avoid leather seats from retaining high amounts of heat.

It is, however, low-grade among natural leathers like full-grain and top-grain. Primarily, it looses some of its natural quality as a result of how it is buffed and sanded on the grain side to remove blemishes that most natural leathers come with.

An important point to note is because it is buffed, it is lightweight and relatively durable with good physical and chemical performance. It is cheap and also very easy to maintain thus its the ideal choice for families with kids and pets.

What is Sensatec Leather?

Sensatec leather is a vinyl-based and not animal-based leather material used on some lower-level models’ base trims. It is not real leather but just made to look and feel like real leather. Manufacturers use synthetic materials like polyurethane (PU), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyester microfibers, etc to make this type of synthetic leather.

It used to be marketed as Leatherette among the BMW range of cars but in other disciplines, it still is and also marketed as pleather or vegan leather.

Sensatec leather, like all other synthetic leather, is made by mixing a petroleum-based plasticizer into a tab after which an ultraviolet light stabilizer is added to protect the leather from direct sun rays. The stabilizer also makes it flame retarder and fireproof to a large extent. Vinyl powder and coloring agents are then added to the mixture.

It is then finished off by giving it stylistic grain patterns to make it look and most importantly feel like natural leather.

While this fake leather material isn’t as breathable as natural or real leather, it is, however, hardwearing, compared to most types of leather especially in the case of BMW Merino, Nappa leather, and Dakota. It is much easier to clean and maintain.

Which is Best? Dakota or Sensatec Leather?


When it comes to price and since Sensatec is purely made from synthetic materials, it’s cheaper than Dakota leather. Dakota leather is made from the skins of an animal. Meaning, an animal has to be sheltered, fed, medicated, and after the skin is obtained, it has to go through tanning processes.

Tanning is a process that changes the fresh skins of animals into leather. The tanning process requires for Dakota and all other natural leather uses huge resources of labor, energy, water, land, and produces high levels of methane. This makes the price of natural leather much higher compared to synthetic leather like the Sensatec.

Quality and Durability

On this level, quality is quite relative. Generally, Dakota, a natural leather is of higher quality and durability than synthetic leather. But it goes without saying that the hard-wearing quality of Sensatec is a very attractive quality and durability feature to many.

Since the surface of Sensatec leather will be sealed off during its finishing, it makes this type of leather highly stain and water-resistant when compared to Dakota leather.


When talking specifically about how leather looks, attention is focused on the character of its grain surface. Both Dakota and Sensatec leather have its grain surface artificially made and they come in a wide variety of colors, patterns and designs.

They’re both aesthetically appealing with customization tailored to suit the luxury that the BMW comes with.


Sensatec leather is not breathable as Dakota leather is. Dakota leather is natural leather and natural leather is very porous and as such allows good aeration through its pores. Breathability in leather materials is important because it prevents leather items like seats from retaining heat causing discomfort.


Globally, there are on-going debates on the best practices in leather production and use so as to make rid the environment of pollutants. Dakota leather requires tanning and the most common tanning technique is the chrome tanning a chemical tanning process which results in a lot of pollution.

Originally, the vegetable tanning was widely used. It is a very environmentally friend way of tanning but the vegetable tanning process can take up to 6 months for the tanning process to complete and in that time, it requires a lot of high-skilled labor and water resource for the leather to successfully tan.

So today, about 90% of all leathers is tanned using chrome tanning. This tanning process uses harsh chemicals and can take just about a day or few hours for the process to be complete. But the result is very bad for the environment.

On the other hand, a better story can’t be told for Sensatec leather. Although the manufacturing of Sensatec doesn’t involve animals and their toxic tanning substances, it is also made as a by-product of the petroleum industry, which is a non-renewable resource.


Ethically, Sensatec leather will be classified as vegan leather, which is seen to be a great alternative the shy away from brutally murdering animals. Sensatec is animal-free and as such appeals to a lot of people especially do not buy into the diary or meat industry.

On the contrary, leather producers and leather crafters also consider their practice of producing and using leather to be ethically good because they are finding a great use for animal skins that would’ve probably ended up in landfill sites causing massive pollution since thousand tons of meat is produced globally.

Similarities Between Dakota and Sensatec Leather

Here are some similarities you are sure to notice on the Dakota and Sensatec leather when you visit the showrooms;

  • Both types of leather are coated with a color and a protective finish
  • Dakota and Sensatec are generally, water-resistant and hard-wearing when both are compared to full-grained leathers like Nappa and Merino leather
  • Both are not suitable for tooling or carving which is a very rich decorative style in leatherwork
  • The beautiful grain patterns seen on them are artificially embossed
  • Both do not have the quality of full-grain and top-grain leather
  • Dakota and Sensatec leather have perfectly smooth or textured surface unlike full-grained leather used for Merino and Nappa which may come with some amount of natural blemishes
  • Both are in a general sense are not environmental friendly
  • Dakota leather and Sensatec leather both have similar durability due to how they are finished and made to be highly water-resistant and hard-wearing. Moisture is one big source of mold and mildew damage on leather.
  • Both leather eventually cracks and age quite badly with time

Differences Between Dakota and Sensatec Leather – Summary

Dakota Leather Sensatec Leather
1. Dakota is from the skins of
1. Sensatec leather is a non-
animal sourced leather
2. It is Breathable 2. It is not breathable
3. It is tanned to make it
3. It can’t be tanned
4. Slightly more expensive
compared to Sensatec leather
4. Very cheap

My Conclusion and How To Pick!

You can take in consideration all the vital and informative points in this article and make a choice that suits your lifestyle and preference.

If you are or planning to have a family with beautiful Kids and adorable pets, I’d say buy the type with the Sensatec leather in a Heart Beat just like I will for my family. For me, hard-wearing, water-resistance and easy cleaning is key.

However, if you don’t have kids, or pets, with some extra bucks to spare on your budget, you should definitely go for the Dakota leather to enjoy the luxury that natural leather comes with.


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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