Why does everybody want a leather interior? These days even cars that aren’t lined with cow mostly get swathed in petrochemicals longing to pass for cow, with euphemistic marketing handles ranging from the generic leatherette or vegan leather to trademarked monikers like BMW’s SensaTec, Mercedes’ MB-Tex, and VW’s V-Tex. Some of our favorite car interiors ever have sported cloth seats, from the Porsche 928’s psychedelic Pasha checkerboard to the 911’s Pepita houndstooth and various tartan plaids. Sadly, they’re all but gone today. So it seemed downright newsworthy when a 2021 Volvo XC90 T8 turned up in my driveway swathed in wool upholstery fabric. Volvo calls it Tailored Wool Blend, and I relished every cosseted moment in these thrones.
What Is Tailored Wool Blend and What Colors Are Available?
This tweedy weave is comprised of 30 percent wool and 70 percent recycled polyester, so it might be even earth-friendlier than “vegan leather.” Tailored Wool Blend appeared as a no-cost option on the 2020 refresh of the XC90 Inscription model in a color called Midnight Zinc. The same option is also available on XC60 Inscription models.
At launch last year, a second color called Slate was offered, but it proved less popular and was dropped for 2021. Volvo does offer another textile, known as City Weave Textile fabric, as a no-cost option on the S60, V60, and XC60 Momentum trim grades. It’s in a hue called Blonde and paired with Iron Ore Inlays, and it appears darker and more “plaid” than our Midnight Zinc material.
Inherent Climate Comfort
It should surprise nobody that cloth seats always feel warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer—even when contacting bare skin after direct sunlight exposure. The material also presents less resistance to heating, so you’ll generally tend to feel the warmth from seat heaters faster. Despite their inherently breathable nature, Volvo at least does not offer a ventilation/seat-cooling option with either its Tailored Wool Blend or City Weave Textile upholstered seating.
What About Cleanup, Care, and Maintenance?
First, how big a slob are you? Inveterate drive-thru diners who regularly juggle sloppy Big Macs while driving will probably find that leather/pleather/vinyl products wipe clean easier. Long-haul car owners who read their owner’s manuals and attempt to adhere to the recommendations therein will find that greater care and maintenance is recommended for leather. Case in point: The manual in our XC90 T8 devoted just 84 words to describing how to clean the wool blend but prattled on with 267 words of advice for maintaining the leather, including a recommendation to apply protective cream quarterly. I can tell you this much: Volvo deems Tailored Wool Blend kid-friendly enough to offer its $300 integrated center booster cushion. I’d cheerfully order up a textile interior and just apply some Scotchgard from time to time.
Might the Fad Be Returning?
Way back in the era of chauffeur-driven “town cars” featuring an enclosed passenger compartment and an exposed front seat, Jeeves sat on durable, weather-resistant leather, while His and Her Grace luxuriated in mohair, wool, or other sumptuous fabrics. Velvets and other fabrics remained popular in luxury cars well into the ’60s, and wool remains the fabric of choice for “Toyota’s Rolls-Royce”—the Century—because it’s deemed more dignified; fidget as you will, a wool seat will never make the flatulent noises leather can. Bentley has just reintroduced a Mulliner Tweed interior, using fabric sourced from Scotland, though it’s generally used to adorn the door panels. (Of course, companies like Bentley and Rolls-Royce will cheerfully swaddle any part of their cars in any material you desire if the price is right.) We must point out that one of our favorite cloth upholstery offerings of all time remains available on the 2021 Volkswagen GTI: Clark Plaid cloth inserts. Come on, Tesla, why not double down on your new Plaid powertrain by offering a nice tartan upholstery package?