Vegan-friendly cars

Veganism is on the rise and car makers are well aware of it, with ever more cars catering for vegans. These are the best vegan-friendly cars

Murray Scullion
Oct 4, 2019

The number of vegans in the UK now stands at around 3.5 million, according to a recent study. To put that into context, a different study from the Vegan Society in 2016 put the figure at only 542,000.

It’s not a phenomenon that’s gone unnoticed either. Fashion designers like Gucci, Versace and DKNY have been giving up leather, and car manufacturers are cottoning on to the growing movement too, by regularly skipping leather in favour of vegan-friendly options.

The easiest way to avoid leather traditionally is by going for lower specification models. For instance, the Volkswagen Golf in entry-level S trim gets cloth seats as standard - with no leather option, unlike every other model in the range - plus a non-leather steering wheel and non-leather gear knob, again unlike every other Golf model.

The tides are turning, as manufacturers realise that cars don't need leather seats to be luxurious. Range Rover now offers something it calls Premium Textile seat material on the Velar, for instance. The part-polyester material feels opulent and doesn't use leather. It does however contain wool, which isn't generally regarded as vegan-friendly due to the way that sheep are farmed. 

However, if the broader vegan credentials of the manufacturer are important to you, be aware that the full-size Range Rover comes with a leather steering wheel, leather seats - with at least four types of leather available - plus the option of leather headlining, Mohair floor mats with leather binding, a 'leather pillow pack' and even premium leather seatback stowage and tailgate event seating in ebony leather. 

If you like the feel of leather, there is vegan leather, which is also known as artificial leather. It has been around since the 1950s in various states. The latest raft of artificial leather is increasingly made from sustainable materials, with plant-based artificial leather being developed. This can even be made from fibres extracted from waste, like pineapple leaves.

Are cars vegan-friendly?

Leather isn’t the only issue with vegan-friendly cars. Entertainment system screens contain liquid crystals that may be based on cholesterol taken from animals. The rubber and plastic used to make tyres may be vulcanised and toughened using tallow (mutton fat), and even the steel used for a car’s frame may have been lubricated with animal fat. 

In short, no car comes close to being entirely vegan-friendly but that's not the point, according to Dominika Piasecka a spokesperson for the Vegan Society. "The bottom line is that there’s no such thing as a 100% vegan car, unfortunately," says Piasecka. "The key with veganism is trying to do your best. It’s not possible to be 100% vegan in this imperfect world but we can avoid animal suffering as much as possible. Avoiding leather is a practical thing we can do while buying a car, while we can’t of course avoid tyres or steel."

When buying a new car, it’s easy to specify a non-leather interior but it's not always as easy when buying used, as not everything is labelled properly. Keep an eye out for the specific names of artificial leathers used by car makers, such as Artico with Mercedes and Sensatec with BMW. Also, look out for Alcantara. This is a type of man-made suede and is vegan-friendly.

 Vegan-friendly cars: a disclaimer

As mentioned above by the Vegan Society, there is no such thing as a fully a vegan car. The cars on this list are just some of the most vegan-friendly models on the market.

 

Vegan-friendly cars

Polestar 2

Best vegan car for eco-conscious buyers 

The Polestar 2 is aiming to bring electric motoring and cruelty-free interiors to the masses.

Polestar is the electric sub-brand of Volvo, and its ‘2’ goes toe to toe with the Tesla Model 3 - so it’s electrically powered with a 275-mile range.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has even awarded Polestar with a Compassionate Business Award because of the car’s vegan-friendly interiors. According to Polestar bosses, the car’s interior will help accelerate the shift of the car industry towards leather-free interiors. Vegan interior components include the seat covers, steering wheel, gear shift and interior coatings.

Renault Twizy

Best vegan car for tight parking spots

The Renault Twizy is one of the most fun ways to zip around a city, and it's also one the most striking looking vehicles around. It’s electrically powered, so offers zero-emission driving, and is so small that it can be parked head on to the kerb like the Smart ForTwo on busy streets.

It may only have seating for two (one in front of the other), but it is one of the most vegan-friendly motors on sale, as it doesn’t have leather seats and the whole vehicle is 85% recyclable.

 

Ford Fiesta

Best vegan car for small families

Latest Ford Fiesta deals (current model) from £8,100
Finance from £134 per month

Ford’s Fiesta is the best-selling car in the UK, and is also massively popular throughout Europe. The success is no accident either, as it combines comfort, value for money, and performance in a neatly proportioned package, with a huge variety of engine and interior choices.

The latest model, which went on sale in 2017, has plenty of options for non-leather seats too. You’ll have to opt for a Style, Zetec, or B&O Play Zetec model to fully avoid leather seats though. All Fiestas, apart from entry-level Style models have leather steering wheels as standard, too, but these can be swapped for non-leather materials on request. Used buyers may be able to have leather-trimmed steering wheels replaced by a Ford dealership. 

Ford Fiesta buying guide

 

Volkswagen Golf

Best vegan car for medium-sized families

Latest VW Golf deals from £7,850
Finance from £126 per month

It’s comfortable, it’s well made and it’s...very sensible. But sensible sells. The Golf is a solid car that is economical and robust, plus it has plenty of engine choices. Used values are strong too, which makes car finance deals cheap. Especially if you finance a second-hand model in the first place.

If you want the most vegan-friendly Golf you'll have to stick to entry-level S trim, as this is the only specification that does without a leather steering wheel and gearstick and includes standard fabric seats. If that's too basic for you, going for SE trim gets you a useful amount of extra equipment, including parking sensors and automatic headlights, but you will have to accept leather on the wheel and gearstick.

Volkswagen Golf buying guide

 

Mercedes A-Class

Best vegan car for high-tech interior

The latest A-Class may be the cheapest car in Mercedes’ range, but it’s still brimming with useful technology. Inside there are gadgets to rival the firm's high-end luxury cars - provided you spend a little extra on optional kit such as augmented reality sat-nav that displays directions over images of the road ahead - though all A-Class models get sophisticated voice recognition software that really does work, letting you set the sat-nav directions easily, just using voice commands.

You can either specify fabric seats, or Mercedes’ artificial leather called Artico. The steering wheel is covered in real leather, however, and be aware that real leather is an option for the seats, so if buying used, make sure you know what is fitted to the model you buy.

Mercedes A-Class buying guide

 

Toyota Prius

Best vegan car for hybrid motoring

Latest Toyota Prius deals from £16,495
Finance from £217 per month

If it’s good enough for Leonardo DiCaprio, it’s good enough for us. The Prius kicked-off the hybrid car phenomenon, ushering in a new-age of eco-friendly taxi drivers. It’s remarkably reliable too, although, not the most sporting drive around.

Base-spec Prius’ come with cloth seats, but even plus plusher cars skip leather in favour of cloth as well. Word of warning though - top spec Excel models can only be had with leather seats and all new models come with a leather steering wheel.

Read our Toyota Prius buying guide

 

Nissan Leaf

Best vegan car for zero-emission driving

Latest Nissan Leaf deals (current model) from £19,795
Finance from £283 per month

The Nissan Leaf is the bestselling electric car in Europe and is made in Sunderland. It’s also the best fully-electric family car that most families can afford. It has a range of around 170 miles, is quiet and comfortable, plus, being electric, it’s surprisingly fast.

The Leaf can be specified without leather seats, steering wheel, and gearshift (mostly because the gearshift is a plastic switch) which is great for vegans. It should be noted that top-spec Tekna models do get leather as standard though.

Read our Nissan Leaf buying guide

 

BMW i3

Best vegan car for design

Latest BMW i3 deals from £16,500
Finance from £260 per month

The BMW i3 is an electric car, which uses some of the most eco-friendly materials on the car market today. It's made largely from carbon fibre, rather than steel and is 95% recyclable, according to BMW.

Some of the wood used on the dashboard comes from trees that are grown in monsoon season, so that they don’t take away space from growing plants to eat. Interior options include cloth upholstery, as well as BMW’s artificial leather called Sensatec. Sadly, a non-leather steering wheel isn't yet available, though the i3 is still one of the most planet and animal-friendly cars around.

It's a realistic option for most drivers, thanks to the real-world range of around 150 miles between charges offered by the version with the largest battery (known as 94Ah). It's also available in range-extender (ReX) form which has a small petrol engine as well, which can charge the car up on the move

BMW i3 buying guide

 

Range Rover Velar

Best vegan car for off-roading pretences

Latest Range Rover Velar deals from £32,404
Finance from £478 per month

This is probably the most fashionable car on the list, and would match nicely with any Gucci faux-leather handbag. The Velar is an off-roader for town, and is larger than the Range Rover Evoque, but not as big as the Range Rover Sport.

The Velar shows that car manufacturers are changing their ways when it comes to leather. No longer are non-leather interiors the reserve of bargain basement models, with the option of Range Rover's Premium Textile fabric. Its appeal will depend on your view on wool, as the fabric is a wool and polyester blend.

Go for the Premium Textile Pack and you get wool and artificial suede seats, artificial leather across the dashboard and an artificial suede steering wheel, all of which contribute to the car's vegan-friendly credentials.

Read our Range Rover Velar review

 

Tesla Model S

Best vegan car for speed

Tesla’s electric cars are known for their long range (up to 393 miles) and their lightning-fast acceleration (0-60mph in 2.5 seconds), making them some of the most enticing electric cars whether you enjoy driving or simply don't enjoy charging. However, the Model S is a sound choice even if the car's vegan credentials are most important to you; the headline ‘All of Tesla’s seat options are vegan’ is certainly attention grabbing.

In short, Tesla no longer sells new cars with leather seats, a huge win for vegans. They all come with synthetic leather now, although leather steering wheels remain standard. Tesla will fit a non-leather steering wheel on request though.

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