What is Alcantara?
Alcantara is a synthetic suede product that rapidly became a go-to interior material for performance and luxury-oriented auto brands, used by manufacturers such as Porsche, Tesla, and Lamborghini. In recent years, it’s become clear that these microsuede materials are no longer exclusive to racing and ultra-luxury cars; they’ve been adopted by numerous vehicles across a wide spectrum of price points, including super-affordable models from Chinese companies. It’s so popular, in fact, that the company hasn’t been able to keep up with demand since early 2018.
The material is also used for many other applications, including boats, aircraft, clothing, furniture, and even mobile phone covers.
Alcantara is perhaps the best-known synthetic suede product on the market, but competitors do exist, with virtually indistinguishable products. Other brands of similar microsuede include Ultrasuede, used by several car companies, including Mazda and Dodge. Dinamica is another type, which has been used by Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Chevy, and Ford. Ford brands their use of Dinamica by referring to the manufacturing company itself, Miko, using the term “Miko suede”. In recent times, Ford has been adding Alcantara inserts to certain models in their performance segment, such as the Mustang.
Alcantara vs. Suede
Alcantara is a registered trademark of Alcantara S.p.A., Italy. The company prides itself on being environmentally sustainable and tout their product as certified 100% carbon-neutral. The exact “recipe” for the material is a secret, but the general make-up is a blend of an estimated 68% polyester and 32% polyurethane. Alcantara is only authentic if it is created by the Alcantara company in Italy. Though it’s sometimes called “Alcantara suede,” it is a completely synthetic product that is not actually related to real suede, despite the resemblance in texture.
Although suede has been popularized in American culture and fashion (think of Elvis Presley's famous cover of the song “Blue Suede Shoes”), the word itself originates from the French “gants de Suede,” meaning “gloves from Sweden.” Using the underside of an animal’s skin (often lamb), the softer, more delicate feel compared to other fabrics like leather originally led to it being used and marketed for women’s gloves.
The origins of Alcantara and Ultrasuede began in racing applications, as the lightweight, flame-retardant material was used in various parts of the interior. Alcantara’s similar feel to suede meant that it quickly moved into the luxury goods market.
There are many advantages that synthetic microsuede has compared to natural suede. It is much cheaper to produce. It is also lighter, more stain-resistant, and more durable than natural suede. Another big positive is that the material does not require the use of animal by-products, unlike traditional suede. Many enjoy Alcantara’s smooth feel on the steering wheel, sporty yet luxurious good looks, and appreciate that it doesn’t get as hot as leather does in the summer sun (nor as cold in the winter).
Others are more critical, decrying the material for being too sensitive to the oils of human skin and difficult to clean. Another unfortunate aspect is that being touched can make it appear mottled or unsmooth. Regular, proper cleaning should help to alleviate these issues (most of the time). It’s worth noting that these critiques apply to both natural suede and synthetic microsuede...those who are against their use in cars typically prefer leather or a more traditional cloth surface. Finally, detractors note that the material is only perceived as luxurious...in reality, it can be 10 times cheaper than leather to produce. Although viewed as a premium product, that perception may change as cheaper cars begin to use Alcantara and other microsuedes.
Alcantara in Fords
The first Mustang to offer Alcantara was the 2010 GT500, which came with Alcantara trim on the front sport seats (not yet Recaros) and the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The 2012 and 2013 Boss 302 models featured just an “Alcantara suede-wrapped” steering wheel.
With the GT350 release in 2016, Alcantara was back on the menu, included on the steering wheel. The Recaro seats, however, used leather and Miko Suede, which is how Ford refers to the Dinamica microsuede. For all but the most discerning experts, the feel and appearance of Alcantara and Miko Suede inserts would be identical in this application.
It wasn’t until 2018 that Alcantara became available on the seats once again, while also being added to the door panels. This trim was available on both EcoBoost Premium and GT Premium Mustangs equipped with the Carbon Sport Interior Package. Interestingly, Alcantara was once again continued on the GT350 steering wheel, though the seats remained accented with Miko Suede.
The refreshed 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor is now available with new Recaro seats that have “Rhapsody Blue” Alcantara inserts. The 2019 Edge ST opts instead for Miko Suede inserts, indicating that Ford is using the two relatively interchangeably. We’ll have to wait to see what comes next down the pipeline in terms of these microsuede synthetics being used in other trims besides Ford’s family of performance-oriented vehicles. If suppliers can keep up with demand, it might soon be commonplace to see microsuede even in compact economy cars.
Image Credit: Ford, Lyst