Watchdog: Kia gets a hiding over leather mix-up

17 Oct, 2012 10:00am Jon Morgan

“Full leather upholstery” isn’t actually leather at all on the Kia Sportage

When is leather not real leather? When it comes on a high-spec Kia. That’s what disappointed Sportage owners have found, after the company altered the spec list on its website.

Dr Chris Castelli from Swindon in Wiltshire got in touch with Auto Express to complain. “About a year ago, I bought a Sportage KX-3 with full leather,” he said. “I’m a member of an owners’ forum, and a little while ago someone on there noticed that an asterisk had been added to the online spec details.

“This asterisk was linked to a footnote that said: ‘Some parts of the leather upholstery contain faux leather.’”

A call to customer services confirmed that the disclaimer applied to cars built and sold before it was added. “We all feel like we’ve been misled,” said Chris. “The original brochure described ‘luxurious full leather’, but when you actually ask Kia about this, it turns out there’s actually very little leather used. It’s mainly plastic or vinyl.”

We asked Kia if it agreed it had misled customers and whether it would be offering unhappy owners compensation.

A spokeswoman told us the phrase ‘full leather’ was intended to differentiate it from the part-leather upholstery (which combines leather and cloth) used on lower-spec models. And that the use of faux leather was common among manufacturers.

She added: “We do recognise that our use of the term ‘full leather upholstery’ may be misconstrued,” – so this phrase will no longer be used. “No deliberate attempt was made to mislead customers,” she said, but no compensation would be offered to them.

The AA’s legal advice team told us: “It’s a form of misrepresentation, but it’s not the sort of thing you’d want to take to court. It would be a lot of aggravation, time and stress over a small issue. Any compensation is likely to be very small.

“Kia ought to make some kind of gesture, though, as customers will feel deceived.”

Chris's case: At a glance

The problem 
Chris found out the ‘luxurious full leather’ upholstery on his high-spec Sportage actually included a lot of faux leather, leaving him feeling cheated.

Kia's response 
The company told us it hadn’t intended to mislead, but could see how its spec could have been misconstrued. But it refused to offer compensation.

Legal advice 
The AA’s legal team said this was misrepresentation, but advised against customers taking action through the courts. “It would be a lot of aggravation over a small issue,” a spokeswoman said.

Our verdict 
Customers have a right to know what they’re buying. Kia has a great reputation for value and service. We’re disappointed it isn’t doing something to compensate what the AA says is misrepresentation.

Do you have a motoring problem that needs investigating? We're here to help… E-mail or Tweet us @AutoExpress.

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That wouldn't work in Denmark. I'm convinced Kia would have to replace the fake leather with real leather. There is a case from June 2012 were Renault had to replace everything with real leather, since their brochure had said the car had "leather interior and steering wheel", and it turned out to be vinyl.

" the phrase ‘full leather’ was intended to differentiate it from the part-leather upholstery" - didn't the spokesman mean part-faux-leather upholstery?

Nothing different to Mercedes then, I have a 2003 C200K that has full black Artico leather..... And there is no leather whatsoever in the car my Jag XK8 with full leather only applies to seat faces as did the full leather in both the Ford Probes I owned

It's not a proper off-roader either. Maybe he should take that up with Kia too.

Well you should not be very bright to think that it is all real leather. All mainstream cars mix real leather with
faux leather and they have been doing it for years. One reason is that a full genuwine leather interior would cost way too much.

Also I don't see the problem if the faux leather used was so good, that the owners did not realize it wasn't real untill KIA added the asterisk in their brochure. At last it wouldn't hurt if you think about all the animals that would need to be killed if all the leather used in cars was real...

The point is that manufacturers should tell the whole truth - failing which they should suffer a penalty above the savings they have made. Otherwise their standards of integrity will continue to decline

Leather is a consequence of what many of us eat so its use doesn't cause the unnecessary death of animals. It's true most makers use a mixture tho' and since Joe Bloggs is not aware of that then the brochures should make it absolutely clear. Kia should compensate for misleading buyers tho.

Yet another reason to avoid Kia/Hyundai - not only are their warranties worthless, they are underhanded and unhelpful with customer care too.

I just want to clarify that the skins of the animals we eat are thrown away and there are separate farms that grow cows just for their skins, so that point is not valid.

This story is just silly. Great they are doing consumer advice, etc but this?! Full leather doesn't claim it's real leather. Who uses full real leather apart from high specification luxury brands like Rolls Royce or Ferrari anymore anyway? Even Audis and BMWs probably use faux leather for their top spec cars and only real leather on selected faces. This is all just common sense. For a car using real leather you wouldn't be paying the money you are for the Kia.

Nor will the quoted MPG be achievable. However manufacturers seem to get away with these misleading details, so why not seat materials?

Common sense surely dictates you get what you pay for. I would assume the Dr title of Chris Castelli would indicate a higher level of education, and therefore a higher level of intelligence. This is clearly not the case. If DR Chris Castelli would care to let us know the university he obtained this title from, I'll write and complain that the Dr title isn't representative of the "person" assuming it.

Faux is BEST....cruelty is no statement either worn or driven!

how are their warranties worthless? I only ask because I have had 3 issues with my Kia (more than would be expected I know) and on each occasion the warranty has coughed up without any quibble whatsoever.