Are there any new small, vegan cars out there?
January 22, 2014 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Please help me find a new small, good gas-mileage, vegan car. The car cannot have any leather anywhere in its interior, and it should ideally be equal to or less than 175 inches in length. I would also like it to be no more than $30,000.
posted by Four-Eyed Girl to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The car cannot have any leather anywhere in its interior...

I would think any base-level model would qualify, with the possible exception of the their steering wheels. For some reason, those seem to get leather covering across-the-board. You might find some with pleather covering.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:52 AM on January 22, 2014

A Prius is around 25K, cloth interior.
posted by waving at 8:52 AM on January 22, 2014

I'd check out the Honda Fit. I think the leather is all an upgrade, not standard.
posted by skittlekicks at 8:52 AM on January 22, 2014

The Honda Fit is about 162 inches in length, has no leather standard, is much less than 30k. It doesn't have the greatest small-car gas mileage (we average 35 city), but it's reasonable, I think.
posted by mittens at 8:53 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a very vague question as written. I'd have thought it was much harder to find a small car that had leather in it for under $30K than the opposite. Just spec cloth seat options - I can't think of a car in that price range with standard leather interiors. The only possible place is the gear lever surround in a manual, but if you go with auto that won't be even a possibility.

As for the length, pretty much any small hatchback will be under 175", so really your only parameter is 'good fuel mileage' which is probably not enough to get anything other than a flood of vague answer unless you can come up with some better parameters. Even defining 'good' in your opinion would be a start.

Your price is also pretty generous (unless you are talking about all in prices with tax and 'on the road'. There are LOTS of options for that price within your parameters (such that they are).
posted by Brockles at 8:53 AM on January 22, 2014

Are there any new small, vegan cars out there?

Not really, because cars aren't vegan. The tires likely have stearic acid in them, the rubber is generally vulcanized with animal fats, and the wax on the car very well might be beeswax-based. When you drive the car, it'll be used on roads that are paved with asphalt with glycerin in it, which is generally made from animal tallow.
posted by saeculorum at 9:01 AM on January 22, 2014 [38 favorites]

If you can set your sights lower, to "no obviously animal-based materials in the interior" (for reasons saeculorum points out), there are a wealth of choices under $30,000, assuming you live in the US. Most base models will absolutely not have a leather steering wheel or seats or shift knob. Length-wise, you have choices as small as the Smart and Fiat 500 and as large as the Honda Fit and Toyota Prius and beyond, with hybrid and non-hybrid efficient choices.

On pricing: I bought a new 2013 GTI that is well-equipped and among the most expensive economy-sized (although not economy) cars out there, and including tax (and leather wheel) I was under the $30,000 mark. In fact, I'd argue it would be challenging to spend more than $29,999 given your criteria.

If I were you, I'd refer to the usual suspects -- consumer reports,, talk to friends and family, -- find a few properly-sized cars I liked, then confirm a no-leather-wheel/shift-knob trim level exists. Price will fall into place on its own.
posted by davejay at 9:13 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Problem: the petroleum products used to make both plastic and gasoline come, in part, from the decomposition of animals.

I'm not sure very many vegans actually object to using the remains of animals that died naturally millions of years ago for another purpose, so I'm not really sure what your point is.

Like others have said, most base-model and entry-level cars come without leather.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:23 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

FYI, the Prius is 175.33 inches, 0.33 inches over your limit, but well worth it.
posted by waving at 9:36 AM on January 22, 2014

Hey, just for fun, let's throw some criteria out there: small city car available with a fully non-leather interior, rated an IIHS top safety pick, no more than 174" long and no less than 26mpg city/38mpg highway, no less than a 5 year/50,000 powertrain warranty, under $20,000 including 9% sales tax if you pay sticker price without discounts or negotiation. These criteria are more restrictive and specific than your stated criteria, but just using this as an example.

Starting with IIHS, only these 2013/2014 compact or subcompact cars have a top safety pick (or better) rating so far, of those tested:

Dodge Dart
Ford Focus
Honda Civic
Hyundai Elantra (Sedan only)
Scion Tc
Subaru Impreza
Toyota Prius
Chevrolet Spark

We lose a lot of models by filtering for gas mileage, length and price, leaving us with:

Chevrolet Spark

Now, I'm not saying you should run out and buy a Spark. What I am saying is: lay out your criteria in order of importance to you, and use research tools like and to prune. If you don't find an answer that makes you happy, figure out which criteria you can compromise on, and use that to expand your search.
posted by davejay at 9:36 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm aware that tires and plastic are made from animal products. I'd like to find something as vegan as possible. I understand tires aren't vegan and there is nothing I can do about that, but a leather steering wheel and seats certainly don't have to be leather.

I'd like options like GPS, keyless entry, rear camera, etc and adding them often bumps the car into a higher trim level where leather seats are included. Often even the base trim has leather steering wheel. I don't just want the steering wheel swapped out (which Ford said they would do) as I don't want to contribute to that leather steering wheel being made in the first place.

For example.

Ford C Max: Adding options adds leather seats and base model includes leather steering wheel.

Mazda 3 Hatchback: Adding options I want bumps up the trim to include leather.

VW hatchbacks seem to all have leather.

Toyota Prius wasn't an option as visibility was poor for the driver.

I have a Honda and I'm not happy with it so I don't want another one.

Small cars are good because I have to find street parking in a cramped city (Hoboken NJ) and electric cars are not an option because of the parking situation.
posted by Four-Eyed Girl at 9:41 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Look at a Mazda 2 which is a step down from the Mazda 3. You may have more luck. I love my Mazda 2 (it is a manual, and does have some sort of cloth that may be leather around the shift nob.)
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:53 AM on January 22, 2014

Just bought a Prius with a rear camera and no leather. Visibility is very good. It was more than $30,000 for us, but we didn't trade in. A trade-in Honda should lower your costs dramatically.
posted by citygirl at 9:55 AM on January 22, 2014

Ford Focus? It's fairly small, cheap (but with the ability to add features and I think still stay well under your price max), and does well in safety ratings. I owned one from 2001-2009 and was very impressed with how safe it kept me in a pretty awful highway accident (swerved to avoid deer, ran off an interstate going about 70 MPH). The front of the car was completely smushed, windows broken and crumbled, completely totalled, etc... and I walked away with a scrape on my hand and whiplash. I don't currently have a car, but next time I'm in the market for one I'm definitely going to look at the Focus again.
posted by augustimagination at 9:55 AM on January 22, 2014

Is it possible that the answer is to sacrifice some of the options you want as a step toward setting yourself up with a car that you're ethically comfortable with? If you really want one where the cloth interior is standard (not a swap-out), and it turns out that only basic models have cloth interiors as standard, maybe the answer is to go with a basic model. You may be able to get GPS on your phone or in a standalone unit, and people have certainly driven safely without rear cameras for a long time.

You've got enough other parameters (no Honda, no Prius, no bigger cars) that you may find that this is the choice you're put to.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:16 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just to put it all in one place:

- new car
- less than 175" in length
- no leather (not even wheel or shift knob)
- built-in navigation
- keyless entry
- rear view camera
- "economical"

Keyless entry is pretty standard these days, but to get nav and cam you're looking for a premium small car that allows you to assemble exactly what you want piecemeal. This is not common, because cars are generally sold in the US in specific trim level categories designed to maximize sales rather than serve customers with non-mainstream tastes (I feel your pain; my unicorn is leather steering wheel + stickshift + sunroof, and my desire for a sunroof and leather wheel bumps the trim level into must-have-an-automatic territory for a lot of cars I'd otherwise buy.) In your case, nav and cam means leather.

The go-to premium small car with piecemeal trimming in the US is Mini. Sadly, they no longer offer a non-leather wheel option (they did a few years ago.) Your other piecemeal option isn't really a premium small car -- the Fiat 500 -- and they, too, have decided to eschew offering a leather wheel on base models.

So your options are few, and you will likely have to compromise. If you are willing to give up the rear view camera, the Prius C trim level 3 is your best bet to start; it fits all of your other criteria, including your price point and length (and visibility is, in my opinion, better than the standard Prius model.) In general, it appears Toyota offers more than a few models with nav/without leather wheel, so I'd focus on Toyota for your initial explorations.
posted by davejay at 10:24 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Way back in my vegan days I remember being told that BMW offered a faux leather interior that was popular with the wealthier ethical vegans. I don't know if that's still an option but maybe look into that? BMWs are going to have a lot of the other amenities you want by default since it is a luxury brand, but then again, you will probably have to pay more than $30k for it if you want brand new AND all of those amenities.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:28 AM on January 22, 2014

Car-knowledgable people: isn't it possible to add a back-up camera and GPS as an aftermarket thing? So, buy a base level car, then add in the bits you want separately?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:29 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

GPS is easy; use your smartphone and a mount. Back-up camera options exist in the aftermarket, although they're not typically well-integrated into your interior.
posted by davejay at 10:33 AM on January 22, 2014

...Mini...Sadly, they no longer offer a non-leather wheel option

But they do have an optional Alcantara/leather combo wheel. Alcantara is a synthetic suede, so it would reduce the amount of leather used by at least 50%. Not eliminating entirely, but leather wrapped wheels are quickly becoming the norm for all cars.
posted by hwyengr at 10:36 AM on January 22, 2014

GPS is easy - Garmin or phone is perfectly adequate and arguably superior (most integrated systems are clunky and annoying to use and update). Reversing cameras not so much. That is a real luxury item as standard, and after market ones are generally difficult to integrate in a non-horrible way.

I'm adding my vote to the mismatch between the requirement for low cost/no leather being directly scuppered by wanting very top of the option tree stuff like GPS/Rear camera.
posted by Brockles at 10:37 AM on January 22, 2014

Sadly the Nissan Leaf, while otherwise ecologically thoughtful, has a standard (heated) leather steering wheel even on the cloth model. Huh?
posted by alexandermatheson at 11:26 AM on January 22, 2014

You can totally buy a base model and then get the upgrades you want. Keyless entry is pretty much standard on modern cars. GPS and backup camera can be installed at Best Buy.
posted by mskyle at 11:32 AM on January 22, 2014

It's helpful to know what features you're looking for, but I think if you reflect on it you might find that it's not actually such a limiting factor.

Keyless entry shouldn't be too hard to come by with cloth seats. If need be, you can have it added aftermarket (with keyless ignition too, for those cold winter mornings) for a few hundred bucks. Just get it done by a competent shop, and it'll be just as good as if the manufacturer had done it at the factory.

For GPS I actually prefer using my smartphone – I have a mounting point for it on the windshield, and it's got a nice big screen (it's a Galaxy Note 2). Google's GPS is unparalleled – great interface, excellent pathfinding, constantly-updated street maps, reliable traffic information, etc.

A rear camera might be a little harder to get without going into leather-seat territory, but do you really need that in a small hatchback? (I know you didn't specify a hatchback, but I really think that's the best form factor for an all-around good small car.) Cars like that generally have excellent visibility, and there's no trunk so it's easy to figure out where the back of the car is. I'd tend to think of a rear camera as just being one more expensive electronic doodad to go wrong, in a car like that.

Now, as far as vegan I think that an all-cloth interior is going to be about as good as it gets. You don't have a lot of control over the materials in other parts of the car – they're generally not specified, difficult to ascertain, and in any case tend to be manufactured with similar basic processes across manufacturers. So any car you like that has a non-leather interior should be fine; to make sure that it doesn't have any "hidden" leather trim just go visit the models you like at a dealership and take a look for yourself.

Here are a few cars you might look at. All of them can be had for under $30,000 new, and all of them have wheelbases below 175 inches (except the Prius, which is 176). I'm going to put them in descending order of their Consumer Reports ratings (all of them were near the top of the ratings for their category). These are all automatic transmissions. All of them might have leather-wrapped steering wheels and/or other leather trim, I can't dell the difference between leather and pleather/rubber in the photos.
  • Subaru Impreza Base: 82 points, $19,395, 26mpg overall.
  • Toyota Prius Four: 79 points, $28,435, 44mpg overall.
  • Honda Fit Sport w/Navigation: 68 points, $19,790, 33mpg overall.
  • Hyundai Accent HB SE: 65 points, $17,395, 22mpg overall.
I'd look into those first, particularly the Prius and the Fit as they get better mileage and I've heard good things about them in general. Reliability should be high, and you can probably even get the Fit with navigation if you want that, without having to also have a leather interior.
posted by Scientist at 11:35 AM on January 22, 2014

The Kia Soul+ is 163" long, gets 26mpg combined (24city/30hwy), and has no leather. If you add e-services (but NOT Primo or Audio packages, which upgrade you to leather), you can get the rear-facing camera. Voice-activated navigation is part of the Audio package, unfortunately. With no other add-ons, it comes in at less than $20k.
posted by specialagentwebb at 11:56 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't done the research but we have a Versa that we really like. It's all utilitarian and no fun, but that suits us just fine. No leather. They have a new model (Versa Note) that no one has mentioned yet.
posted by cnc at 12:31 PM on January 22, 2014

VW hatchbacks seem to all have leather.

Have you checked this with a dealer? The basic Golf is specified to have a plastic gear shift and plastic handbrake. I couldn't figure out about the steering wheel--it just tells you it has a steering wheel. I tried the 'build your car' thing on the website for the GTI, which has a leather gear shift and leather handbrake, but the specs didn't mention the steering wheel!
posted by hoyland at 12:32 PM on January 22, 2014

> I tried the 'build your car' thing on the website for the GTI, which has a leather gear shift and leather handbrake, but the specs didn't mention the steering wheel!

VW of America Trims & Specs page for GTI says the Wolfsburg Edition has a leather steering wheel & the Driver's Edition has leather seats. Detail page says Wolf has leather-wrapped shift knob and brake handle, too.

> BMW offered a faux leather interior

Base model of smallest BMW still offers leatherette, but steering wheel is leather wrapped.
posted by morganw at 3:29 PM on January 22, 2014

Google GPS requires a cell data connection. There are GPS apps with a database local to the phone. (e.g. Tom Tom for iOS). If you don't like a standalone GPS up on the dash & can't get a vegan car you like with one, there are in-dash aftermarket GPS devices.
posted by morganw at 3:35 PM on January 22, 2014

It looks like you can add pretty much every extra feature onto a Smart Fortwo but avoid the leather interior/steering wheel, and the price comes in about $20k. They are amazing for parking in tiny spaces, and being tiny they get great MPG. Also apparently 85% recyclable according to the website.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:12 PM on January 22, 2014

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