2014 Jaguar XKR-S

Holey cow: The Jaguar XKR-S has 12 holes in the bodywork around the engine, but only two of them are necessary.

Keeping up with the Joneses can be an obsessive pursuit, and our addiction to affluence means luxury goods have never been more popular.

The demand for big name brands has skyrocketed in the past decade, from Swiss watches to Italian designer jeans and French handbags to Russian vodka. It seems we all want to lather our lives in the finer things to feel like millionaires.

Although the majority of us cannot afford the real deal, luckily there is a burgeoning business in top-quality knock-offs that means we can, at least, look the part.

Renault Clio RS Monitor - fake engine sounds.

Renault Clio RS Monitor screen - choose your own fake engine sounds.

It's the same in the world on wheels too; not in terms of copy-cat cars (although the Chinese domestic brands are known for producing vehicles that very closely resemble some European models) but artificial materials and design tricks that are made to imitate or exaggerate the real thing.

The push towards more fake and less real is also being driven by environmental concerns (specifically the need to reduce weight, save fuel and protect natural resources) and cost savings. Natural materials are often heavy and/or expensive to source, whereas something that looks almost as good can help save precious grams - or kilograms - to make a car lighter and more fuel- efficient.

Here's a look at some of the latest fake trends in the automotive business.

Chrome Lexus LFA

Wrapped: That's not real chrome on the Lexus LFA.



Even if it looks like leather and feels like leather, you might not be sitting on real cowhide. Check the fine print of the sales brochure, and your seats could be trimmed with something that's termed as ambiguously as leatherette - or even pleather - or as vague as Artico, Sensatec, Maztex or T-Tec.

Holden calais V fake metal/carbon fibre trim.

Holden calais V fake metal/carbon fibre trim.

While most top-end luxury cars still use real cowhide, the majority of smaller and cheaper models use synthetic leather as a substitute. Essentially a high-grade vinyl, the artificial material is not only cheaper to produce, but can be easier to maintain and longer lasting for owners. Just don't expect the leather smell.

And most mainstream cars with real leather only put the leather on selected parts of the car - such as where you're sitting - with the fake stuff reserved for the backs or sides of seats and door trims. That's why the brochure might say something obscure, like ''leather accented'', ''leather appointed'' or ''leather: may contain elements of genuine leather, polyurethane leather (leather substitute) or man-made materials''.

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Fake wood grain.

Fake wood grain.


The rough side of cowhide has traditionally been used to improve grip and texture on tactile surfaces such as steering wheels, particularly on sports cars. But, problem is, genuine suede becomes polished over time, losing that grip and looking tacky. Now, however, there's a lot more suede being used in car seats, headliners, dashboards and other interior trim parts. But it's not the real deal …

It is called Alcantara, a synthetic fabric that looks and feels like suede but is made from a combination of two-thirds polyester and one-third polyurethane that is produced using an advanced chemical and spinning process. It's so realistic - and popular - even the likes of Lamborghini and Maserati use it.



There are plenty of car makers that still make hand-crafted interiors from the finest wood (the likes of Rolls-Royce and Bentley wouldn't dream of using anything else); these days it has to be wood veneer, so as to meet strict safety regulations and not have wood splintering in a crash. But there are plenty of cars with stuff that looks a bit like wood but has nothing to do with Mother Nature. Some look as though they've been plucked from the earth, but many are chintzy and can't hide the fact they are in fact shiny bits of plastic painted to look like wood grain.

It's the same with other finishes, such as carbon fibre and aluminium; there are some ridgy didge examples but most are plastic with patterns or paint made to look like something a little different.



Metal-look finishes are extremely popular, but in an era of weight saving fitting the real thing is often not practical - or cost-effective. While some vehicles do use genuine aluminium finishes on some trim components, most are plastic made to look like metal, with varying levels of success. Even Rolls-Royce uses plastic metal-look components in its Ghost and at one stage was toying with producing its classic metal grille out of plastic. The uber rich traditionalists will be glad it didn't happen.

That also extends to the exterior of the car. Where badges and symbols used to be made from real metal and riveted to the car, most are now plastic and glued to the panels, and even chromed highlights on some cars are simply plastic painted in bright silver.



Luxury car makers often form alliances with other brands that represent the same level of status, from boat makers to sunglasses, fashion labels to hotel chains. One of the most common, though, is high-end Swiss watch companies, which produce limited edition wrist pieces branded with the company logos and, in some cases, using design elements that are unique to the cars.

That relationship is also transferred the other way, with some top-end vehicles featuring branded analog clocks in their dashboards. Some, though, aren't the same hand-crafted mechanical masterpieces created by Swiss technicians, but simply feature their logo.



For car enthusiasts, there is nothing sweeter than a good-sounding exhaust note. But, the sheer progress of the digital world has allowed some car makers to synthesise the sound being channelled to cabin.

Some, like the Mazda MX-5, Focus ST and others, simply use an acoustic tube plumbed directly from the engine's intake system to the firewall behind the dashboard to make it sound better.

But there are others - like the latest BMW M5 - that digitally replicate the exhaust note and play it through the audio system.

And then the latest party trick is to completely alter the exhaust note; the new Renault Clio RS, for example, has a choice of exhaust sounds, from retro Renaults like the Gordini R8 and the mid-engined Clio 3.0 V6 to today's Nissan GT-R and a space-age electric car of tomorrow. Heck, you can even make it sound like a motorcycle.



At the other end of the exhaust system, car designers are playing with the rear bumper to exaggerate the size of the tailpipes. They are incorporating unique designs and bigger holes to make the cars look sportier, but look beyond the plastic tips on most of them and you'll see conventional mufflers with, generally, much smaller pipes feeding into them.

It's a lot more common than you'd suspect, with cars as diverse as the Suzuki Kizashi and Lexus IS-F, to various Mercedes-Benz AMGs and even HSVs.



Getting cool air into the engine and expelling the hot air plays a critical role in the performance of a car, which is why they need mesh grilles. And in some cases, particularly for sports cars, they need a few additional vents in the bonnet, bumper or guards to make it more effective.

But, more so these days, designers have taken control and are using fake vents to amp up the aggressive styling of the car. The Jaguar XKR-S, for example, has 12 holes in the bodywork around the engine, but only two of them - the same grille and lower intake that are on standard variants - actually perform a necessary function. Scoops on various HSVs are also there for show, not go, something increasingly common on even mainstream models.



If you've ever seen a satin sports car, or a chromed coupe, chances are it's not really painted in that extravagant hue. While car makers are offering expensive, and exclusive, finishes such as matte paint, the majority of cars you see with unconventional colour schemes are 'wrapped' in a special vinyl coating.

It is essentially the same plastic you used to cover your school books in, but on a much larger scale and done by professionals, such as sign writers and panel shops, that literally pull the car apart to cover the panels properly and then put it back together.

It's a relatively cheap and effective way of standing out from the crowd, as a ''wrap'' costs from $1500-$5000 depending on the size of your car and the complexity of the vinyl.

It also protects the original paint, and is easy to remove.