We did the math so you don't have to.
Despite the current situation with logistics and shortages, it's still an amazing time to buy a new car. At this point in time, there aren't many genuinely bad cars on the market in the US. There are some tasteless-looking cars with some dubious design features, but nothing objectively bad. In general, any new car will come with at least all the basic safety features you need, it won't rust out in a few years no matter where you live, and horsepower will be sufficient. It doesn't hurt that engines now last a long, long time when properly maintained. Hell, most manufacturers now throw in some maintenance to make sure things last.
One of our favorite things about new modern cars is that a mid-trim mainstream car can come with an interior and technology that matches premium brand cars just over a decade ago. Some mainstream manufacturers make a good case for having interiors and features that match those delivered by premium brands for less money. Start going to the top of the lineup, and you can leave a dealership with all the bells and whistles. That had us wondering - exactly how much can you spend on a mainstream car?
It doesn't get much cheaper to get into a new ride than the $13,600 Chevrolet Spark. That's the price of the base LS manual and excludes the destination charge of $995. At the top of the tree is the $18,100 2LT Automatic. A premium color costs $395, the Driver Confidence Package adds $295, then interior protection packages cost around the same. A set of painted aluminum wheels adds $1,100, a power sunroof adds another $1,000, and there's some extra trim to add on the outside. Interior options are fairly inexpensive, including the aluminum sport pedal kit for $155 and a dashcam for $299. All in all, you can spend over $22,000 on a Spark including destination, but you'll be adding things like the smoker's kit and a pair of headphones too.
Despite its new sportier looking attitude and Toyota's claim of it being the "Cure for the Common Commute," there aren't many more mainstream cars than a Toyota Camry. The base 2022 model starts at $25,295, while the top of the range XSE V6 starts at $35,720. It comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and luxuries like a perforated leather interior, a panoramic sunroof, a JBL sound system, a 10-inch color head-up display, a nine-inch touchscreen, and 19-inch gloss-black wheels.
Toyota won't charge you for different paint or interior colors, although there isn't a huge choice, and there are just three main option packages to tick on the top Camry: Cold Weather ($150), Driver Assist ($830), and Navigation Upgrade ($1,870). We'll leave off the accessories nobody adds, but even then with all-weather floor mats, dual USB plugs in the back, an enhanced illumination package, paint protection, matte-black wheels, and the TRD appearance package, we got the price up to $41,073. That's $377 less than a base model BMW 3 Series, which is considered a mainstream premium car.
When it comes to mainstream premium cars, you're looking at a white BMW 3 Series. It starts at $41,450 with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine in the case of the 330i, but from there, you have a lot of choices. At the top of the trim levels is the $56,700 M340i xDrive with the BMW M TwinPower Turbo inline six-cylinder engine driving all four wheels.
BMW has made an art, second only to Porsche, of the options game, so you can go nuts here. Before you even get to paint, you're offered a $400 upgrade to Shadowline exterior trim. An extra $1,500 gets you premium paint, and a wheel change costs $600. To get an even more premium interior, you have to spend $4,000 by adding the Premium and Driver Assistance packages as well. We spent over $65,000 before even reaching the packages tab. We added things like the Driving Assistance Professional package ($1,700), the Cooling and High-Performance Tire package ($2,400), the Icon Adaptive LED Headlights with Laserlight ($1,000), front and rear heated seats ($350), and the Harman Kardon surround sound system ($875). We also added the BMW Ultimate Care+ Bundle for $4,699 and came out the other side with a total bill of over $74,000 including destination.
In the US, you don't get more mainstream than a Ford F-150 truck. The F-Series is still (yawn) the best-selling vehicle in America, and you can pretty much spend as much as you want on one. The 2021 F-150 currently starts at $29,290 excluding the destination charge, but you're getting commercial runaround spec and the most base of base models.
At the top of the pile is cowboy limousine spec, the Limited trim, for a whopping great $73,105. It comes with the Supercrew Cab, an EcoBoost V6, Ford's excellent Pro Power Onboard system, a leather bucket seat interior, a Bang and Olufsen sound system, and almost every piece of technology Ford can throw at it. That includes Pro Trailer Backup Assist, Onboard Scales and Smart Hitch, the 360-Degree Camera Package, and all that useful stuff for someone that uses a truck. The most you can opt for with paint costs $595, but for $1,900, you can upgrade the V6 to become a full-hybrid drivetrain. We also added the retractable Tonneau Pickup Box Cover for $1,695, an interior work surface for $165, a bedslide for $1,649, and fender flares for $499, but there's not much extra to add that you need. We left things like a $2,000 tent off the options list and came out at just over $80,000 including destination. That's crazy money for an F-150 but one hell of a package.
Honda's best-selling crossover, the CR-V, starts at $25,750 for the LX trim. At the top of the range is the $35,550 AWD Touring model. The three premium paint options are $395 each, while black alloy 19-inch wheels add $1,488. Honda keeps it pretty simple, and the Touring model is loaded with features by default, so the most expensive package is aesthetic. It's also costly. The Dark Accent Package adds $2,916 to the total, while the most expensive Utility Package adds $1,615. Add the $1,615 Utility Package, and you're now cranking the price before adding some accessories. Our fully loaded CR-V came to almost $43,000.
Tesla has entered the mainstream, even though it hasn't made a sub-$35,000 car yet. You'll slap down $61,990 for the Performance model, then $2,000 for the most expensive red premium paint. A tow hitch is another $1,000, as is a black and white interior. For $10,000, you can buy the willfully misleading Full Self-Driving Capability option. Congratulations, you've spent $75,990, although Tesla says there are "potentially" around $4,000 of savings to be had. Alternatively, you could buy a Ford Mach-E in GT trim for $59,995 or, according to Ford's website, $52,495 with a federal tax credit.
Kia's compact Forte starts at $19,090, but you can opt for the GT trim for $23,490 and add the GT2 package that adds things like a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support and premium sound for $2,200. From there, there's not much more than an interior light kit for $300 and a cargo net for $50 to add. For $27,035 including destination, you can come away with a well-specced and fun little daily driver.
Chevrolet's mainstream supercar starts at $62,195 including destination, but you can crank the price straight away by going for the $69,695 convertible model. With the 3LT trim level added, you've now spent $81,145 on your new Corvette. You can then add $995 for a premium color then another $995 for racing stripes before you get to packages. The IMSA GTLM Championship C8.R Edition package adds another $6,595 on its own, but also requires a host of other upgrades and the Z51 Performance package that raises the price by over $10,000 combined.
A Protection package for the interior and a Roadside Safety package add around $600 before moving onto the exterior. The front lift system, which prevents damage to the front splitter on inclines and speed bumps, costs $2,260, then Carbon Flash-painted nacelles on the hardtop costs $1,295. Inside, competition sport bucket seats cost $500 extra, carbon fiber trim adds $1,500, and who wouldn't pony up the extra $1,495 for 2-piece premium leather travel bags in Jet Black with crossed flags logo to show off at car meets? Add a few choice accessories, and you've spent around $105,0. At the time of writing, pricing for the ZR1 version wasn't available, and we don't expect that to start at anything less than $120,000.