Are there still base trim cars that offer more than you bargained for?
When it comes to new car prices, the only thing you can be sure of is that you will be paying more than what it says on the windscreen. There are thousands of adverts claiming that the very latest car from your favorite manufacturer is now so cheap that you would be mad not to jump at the opportunity to pay it off in 60 easy installments. The only warning you get that this is merely a tantalizing hook to lure you into the showroom is the term ‘starts from’ that gets a cursory mention during the sales pitch.
You see, for the most part, base models tend to come with not much more than a set of seats and a steering wheel. Some manufacturers know that few shoppers are going to bother with the base ‘L’ model and most of the dealer stock will consist of the better equipped ‘LX’ trim that actually ends up being bought. But there are still a few surprises out there, base models that actually offer enough standard equipment to not be dismissed out of hand. We went digging to unearth some of the best ones on the market today.
Not only is the Fit a class-leading subcompact but it also offers a lot of kit even in base LX trim. Despite its bargain price you get as standard: air-conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control and a 5-inch display with Bluetooth compatibility. One unique feature is the rear folding Magic Seat, this allows you to maneuver the rear bench into various positions to make the most of the available cargo space. While the 6-speed manual is great, if you must have the CVT automatic it also adds adaptive cruise control and a number of driver safety systems too.
The CX-3 is one of the best subcompact crossovers around, it has sharp handling, good looks and a lot of equipment even in base Sport trim. The 7-inch touchscreen offers app integration, Bluetooth and a 6-speaker audio system while the standard safety systems are some of the best in class as automatic low-speed emergency braking is now part of the base trim level too. The rear may be a bit cramped compared to some rivals but the standard 60/40 split-folding rear seat helps in that regard.
German auto manufacturers know a thing or three about charging extra for at times pretty basic extras. The little A3 sedan comes with its fair share of eye-wateringly expensive options but the good news is that the base model is pretty good just the way it is. First off you get a feisty yet frugal 186-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter motor paired to a sharp 7-speed DSG transmission. Audi also generously throws in leather seats with heating and power adjustment for the front pair, a panoramic sunroof and a 10-speaker audio system. Sure, you can pay extra for the Premium Plus and Prestige trims but the base model has everything you really need.
The Mini Cooper is a premium positioned subcompact that makes much of the fact that you can customize it to your personal tastes. Before you know it, you will be sporting a two-tone paint job, head up display, hood stripes and monogramed leather seats and paying big luxury sedan money for a little city car. Avoid all of that though and the base 134-hp Cooper is actually great in base trim. You get dual-zone climate control, auto headlights and wipers, simulated leather interior with eight adjustable front seats and a 6.5-inch display. Did we mention the keyless ignition, rear parking sensors and electronic limited-slip diff? No? Well it has these all as standard too.
The recent redesign of the Camry has brought with it a much sharper exterior, uprated rear suspension and a new stiffer chassis. You get all of this regardless of the trim you choose and the Toyota Safety sense driver assistance package (including adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert and auto headlights) is standard across the range too. The entry level L trim still offers a rearview camera, 7-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth integration, LED headlights and height adjustable driver seat. The 203-hp 2.5-liter engine is just fine too, no need to spend extra on more power and equipment you will rarely use.
If you have to go with a minivan then there is arguably no finer choice than the Chrysler Pacifica. It looks great, handles as well as any of the competition and is quick too. However, with 6 trim levels to pick from and fancy extras like a 20-speaker audio system and an integrated vacuum cleaner you may soon be shelling out a whole lot more than you initially bargained for. Stick with the base L though and you still get the 287-hp 3.6-liter V6 as well as a full range of driver safety devices such as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
It is not only smaller cars and minivans that can offer surprises in the standard specifications department, in fact some of the more upmarket cars tend to be pretty well equipped straight out of the box. The Chevy Camaro is just such a car. The base 1LS comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that actually makes more torque than the 3.6-liter V6 upgrade and it comes with 18-inch alloys, a limited-slip differential, power front seats and keyless ignition and entry all as standard. The standard 6-speed manual transmission is better suited to this type of car anyway so there is no need to spend more than the absolute minimum here.
This one is a bit of a misnomer since there is only one trim level on offer and it comes with just about every feature that can be reasonably fitted to a car. A small sample of the very generous standard items are a 10.3-inch navigation system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, pre-collision warning and full exterior LED lighting. Where Lexus tries to draw you in further is in the additional packages. There are five in total and while they may add a few niceties, the LS-diff is just about the only one worth picking. Forego the heated steering wheel, carbon-fiber bits and faux suede headliner, none will significantly enhance your enjoyment of this V8 GT sports car.
The art of upselling has long been a specialty of car manufacturers but there are still good deals to be had even in the base trim levels, if you are willing to do your homework beforehand. Unless your dealer is willing to throw in the extra equipment for free or you can secure an especially good deal on a better-equipped runout model, spending more on higher trim levels is not always the obvious choice.