Per IHS Markit, the average consumer shops for a new car every six years. If you’ve recently purchased a vehicle or plan on purchasing one in the future, you may find yourself asking how much of the comfort and convenience that modern vehicular amenities provide you are willing to sacrifice in the name of saving money. Determining what you want in a vehicle is the key to deciding whether you can settle for a base trim or would rather pay extra for a higher trim level.
In most new vehicles available on the market today, base trims come considerably well-equipped. In many instances, a base vehicle gets you features that were once considered high-end and high-priced options like touch-screen infotainment displays, automatic doors and windows, power front seats and rear-vision cameras. The higher trim level you choose, the more options you can expect. A higher trim may replace cloth surfaces with leather upholstery, add heating and ventilation to seating, improve the audio system and add a number of modern technologies. When analyzing a vehicle’s features across multiple trim levels, you’ll want to compare the differences and ask yourself what features you absolutely can’t live without.
David Friedman of Consumer Reports argues that optional features like forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking should come standard on most vehicles. In all likelihood, given the adoption of suites like Toyota Safety Sense™ and Ford Co-Pilot360™, which provide the latest driver-assist technologies as standard equipment, they will be before too long. In the meantime, features like blind spot warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control are typically only offered on higher trim levels. If you want the utmost confidence and are shopping from the current crop of vehicles, you may want to opt for a higher trim level to get the full complement of available safety features.
As higher trim levels improve the quality of interiors and add on more cutting-edge technologies, they also tend to add improvements to a vehicle’s performance. In the case of many vehicles, opting into a higher trim level means that you are paying for a higher-output or more-efficient powertrain, which includes a different engine and transmission than what is offered at the base level. For some performance-oriented vehicles, moving up to a higher trim means better brakes, sport-tuning for suspension and steering and other improvements to vehicle aerodynamics. While this is perhaps less important than safety and comfort, it may be worth paying for if you enjoy superior driving dynamics.
Know what your plan is
Doug DeMuro, writing for Autotrader in 2015, said that your decision to purchase a base trim or a higher trim may depend on how long you intend to keep a vehicle. If you plan to flip your vehicle within six years, for example, a sparse base trim will not likely be as attractive as a vehicle with more desirable modern features. On the other hand, if you plan on driving your vehicle for a decade or more, this might not matter as much since your vehicle’s condition and mileage will be the primary concerns of a second-hand buyer.
When making your decision, study your budget and determine what you can comfortably afford in terms of a monthly payment. You can use these figures and how long you intend to own your next vehicle to justify your decision to upgrade to a higher trim level or stick with the base model.