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What is a ‘Base Model’ Car?

When shopping for a new car, you may have run across the term “base model.” If you’re not sure what that is, allow us to explain.

Base Model: What You Need to Know

A base model refers to the most basic, no-frills version of the car you are buying. While other versions, or trim levels, of the car might offer more “goodies,” the base model is typically less expensive because it offers fewer amenities.

Think of it the same way you’d think of buying a pizza. The least expensive pie probably gets cheese as its only topping. But if you prefer pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, and more, then you’re moving up from the base model pizza. With a car, you’re moving up to higher trim levels, with, of course, a bigger price tag.

Automakers usually designate the different trim levels of their vehicles with suffixes on their names. For example, the Kia Forte, a compact sedan, has five trim levels: FE, LXS, GT-Line, GT, and EX. The FE is the base model of the Forte. Each of the other models has varying levels of advanced equipment and amenities.

Sometimes automakers use no suffix on the names of their base models, or, as is the case with the Mazda3, they offer a straightforward breakdown of the trim levels. The Mazda3 comes as a Base, Select, Preferred, or Premium model.

Extra amenities on today’s vehicles include such wide-ranging features as larger, more powerful engines, heated and/or cooled seats, and lane departure warning systems, among many others.

Basic models can sometimes differ slightly in appearance from higher trim levels, with fewer design cues on the exterior or interior. Think regular headlights or taillights, as opposed to LEDs. Or regular steel wheels, rather than higher-end alloys.

Base Model: To Buy or Not to Buy?

The biggest argument in favor of buying a basic model car is the amount of money you save. If you don’t care about getting some of the features mentioned above, you’ll do fine with the no-frills model of a car.

However, the resale value of base model vehicles is lower than that of models higher up the trim level rankings. So if you think you’ll sell the vehicle or trade it in somewhere down the line, that might be something to think about.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published. Rob Douthit contributed to this report.

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Do you actually think that every person in the world has “extra” money to spend if they are actually poor? Let’s say, homeless. If you were homeless and needed a car, do you really think these “essentials” are more important than just having a car, which would keep you out of the rain, out of the cold, and take you places you needed to go?  They don’t care about resale values! Your ignorance of basic human needs is appalling and frankly embarassing. Tell me how to actually get the most inexpensive new car I can get! Don’t run down my sensibilities by implying that I’m being cheap as if I had a choice. Poor people need cars too and they don’t need to be talked down to in the process.

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