Americans tend to want all the “bells and whistles” on their new cars. Today’s shoppers are opting for higher trim levels and costlier option packages, according to Edmunds’ analysis. These upgrades now add just over $10,000 to the base price on average, whereas a decade ago that figure was closer to $6,500. Even accounting for inflation, this is a significant upward trend.
Naturally, fancy add-ons make new cars more appealing. But the data shows that they don’t hold their value over time, which creates an opportunity for the used-car shopper to get more car for the money. Take the 2016 Lincoln Navigator, for example. If you were looking for the base 2WD Select model and the top L Reserve trim now in the used market, the price gap between trims is $7,329. When they were new, the price difference between the trims was $13,455.
That’s not to say Edmunds recommends the top trims for everyone. Sometimes simpler is better. But steeper depreciation makes the jump up in trims less expensive, giving you more options when shopping for a used vehicle.
We should note that while upper trims will continue to depreciate over time, the prices will eventually plateau. In the meantime, opting for a higher trim level will often give you access to better safety features, leather seating, a more powerful engine, an upgraded infotainment interface and more.
Also, some extras can actually help retain value down the road. According to Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights for Edmunds, traditional upgrades, such as engine options or all-wheel drive in place of front- or rear-wheel drive, will command a premium in the used market. These are things to keep an eye out for when shopping since there will always be a demand for them.
Vehicles to consider
We’ve selected a few vehicles that illustrate the price difference between trim levels in the used-car market, sorted from the smallest to the biggest price difference. Many of these are among Edmunds’ top-rated used cars. We also narrowed the list to 3-year-old models, which often present the best mix of cost, available technology, warranty coverage and miles driven. Note that actual pricing will vary based on location and which trim level you ultimately choose.
2016 Ford Fusion
Used trim difference: $4,182
Maximum trim level price difference on new models: $10,520
Notable features in higher trims: More powerful 2.0-liter engine, keyless ignition and entry, remote start and a premium 12-speaker sound system.
Our editors say: “With solid power, excellent fuel economy, distinctive styling and a huge array of tech features, the Fusion is a great choice for a midsize sedan.”
2016 Acura RDX
Used trim difference: $4,796
Maximum trim level price difference on new models: $8,150
Notable features in higher trims: Leather upholstery, navigation system, ventilated front seats, and front and rear parking sensors.
Our editors say: “One of our favorite models in this size category, the RDX provides a fuel-efficient yet powerful V6, a comfortable interior and a long list of standard features.”
2016 Toyota Rav4
Used trim difference: $6,065
Maximum trim level price difference on new models: $8,560
Notable features in higher trims: An auto-dimming rearview mirror, Toyota Safety Sense package and a 360-degree top-down parking camera system.
Our editors say: “The RAV4 is spacious, versatile, decent to drive, comfortable and well-equipped, and it also enjoys one of the best reliability reputations in its segment.”
2016 Honda Odyssey
Used trim difference: $9,587
Maximum trim level price difference on new models: $15,475
Notable features in higher trims: Xenon headlights, a blind-spot warning system, an integrated vacuum cleaner and a rear-seat entertainment system.
Our editors say: “The Odyssey’s vast cabin ensures that both second- and third-row passengers will be comfortable, even if they’re adults.”
2016 Kia Sorento
Used trim difference: $9,647
Maximum trim level price difference on new models: $18,200
Notable features in higher trims: Leather upholstery, ventilated front seats and heated second-row outboard seats.
Our editors say: “There is a sense of sophistication to the Sorento’s ride that its predecessors lacked, as even top-of-the-line models with their big 19-inch wheels manage to soak up bumps without harshness.”