By on January 20, 2017

2001-2004 Ford Escape

About a quarter century ago, my father’s wife declared that she was tired of her 7-Series Bimmer and that she just wanted “a nice, basic car, like a Saturn.”

“Okay,” I replied, “sounds like a good idea. What options do you need?”

“Nothing special… just the standard things, the basic things.”

“Okay, what are those?”

“Power locks… power windows… A/C where you just pick the temperature number… tilt wheel… leather upholstery… a nice stereo… I want the mirror that gets dark where there are headlights behind you… the remote entry button thing… I don’t want hubcaps… cruise control… it should have some kind of theft alarm…”

“Let me stop you right there,” I said, “I don’t think you’re Saturn material.” Sure enough, her next car was a loaded Audi 100. The funny thing is that most of the things that she considered to be “standard equipment” back in ’92 actually are standard equipment in 2017. But the question remains: When it comes to equipment, how low can you go?

When I was younger, I was totally fine with rolling up my own windows and using the “Back to Black” stuff on my base-model unpainted bumpers and even installing my own stereo. Nowadays, I’m thinking that the level of equipment in the Lincoln Continental Black Label is just about right. If I want to “rough it,” I’ll ride a motorcycle.

But this causes issues when I go to look at new cars, because it’s always tempting to get the next bigger or better car without all of that stuff. Loaded Accord or base TLX? V8 Phaeton with all the trimmings or a W12 with a plain back bench? CL55 AMG or CL65?

I’d like to hear your philosophy for speccing out a vehicle. And what do you consider to be “base” equipment in 2017? Are you closer in spirit to the people who pick the equipment on AutoZone delivery trucks, or do you favor my wicked stepmother’s approach?

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169 Comments on “QOTD: Base! How Low Can You Go?...”

  • avatar

    This is a great QOTD.

    My philosophy may change with recent trends in equipment levels.

    Historically, I ended up almost always buying the fully loaded version of a new car because my must-have options — automatic climate control and a sunroof — were only present on the fully loaded version. But both of those are getting increasingly common.

    On the other hand, I’m increasingly finding a memory driver’s seat to be a must-have, and that’s still a pretty rare feature, so maybe the OEMs’ rich margins on options are safe from me for the moment.

    In used cars, options other than engine or transmission choice rarely change the value much, so I always look for a fully equipped version. Although maybe it didn’t make sense to pay for an airline ticket to California to pick up my Comfort Plus LS460 when “normal” versions without the power rear seats and fancy door pulls could be obtained easily around here.

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree about the memory seats. I cannot physically get into the driver seat of a car that my wife last drove, so that’s become my Waterloo.

      That, cruise control, and AC are my only “must-haves.” Although it is increasingly hard to find many options with a manual transmission AND memory seats. (And there were some random quirks along the way, like the 2006.5 Jetta Sportwagon and the 2010 Mazda 3.)

      • 0 avatar

        The only thing my parents wish their Taurus SEL had is memory seats. My mom has to have the back of the seat straight up, it makes me think of how a robot would position its seat lol. Anyway, it would certainly be a welcomed addition.

      • 0 avatar

        My biggest non negotiable is comfortable seats – particularly ones that are supportive, provide lumbar support, and the same range of adjustments on the passenger side as the driver’s side. For whatever reason, this requirement leaves me with european cars or luxury brands (with some exceptions… cough cough Cadillac, Acura, and Lincoln). I have back problems. I don’t want to always be the one driving, so I should be just as comfortable in the passenger seat as I am in the driver’s seat. Why is this so hard for non german automakers to grasp? The current Jeep Cherokee has the most uncomfortable passenger seat I’ve ever encountered (the driver’s seat is great, the passenger’s seat is horrible because the bottom cushion lifts up to reveal a storage compartment that nobody will ever actually use.

    • 0 avatar

      Huh. I seem to be in the minority’s when it comes to automatic climate control; I’m not a fan. It seems like a complex answer to a non-existent problem.

      I generally know if I want the car warmer or cooler. Why do I need a computer to try and guess what I want?

      • 0 avatar

        It seems like whenever I have a rental, or years ago when I had manual climate control, I was always fiddling with it. Everything from the sun angle warming the car too much to noticing the fan was too noisy had me reaching for the controls every 5 min. I much prefer to set it and forget it. I can go a week in winter and probably never touch it. It’s always 67 and cozy and the car knows when the engine has warmed enough to kick the fan up for quick heating so little cold air is blown at first. I trust the thermostat in my house so why not the car?

        • 0 avatar

          Delta88, I couldn’t have said it better. When I have manual climate control, the temperature is always changing and I’m always (like every minute or two) fiddling with it. I find it distracting and, if I’m doing challenging driving, a bit enraging. With most auto climate systems I just set it and forget it.

          Worst auto climate of any car I’ve ever owned, by the way: 2013 Subaru Forester. Best: 2004 Acura TSX.

          • 0 avatar

            I’m surprised Subaru has issues with such an important feature.

          • 0 avatar

            The auto climate on my 01 outback was awful as well, my 01 XC70 is much better but has way more things to go wrong. Honestly I think this depends on what your used to, when I drive the Durango with out climate I’m annoyed at first after an hour I change it without even thinking about. I find myself overidding the auto climate after driving cars without for a while. It usually take a day or two before I go back to full auto.

          • 0 avatar

            I hope it has improved in the newer cars. I’ve driven a ’14 Forester, but it didn’t have auto climate.

            It loved to crank the fan way up for no good reason when there wasn’t a huge temperature differential. It was reluctant to heat up the car fully when someone (i.e. my wife) set the temperature to something ridiculous like 78. It wouldn’t always turn on the AC under humid conditions, meaning lots of use of the manual defroster during Seattle winters.

            The heated seats in that car sucked too. I haven’t had any other car, even the old ones, that had such issues with climate features. (The auto climate in my shitbox ’89 SHO actually worked really well on the few occasions when the AC was working.)

      • 0 avatar

        If the EATC has to guess at what you want, you’re doing it wrong.

        You set the temp to what you want, it does the rest. This is how your central heat/air in your house works, why is it so difficult in a car?

        It seems to throw some people for a loop.

        When I get in the Taurus after my mom has been in it sometimes, its mind boggling. Temp set to 60, fan turned to high, all vents physically shut. WTF? Why would you do that? “Well I was hot, but it was too cold blowing on me that strong.” So, set the temp to 73° and push auto, the fan speed goes down to normal, the air isn’t on Arctic Blast, everything’s good. Why work against it?

        Or, my favorite, duel temp setting is active, yet both are set to the same temp. Why? I explained that if the passenger side isn’t “on”, it will be the same as the “main” or “drivers” side. So, set it to 73°, you’re good. He gets hot, you’re cold, set your side to 75, his to 70. But its never that way. They seem to forget everything I’ve told them and think that if the passenger side isn’t “on”, no air or heat will make its way to that side.

        • 0 avatar

          Some units turn the compressor off on the A/C so it gets humid in the car even though it is at the requested temp inside.

          In someplace like San Diego that works, in the 100% humidity of the midwest, not so much.

  • avatar

    My “base” includes:
    normally aspirated straight 6 or V8
    four doors
    manual transmission
    no net nannies (infotainment, lane departure, automatic braking, etc.)
    auto HVAC
    decent stock stereo
    leather heated cooled seats
    power windows, mirrors, locks, adjustable steering wheel
    moon roof
    fold down rear seat
    Guess I’ll be keeping my 328i for a while

    • 0 avatar

      LOL. I like you. Although I also have no great issue with turbo or supercharged motors.

      I look at many of the base cars around here and they invariably have a ‘tech pack’ that includes rear camera, base GPS, 7″ screen…. and…. your choice of apple or android carplay.

      Seems to be the thing these days… people need to be attached to their phones.

      I think every car comes with base central locking, aircon, power mirrors and glass etc.

      I dont care about radio. I have never tuned mine. The car just needs to take USB sticks or SD cards.

      My body type is also reasonably normal so I dont need heaps of adjustment… I do like lumbar seats but that’s about it.

      Not a huge fan of electric seats or huge steering adjustment as default settings tends to work.

      One of the “base” things is that I need “SPACE”. I’m a 6ft male and I dont like feeling my head too close to the A pillar. If I feel I’m too close to the car’s pillar its off the list.

      Also I feel that if people experience a ‘life changing technology’ they cant do without it.

      eg. I used that overhead synthesised panoramic camera like Range Rovers have. Its a boon IMO.

    • 0 avatar

      Dead on, except for the moonroof. Also would like (not require) that the fold down rear seat be a split fold down and that the wheel be heated. I will accept a turbo engine (even a 4 cylinder one).

      So who currently offers this in the US? Chevy SS and BMW 320, 328, 335s (if you’ll take the turbo 4 or 6). Anyone else?

  • avatar

    I’m more “what do I actually need” v. “what can I get”.

    My Highlander is a “base” model but with 4wd you got mirror defrost and wiper defroster, but no heated seats. I’m OK with that. It’s my first vehicle with a telescoping steering column and I love that, I wouldn’t want to do without.

    My Dad always said “once you have it, you won’t want to do without it.” His 1982 Celebrity (and every one of his cars prior to it) was manual locks, manual windows, manual seat adjustment. He bought a Cutlass with power locks, power windows, and a power seat.

    His next vehicle was a Bonneville, naturally it had all those features. His next vehicle was a Blazer and it had those toys. Now has a 2009 Torrent with leather and heated seats. I know whatever his next vehicle is mom isn’t going to let him take any steps backward on the equipment list.

  • avatar

    The only “equipment” that really matters to me is the upgraded engine and a manual transmission.

    I try to get the biggest/most powerful engine you can get with the least amount of equipment required for that engine option, and it’s getting harder and harder to do.

    Don’t need sunroof, leather, or navigation, and those seem to be increasingly tied in with the larger/more powerful engine.

    I had to special order a Camry V6 to get one without a sunroof, and now, I don’t even think you can get one without a sunroof.

  • avatar

    I generally like the highest level of equipment that can be speced with a manual transmission, with a couple exceptions:

    -No sunroofs, I’ve had too many leak and I never use them.
    -No interest in stop/start, lane keep assist, auto braking, self-driving tech etc. Not deal breakers but if I’m going to turn them off right away, why pay extra?

    Otherwise, go ahead and spoil me with 30 way seats, leather, big touchscreen, and so on. Every year it seems to get harder to find these things with the 3rd pedal however.

  • avatar

    As a rule of thumb, I consider convenience features safety features. I mean, think of it this way: look at the progression of convenience vs. potential distraction in car audio:

    Cassette Tape: You had to rewind the thing and stop it manually wherever you want to play the track. Want another track on a different cassette? Load, rewind, repeat.

    CD: You had to load the CD, then select a track. Want another track on a different CD? Load, repeat.

    Multi-CD unit: You had to load the CD, if it was not already loaded, then select a track. Want another track on a different CD? Hit the button for the CD, or skip forward to it, or load it, if it wasn’t actually loaded.

    Aux jack: No more fooling with loading anything, just clicking a wheel or hitting a skip button. You still had to load playlists and manually search. Which came about the same time as…

    Steering wheel audio controls: Now you could adjust volume without taking your eyes off the prize.

    Bluetooth Audio: No more fumbling with cables. Load a playlist, then skip merrily around, including using your steering wheel.

    Voice command (once perfected): do it all with your voice and the steering wheel controls.

    I evaluate everything not just in terms of what I want, but if it actually adds both convenience and safety at the same time. It’s hard for me to turn down something that brings both of those pluses to the table, unless it’s just crazy expensive.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you’re absolutely right. It’s a little disheartening on car site forums that so many commenters instantly poo-poo any sort of driver assist tech. I think all these little touches just add to safety and aren’t necessarily there to coddle people. Like Apple Car Play – if someone’s going to use their phone’s GPS, it’s probably safer to use a large screen right in front of them rather than fumble with a smaller phone screen.

      I live in San Diego and will absolutely have the Subaru Eye Sight system in my new Impreza. There are just too many hazards in a major city like this: narrow alley I have to back into from my garage, sun directly in my rear view as I drive east in the afternoons, any amount of rain causing havoc, and just regular close calls when changing lanes in the freeway. Add in that couple percent of real asshole drivers who whip in and out of heavy traffic, and it feels like a no-brainer to me.

      Of course, if I was back in the South where I grew up, I probably wouldn’t consider driver assistance. Just not enough traffic to necessitate it. But the reality is we’re heading toward a high level of automation in driving, which is what needs to happen considering the volume of traffic on our roads now.

  • avatar
    Hamilton Guy

    I bought my Dodge GC van in January 2015, special order. I started with the crew trim and added the safety sphere package, which got me backup camera and cross traffic warning and the trailer tow package. The only thing I missed that I should have ordered was auto dimming side mirrors.

  • avatar

    A car without Bluetooth is one I’ll skip on now. My wife loves having heated seats, and I’ll use them if I’m driving her car, but I find I don’t “have” to have it in whatever I’m driving. Heck, I even put an aftermarket stereo with Bluetooth in my son’s 1997 Tercel I was using while he was at his first year at the Air Force Academy where he couldn’t have his own car. I can live without power windows, apparently…but don’t take away my hand’s free!

    • 0 avatar

      I thought Bluetooth was silly too…until I bought a car that has it. And now I can’t imagine life without it.

      • 0 avatar

        My kids were 7 and 9 when I got my F150 with the basic Sync system. They thought it was so cool when I could “talk to the truck”. I thought it was cool too. I definitely would not want a vehicle without connectivity. Steering wheel controls are great too. Touch screens take too much focus to press the right spot. I don’t want that.

        • 0 avatar

          It’s been about a month since my wife got a vehicle with Bluetooth. My 2 1/2 year old already pipes up from the back seat: “Call Daddy!” “Call Papa!” (her grandfather) “Call Gammy!” and sometimes “Call Momma!” (To which my wife replies – I’m right here.)

          • 0 avatar

            Does it get awkward when your daughter says “Call Daddy” and the postman’s phone rings?

          • 0 avatar



          • 0 avatar

            I got a new cell phone which has the capability to run text messages through my truck. It will play the message with the “female Ford” voice. My 15 year old discovering this, sends me a text, “Hello, my name is Stephen Hawking.” My wife missed the joke completely which made it even funnier.

    • 0 avatar

      My father when we inherited the old Highlander, he feels Bluetooth inecessity because he gets many business calls because of his job. Since the Highlander does not even have a Aux cord,he will only drive it in the winter if there is a blizzard and would rather use his F10 otherwise. We are putting a new stereo in so that when I drive, I don’t have to play my alt rock/heavy metal on a speaker that moves all over the dashboard while consuming 6 batteries over a 2 hour period (that’s the best portable speaker I got lol) ! More importantly the few times I get a phone call from my parents, I can talk while driving(they hate how when I drive my car(that highlander) , I keep my phone in the center console on silent due to lack of Bluetooth access.

      Personally, I only need a functional AC unit, A semi decent radio and that’s it. I’m really more of a traditional driver so the more bare bones the better! I’m definitely lucky I inherited a 03 Limited Highlander instead of a late 80s early 90s economy car.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Depends on the vehicle and its use. My sports car has very little and it doesn’t bother me at all. If I had the same level of equipment in my DD it would piss me off.

    The things I really want in my next ride are:

    -300+ hp
    -RWD or AWD or 4WD
    -HID/LED lights
    -decent stereo with Bluetooth streaming
    -heated seats
    -cooled seats
    -heated steering wheel
    -remote start
    -sunroof, preferably panoramic

    And that’s basically it.

  • avatar

    Won’t buy without:

    Automatic climate control (except old cars)
    Reasonably good suspension tuning for street use
    Heated seats (for the wife)
    Some way of getting music into the stereo at high quality (aux in or newish Bluetooth)
    Transmission I can get along with (more about behavior than type of transmission)

    Really, really want to have:

    A number of cylinders other than four (0, 5, 6, 8 all OK)
    Memory (and therefore power) driver’s seat
    Proximity entry
    Backup camera (in-city; constant parking in tight spaces)

    Nice-ish to have:

    Ventilated seats
    Heated steering wheel
    Upgraded stereo, where the upgrade is decent
    Front parking sensors
    Various power toys

  • avatar

    “Base” equipment in 2017:

    – Power windows
    – AM/FM/CD stereo
    – Side-curtain airbags
    – Air conditioning
    – USB port
    – AUX port
    – Power mirrors
    – Power locks
    – Folding rear seat
    – Cruise control

    Philosophy for speccing out a vehicle:

    – What am I comfortable spending realistically?
    – Am I willing to skimp on a superfluous want?
    – Can I risk a gently used model to get my desired bells and whistles?
    – Will the base stereo suit my needs?
    – Will the seats (material, quality) hold up over car ownership span?
    – What common issues plague the options I want?

  • avatar

    Air Conditioning.
    That’s really about it.
    I like everything else, end greatly prefer leather/fake leather for the 3 kids and a dog, but that’s about it.

    Now almost all my cars are well equipped because when I buy them at 10 years old it matters little for the value.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Is it just that once we have something emotionally we feel like we are going backwards if we give it up?

    Do we really need accessories like:
    Lite up makeup mirrors
    Vibrating seats
    Dual zone climate control
    Automatic sunshades
    Sunroofs (Personal aside I hate them. Had too many that leaked. The sun beats done and it gets too hot on sunny days in traffic. On the highway they get too noisy.)

    To paraphrase Edina Monsoon “I don’t want more choice I just want something more reliable”.

    • 0 avatar

      Dual zone climate control doesn’t work perfectly, but it works well enough to be a marriage easer — she likes it a good 5-6 degrees warmer than I do and the system can usually manage that.

      Sunroofs are fantastic in places like where I live, where there is no sun 9 months of the year and we are starved for light.

      All of my must-haves are based on actual experience. I’d have no problem giving up things I don’t care about, like memory rear seats or power headrests.

      • 0 avatar

        Is it just that once we have something emotionally we feel like we are going backwards if we give it up?

        Honestly I think so. My Dad has purchased used cars his entire life and always wants to feel as if he is “moving forward” even if it is just a used car. When he was getting ready to replace his 82 Celebrity he went and looked at a Eurosport model from the late 80s. It felt too much like the “same thing” to him.

      • 0 avatar
        Car Ramrod

        Dual climate is essential when you have a pregnant passenger.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I’ve always found dual zone climate to be like a no peeing area in a public pool or a no smoking area in a restaurant.

        • 0 avatar

          It works just well enough to keep the two sides feeling different while it’s running. That’s more because of direct air flow (cool air through the vents blowing at my chest, warm air through the ones blowing at her feet) than because the air already in the car somehow magically doesn’t mix.

        • 0 avatar

          I like dual climate control for front and back since a row of seats adds more of a barrier. I had a rental van with passenger and driver dual control. My wife and I weren’t in it long enough to say it mattered.

      • 0 avatar

        The flip side of that all too necessary sunroof in the PNW is that if it leaks, well… I’m very happy I have two cars and indoor parking.

        • 0 avatar

          So much talk about sunroof leaks. I’ve owned eight cars with sunroofs, seven of them while living in the PNW, and I’ve had exactly one leak. And that was a crapbox 1989 Taurus SHO that had been in an accident and had the poor-quality bodywork to show for it. And it only leaked when going around corners at immoderate speeds.

          • 0 avatar

            so a little over 12% of the ones you experienced leak. KInd of a high failure rate.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            I have owned 4. I thought 3 of them leaked but on 2 it turned out to be the windshield. The Land Cruiser actually did leak at the sunroof when I got it but once I cleared the drain it was fine. Incidentally none of my convertibles ever leaked so maybe I’m lucky in that department.

          • 0 avatar

            The one failure, I suspect, was not 100% structurally sound.

            And I’d take the risk of one out of eight sunroofs leaking for the extra light most of the year. In the summer, just close the shade.

  • avatar

    Historically, I’ve purchased vehicles (including the ones that I have now) that are spec’d out in the trim just below the highest one, because I feel like I’m getting the best bang for my buck (with a few nice things tossed into the mix).

    I don’t see that changing in the near future.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Powertrain preferences aside, mine are:
    – leather or vinyl (never cloth)
    – Upgraded stereo (since it doesnt seem cheaper to do it on your own any more)
    – Bluetooth audio
    – POWER SEATS w/ lumbar adjustment

    As an aside, which crossovers and SUVs have decent passenger seats that adjust more than 4 ways? My wife is shopping, and it’d be nice not to have to drive in order to be comfortable

  • avatar

    Interesting question.

    I concluded a car search a few months ago, and during the search, I was always asked what kind of equipment I wanted. Being on a budget, the list was pretty basic – A/C, power windows and locks, cruise control, decent stereo, etc. But that didn’t stop sales-folk from trying to talk me into the latest goodies – hands-free Bluetooth, backup cameras, blindspot monitoring, automatic braking systems, trip computers, etc. I pretty much rejected them all. Nope, I’d say, I don’t need that stuff.

    But the funny thing is…a lot of it ended up on the car I bought, and two months later, I can’t imagine life without my Bluetooth-enabled infotainment system, or the backup camera, or all the car info on the trip computer screen (I’m having almost as much fun trying to max out my MPG as I am figuring out how to get the new car to get around corners quicker…go figure that one).

    In fact, I drove my old Buick the other day (it’s like an old dog…you hate to see it just sit, you know), and found myself missing all of that stuff.

    And I also remembered what passed for “de rigueur” stuff on my first car…A/C and a tape deck.

    So, long answer short…I guess the “stuff your car has to come with” evolves over time, and you never know what you’ll want until you have it. Be open to what’s out there now.

    (And if you are presented the option of heated side mirrors, BUY IT…man, are those handy.)

    • 0 avatar

      Heated side mirrors are starting to appear more and more as “standard” or one step up from base. My wife’s Terrain has heated mirrors but no heated seats and isn’t even AWD – Just an SLE-1.

      It goes back to one of Jack’s earlier columns where he basically said: “sometimes it’s cheaper to build all of them with something than a few of them without.”

      • 0 avatar

        I always wondered why it took so long to get heated mirrors onto vehicles. My dad had them first on a Mack truck back in the 70’s. He loved it. I didn’t get anything with it standard until 2010. Unfortunately bundling of components often means buying the luxobarge to get what you want.

        • 0 avatar

          Why no heated mirrors? Indeed, why not the expensive stuff?

          Mostly because vehicles’ expected service life was MUCH shorter. A six-year-old car was an old car; and probably rusted out. That stuff costs, and then be used only a few years before being tossed in the boneyard.

          Obviously that’s changed, and with it, the elaborate equipment that’s now expected. Power seats, I guess, make sense if you’re buying them for twenty years of use – yourself or the person you’ll be selling the rig to. Reliably-engineered power windows, likewise. Electric power steering (which I despise) which is far more rugged and elaborate than Ford’s linkage-assist bolt-on of the 1970s.

          Something’s gained, I guess, but something’s lost. For myself: THE…ONLY…thing that’s mandatory is A/C. Even that is a change – the first car I had with cold air was just ten years ago, and then only because I couldn’t find one without it.

          I’m reminded of the folly of over-equipping your driver with power everything, as I listen to my Taco’s non-electric power-steering fail. That’s gonna COST…had it been my choice, I’d have just done without it; but I think it might have been standard by the time it was made, 1998

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            The pump on my Land Cruiser was only 200 bucks. Can’t imagine the Tacoma would be more. If you are paying for labor it sucks but in my experience if you are rolling something from 1998 you probably are ok getting your hands dirty.

          • 0 avatar

            I’m okay with getting dirty; but I don’t have a shop. And, frankly, in the three years I’ve owned this thing, this is the first major failure to come.

            So…no workshop, no books, no experience with major repairs on it. Just changing the oil, though, taught me that the Tacoma, in many ways bulletproof, is not owner-service friendly. The oil filter on the 2.4 four is in a place either set up by an imbecile, or in a scheme intended to dissuade owner changes.

            So…for the moment, I wait. If it holds up until things get warmer, I may try it.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      “…two months later, I can’t imagine life without…”

      Yup. Once you have nice things it’s hard to go back, so it’s nice to see this democratization of features once reserved for more expensive cars.

    • 0 avatar

      I know the old Land Rover Discos all shipped with heated seats but they only installed the switched if you checked that option box. You could buy the switches online for $50 and have heated seats. It’s probably similar for newer cars but I don’t know.

  • avatar

    My mother went from a loaded modern car to an A/C-and-a-radio 2000 car last year.

    The only thing she misses is the seat heaters.

    The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

    Beyond what an ’88 Civic Standard had, I want:

    1) A limited slip differential
    2) Power mirrors
    3) Air conditioner for anything that’ll leave Michigan much
    4) 1996-up crash safety
    5) A 15-second quarter mile

    • 0 avatar

      I did the same thing a while back. Here’s my list:

      Heated seats: Miss them
      Sunroof: Enjoyed having it, but don’t really miss it.
      Bluetooth: Miss it
      USB: Miss it
      Heated mirrors: Like the sunroof. Nice to have, but not a big deal
      Cruise Control: Still have it, wouldn’t get a car without it.

  • avatar

    Cruise Control

    The rest is optimizing performance vs utility vs price vs safety. For wife/family car, choose a price* based on budget, then maximize safety, then utility/space at that price. Probably will be a used rental-spec Sedona, Odyssey, or Pacifica next time. For my/fun car, choose a price* and a baseline level of utility (ex: occasionally fits 2 car seats in a pinch), then maximize fun/performance** at that price.

    * Using total cost of ownership, not just purchase price.
    ** Difficult to measure quantitatively, basically needs test drives. Both are important, but handling > acceleration for me personally, along with a manual transmission.

  • avatar

    WOW what an awesome day. A new President, an article from Jack, and Acura told my fleet manager they’re going to (finally) replace my TLX transmission.

    For my own personal car I always go for the top level trim. Many years ago I made the mistake of buying a mid level trim and regretted it almost every day for the next two years.

  • avatar

    Just bought a 2010 Yaris 2 dr hatch to replace my 98 Corolla. Auto, A/C, base radio. that is it. NO power nothing. Getting 37 mpg avg. mostly city.

  • avatar

    I’ve become spoiled as I age and get nicer cars, it’s a catch-23 situation especially if you’re a cheapskate like me

    Desires for my next car:

    Power Heated seats with power lumbar adjustment
    Heated mirrors
    Decent amount of power
    Dual zone A/C
    Backup camera and associated non-crappy infotainment system
    Blind spot warning system
    LED DRLs

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      If you can do without your Three Bs ( Backup camera, Blind spot warning system, Bluetooth ) I’d highly recommend a Gen I CTS-V. 400 HP/ 395 TQ. Loaded with a manual. It’s likely the quickest leather I’ll ever own.

  • avatar

    Navigation touchscreen larger than a cellular telephone– I do not like Mercedes-Benz system.
    Flat screen gauges in full color with more than basic EVIC
    Power Package
    Aluminum wheels
    Speakers in both front and rear dash panels as well as all doors
    Rear center armrest

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    I’ve got kids that ride daily in my car and we take road trips so rather than the RWD + V8 + manual + track pack that I’m supposed to say, my requirements are dull and widely available on today’s family haulers:

    Heated front seats–I’ll get them installed aftermarket if I have to

    Leather steering wheel

    Highly adjustable driver ergonomics–telescoping wheel and highly adjustable driver seat, power or otherwise

    Telescoping sun visors–there is no reason for this not to be standard

    Air conditioning–(duh)

    USB port


    I don’t care for sunroofs, electronic driver aids, climate control, leather, or vaguely leather-like plastic.

  • avatar

    A/C and cruise control for long drives, and I suppose I’ve gotten used to power locks/windows/mirrors where I would rather have them than not. I might purposely get the base model to retain smaller wheels with a fatter sidewall, and no “sport” suspension setups.

    On an SUV, I’d say a 4wd system with true low range is a must, and if a locking rear differential is available I will go to almost any length to get it, as irrational as that may be. Skid plate package is desirable as well.

    More so than options I realize now the difference in ride quality and NVH between classes of cars, I’d rather put option money into upgrading to a Camry LE from a higher-trim Corolla.

  • avatar

    Ok I will change to Yarisman

  • avatar

    I rode in my friend’s Chevy Sonic today and was surprised to see that it had manual windows and no cruise control. However, it does have power locks, keyless entry, and Bluetooth.

    I’m not sure of what my idea of base is anymore, since I have gotten used to the creature comforts my car offers me, even though it’s just a mid-level Touring model and not the top-trim Grand Touring. I like my Blind Spot Monitors, sunroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Homelink, satellite radio, automatic climate control, etc. Yes, I am spoiled now.

    However, my first car was a ’92 Chevy Beretta. THAT was base. It was the 2.2 MPFI four-cylinder model producing a mind-numbing 110 horsepower (more like 75 or so by the time I got it in 2005). Its only options were a 3-speed automatic transmission, a cassette player (lovely GM Delco unit), and air conditioning that I hardly ever used since it took away what little power the car had. Oh, it had the center console, as well, which was surprising.

    No rear defrost, no tilt steering wheel, no power windows/locks, no interior trunk release, no cruise control, etc. But it did have power steering/brakes.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      My understanding is that all Chevy Sonics have the hardware and programming for cruise control, the only difference is that base models don’t have the steering wheel buttons to activate it. You can “add” cruse control to a base-model GM vehicle by swapping the steering wheel for one with the right buttons.

  • avatar

    re: memory seats……

    Why do the OEM’s act like the memory seats is something special that they need to only put in fancy cars, or high level trims?

    I mean, the seat already has the electric motor to move the seat around. How difficult is it to put in a chip to tell it to stop at certain points? Why would they even make the seat with out the chip? I suppose there are addition cost associated with running wires to the buttons in the doors, or programing the setting to certain keys, but they could just put presets and buttons right on the seats themselves to simplify and save cost.

    I’m not all that big on power seats anyway. It aint that much effort to move the seat where I want it manually. Faster too. But the memory thing was nice, cause there was less fiddling around with the stupid buttons.

    My wife likes the heated seats, and I cant say I mind having a warmed rear end either. Having hands free phone thing that works well is a very nice feature to have.

    The only things for me that are deal breaker/must-haves, are cruise control, and intermittent wipers.

    Edit… Oh, and I don’t do hub caps either… although that can be fixed later on any car…..

  • avatar

    I have a Caterham. So, 2 seats, 3 pedals. My bad weather commuter is a 99 Altima because HVAC/defrost. I don’t even need a radio and will pull the fuse if i happen to have one.

  • avatar


    Automatic emergency breaking and stop-and-go-traffic capable cruise control.

    Those two features turn nasty traffic into a much less stressful cruise.

  • avatar
    Marcin Laszuk

    I’m probably in the minority here but here goes: I can hardly imagine myself buying a car in any trim but base. Having some experience with cars from each of the last 3 decades I noticed that while the underlying engineering has gotten markedly better – especially in terms of safety – most optional equipment pieces that have been offered for the last 20 years are nothing but shiny trinkets, and increasingly often serve as answers to questions noone asks (prime example: touch-sensitive buttons instead of physical ones); once again, with the exception of many safety systems.
    Also, there is the issue of placebo: for example, there are currently many cars which have several grades of leather available. I find it hard to believe that an average user can sense any difference between them. People usually just gravitate towards the expensive options out of the misguided belief that they are actually discerning enough to sense and appreciate the difference. Same goes for the thousand-zone AC systems. The air in the car mixes very fast. They don’t care: they can afford 499 per month and by God, they’re gonna max it out no matter what, just you watch.
    Yet, there is something far more silly than splashing out on optional equipment of marginal utility; it manifests itself every time the issue of Porsche blank switches comes up. The people that complain about them do not even claim that they want those options for any additional capabilities; no, they are just afraid that by buying a non-fully-loaded car they commit the ultimate social sin of admitting that they ain’t got the biggest financial d1kk in town. Guess what – chances are they don’t. And nobody will care for their leather vents and self-raising suspension either way. Besides, there’s always something more expensive one can buy, how do those people cope with that?
    So yeah, it’s base models all the way for me. As long as the car’s solid engineering-wise, all I need is fuel injection instead of a carb, a radio, and I’ll be happy as can be. I know that there are many ways in which optional equipment can make a car better, and I know that many of you can feel the difference. The way I see it, though, very often people load up the cars they buy solely because they falsely believe themselves to be more discerning that they actually are, or because they target a specific payment and they’re going to reach that even if a lesser trim would satisfy their needs to the same degree.

  • avatar

    I’m getting older – my list of minimum requirements is getting longer:

    1) Good sound system, because it is really hard to aftermarket most vehicles today – touch screen – don’t need NAV if I can Android or CarPlay, and it needs Bluetooth integration and a USB port.

    2) Dual zone climate control, happy wife, happy life

    3) Heated seats up front (see 2 above)

    4) Power locks, windows, mirrors, seat, auto dimming mirror, outside temp display

    5) good lumbar adjustment for front seats (see 2 above)

    6) Cruise control, just good old fashioned cruise control

    7) Fog lights/auxiliary lights and meaningful headlights that work, the eyes are getting bad

    8) Steering wheel mounted controls – after having these off and on in vehicles since 1987, I feel this is a safety feature if laid out well

    9) Some kind of a spare tire, no inflator kit

    Intentionally left off safety features that are either government mandated (ABS, Stability control, multitude of airbags, etc.) or are about to be mandated (back up camera…)

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      +1 on your 1), 5) and 9)

      I had to compromise on the stereo on the last vehicle but it was unavoidable.

      The can of fix-a-flat or equipping with run-flats is ridiculous.

  • avatar

    I’ve sort of done this experiment when I bought get a 2005 Wrangler for my winter car, parking my 2015 Mustang GT. The Stang is loaded with every option except for autotragic tranny and radar cruise. The Jeep lacks power windows lock and mirrors, keyless entry, backup camera, cruise control, steering wheel stereo controls, ambient lighting, nav, outside temp display, trio computer, auto headlamps, ABS, stability control, power seats, compass, auto dimming mirrors, and push button start. The only things I miss (besides acceleration, braking, and handling) are heated seats and a decent stereo. The Jeep has an aftermarket deck so I have the only other things I couldn’t live without…Bluetooth phone and USB music.

  • avatar

    For me a car now must have bluetooth integration, decent sound, ABS, traction control, good A/C, and be reasonably quiet. I like a sunroof and have never had one to leak. Lately I have been buying used, and I joke that my 2010 Focus SES (has all of above) is the best crappy car I’ve ever owned. The wish-list item for my next car will be cooled seats.

  • avatar

    I bought a new-to-the-market car 2yrs ago (meaning all the modern gee-gaws were available) that happens to have most options available a-la-carte. But I ended up not ordering anything I probably couldn’t get in a mid-trim Corolla/Civic. I also own an early NSX, and frankly there isn’t much, even in showroom form, that I find lacking. Some ‘onboard computer’ stuff (outside temp, miles to empty, avg mpg) would be nice, HID/LED headlights, BT/USB, TPM.

    Then I drive my 71 Datsun pickup which is about as barebones as it gets, and realize that adjustable seats, a power passenger mirror, insulation and HVAC would be nice. The self-cancelling turn signal is sorta broken on it, and I don’t even really miss that anymore.

  • avatar

    Base trim?
    My F150 XLT Crew 4×4 6.5 box XTR (chrome appearance package in USA) would be as low as I’d want to go when it comes to options.

    I’d like to add telescopic steering wheel, tow mirrors, and a Raptor like “disable all of the nannies” button.

  • avatar

    I bought a new ’91 Plymouth Colt for $5995, no AC, no power windows, not even a radio. Had a stereo put in and that car served me well as my commuter until I handed it off to one of my sons.

    I bought a new ’07 350Z Base Model that had AC, power windows, stereo/CD. To my everlasting regret, it did not have cruise control. Over five years of ownership, I paid enough in speeding tickets to have paid for the cruise control.

  • avatar

    AC and automatic transmission, that’s pretty much it.

    • 0 avatar

      For me, AC and Cruise Control (for the long hauls). Everything else is negotiable.

      It’s rare to find something that basic, new. Even my 2006 Ford F150 XLT, which was pretty basic, had power everything, automatic AND the factory-installed tow package. It was the most sparse truck on the lot with a 5.4L V8.

      Ditto my 2011 Tundra SR5 5.7L. But it also had power everything and the tow package.

      • 0 avatar

        By 2006, XLT was getting pretty well-appointed. Automatic, of course, was the only transmission option on all but the 4.2L V6 trucks.

        • 0 avatar

          Drzhivago138, I think the buyers these days have demanded that even the most basic cars/trucks have PW, PS, PDL and Cruise control. The pricing sure reflects that.

          I don’t know if they even make cars without AC any more. In my area they wouldn’t sell because of the scorching desert summer heat, but I could see where farther up north there would be no need for AC, except maybe as part of the Defrost setting.

  • avatar

    Having a very basic car after dailying my wife’s fairly loaded A6, I miss:

    Autodimming mirrors
    Xenon headlights
    Wood trim

    I’m happy to have:
    Manual 8 way seats
    Manual transmission
    Crank windows
    A single DIN deck I can replace and upgrade myself

  • avatar

    Some of my minimum base features can be added aftermarket for much less than at the dealer (Homelink autodimming rear-view mirrors, reasonably sized wheels, etc).

    Otherwise, most of my “base” is thwarted by options packaging. I want an LSD but why do I have to pay extra for appearance crap and 20″ wheels? I want CarPlay specifically because car satnav is such crap so why do some car makers for you to get satnav get CarPlay?

    Anyway, rant over.

    Power door locks
    Power windows
    autodimming garage door opener mirror
    I’ve found that blind spot elimination systems are pretty awesome, so that.
    LSD (if performance car)
    Stability control
    heated seats (now that I have a detached garage)
    proximity key
    projector headlamps (LED or xenon are equally fine)
    Bluetooth audio streaming and phone

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    I once purchased a Geo Metro so basic it even had a radio delete. The only option on the entire car was the passenger side mirror I asked the dealer to add. Once I got it home, I installed a $49.99 Kraco stereo and called it good.

    A week or so ago, Jack wrote about his search for a pickup. It intrigued me so I went to Chevrolet’s website and built a Colorado. The truth is that all I would probably ever really need is the most basic of trucks – something they offer right at about $20K – but by the time I finished clicking around I was at a $35K Crew cab V6 Z71 4X4. That’s a hell of a slippery slope.

    The problem is how the manufacturers package everything today. All I really want is something that looks nice, but to get there I need to check boxes for huge packages that often include a lot of crap I don’t really want. Give me the upscale front fascia, fog lights and a set of good looking wheels and I will probably be good. I’d love a basic interior, no touch screen, no power locks or windows, no headliner and a rubber floor. What we need is a modern Scottsdale.

    • 0 avatar

      Scottsdale is still my favorite of the old C/K trim packages – Cheyenne, Scottsdale, Silverado. Every time I see a Chevy Silverado (which is the name the truck is known by now) I think: “Not everything can be a f(*&ing Silverado.”

  • avatar

    I have about 5 main requirements, when speaking about equipment, that I have to have in a car:

    1.) Power windows/locks
    2.) Cruise control
    3.) Bluetooth or at least the ability to add it relatively painlessly
    4.) Air conditioning
    5.) Tilt/telescoping steering wheel

    That said, I’m much more comfortable if I also have power seats w/ adjustable lumbar, alloy wheels, a spare tire(sadly an option nowadays), climate control, and leather. I also miss having Android Auto, but the phone-only app has made that a bit easier for me since I traded down.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    The more stuff you have the more that can go wrong, especially if it’s electronic. Minimizing frangible options when buying a new or used car will significantly reduce maintenance and repair expense.

    Here’s the thing: the warranty doesn’t last forever. A $200 Garmin GPS works better, is handier, easier to use, and costs nothing to update unlike an expensive built-in factory navigation unit that nobody knows how to repair.

    • 0 avatar

      And for my purposes, I find the Maps feature on my iPhone to be even better still.

      No additional cost, no need to tether it to a phone to get real time traffic and rerouting, updates the maps automatically with no need to download anything, no need to type in addresses of my destinations when they’re in my calendar appointments or emailed (or texted) to me, and the turn by turn instructions will, at a minimum, play though the sound system speakers. If I get a rental with CarPlay, it’s as good or better than built-in nav.

      Best of all, it tucks into my pocket when I get out of the car, and it’s one less piece of electronic gear to deal with.

  • avatar

    The only “options” I need are things like Windows you can see out of, bumpers you can actually use to bump, firm fabric seats, dash and interior bits that don’t look like they came from wal-mart, and a radio with a volume knob.

    With respect to options you could actually choose on an order sheet, all I want is a manual transmission and a panoramic sunroof.

    I think my only option for a new car is the GTI.

  • avatar

    In order of importance:

    3rd Pedal
    Cruise Control
    Power Windows
    Upgraded Speakers w/ USB Audio

    It helps that I prefer cloth seats to leather, unless they’re ventilated/cooled leather seats.

  • avatar

    I knew I was getting softer with age when I test drove a Honda Accord Sport. This was a car I could have driven 10 years or more when I was younger. But the suck ass radio and lack of vents for the rear seats killed the deal.

    Really, Honda? How much trouble to put rear vents, especially since all the interiors in Sports are black? They could have put a decent radio and rear vents and spec’d much smaller wheels/tires and probably made more money. Oh well, maybe 2018 versions will have it.

  • avatar
    Dave W

    Cruise control, light color interior, Rear window defrost, in that order.

    The rest is a moot point because because manufactures sell options Table d’hote rather then ala carte. The most extreme example I’ve personally found was the Elantra touring. The stripper manual was fine except for the lack of cruise control. To get a cruise control in an automatic was $2-300. In the manual you had to get the next package up at close to $4000. No sale. Our current car has every bell and whistle available on that model except the sunroof because that was the only way to find one with a light interior before the massive rebates expired. I would have been fine with less, but they aren’t annoying, some are OK, most I ignore (oooh, ambient lighting, play with 5 minutes, not touched since). I am surprised when I tell the voice command STFU it say’s “I don’t understand”. I don’t know why, it must be one of the most common commands they have gotten over the years.

  • avatar

    My car currently is a base Outback 2.5XT with a manual. It did come with the cold weather package and power driver’s seat. So I have eight-way power and heated seat and climate control… But since it’s a 2005 it doesn’t have any nannies.

    My last car was a 2002 LS430, which was base, so, no NAV or laser cruise, but it did have an impressive list of features.

    Before that it was a 2002 WRX wagon, which was pretty base from the factory and didnt have many available options.

    My wife had to search long and hard for a 2013 Escape that didn’t have AWD, moonroof, and leather, but did have the 2.0EB, NAV, power liftgate and towing package… We found one with most everything we wanted, and I installed the hitch and lighting.

    Before my WRX, I drove basically whatever I could get my hands on for less than $1500. So sometimes it was base and sometimes it was loaded… My Mercury topaz was a pretty sweet winter beater one year, everything but the V6… And straight body panels. I had a slew of air-cooled VWs, those were pretty basic, I drove a frame rail for awhile, it had steel mesh floors and no windshield, so goggles weren’t optional. My Mazda Protege didn’t have many options, but it had the 1.8DOHC, so it was fun… My Toyota Celica was as base as base could be…

    My bicycles are pretty nice though.

  • avatar

    My taste in cars is pretty simplistic, maybe a little too simple by today’s standards. I’d be perfect 1992 Saturn material.

    All I need are:
    A/C, a manual transmission, some sort of stereo, a spare tire, and cruise control.

    Nothing less, nothing more. I don’t need power windows. I have arms for that. I don’t need navigation; I have maps and a memory. I don’t need touchscreens and despise them; they’re finicky and freeze. I don’t want electronic nannies interfering with driving. I don’t even require power door locks, I have no shame in putting a key into the door. I can even live without power steering, I’ve had a fair amount of cars without it. And no backup cameras; they’re distracting and I can turn my head.

    Buying a new car in 2015 that met these requirements was tough. Some base Versas, Fiestas, and Rios came sans power windows. But cruise wasn’t available on those trims.

    I settled on a Sonic LT. It didn’t have the bells and whistles like backup camera, touchscreen, leather, or crash avoidance tech. But it did have cruise and a spare tire, and I’m okay with the power windows and door locks. It is a likable little car and was the perfect balance

  • avatar

    Must have: Manual, RWD, Moonroof. That limits me to very few options, especially in the modern day, I have only owned BMW and Porsche because of this. May consider a roadster one day.

    • 0 avatar

      Meant to add Xenon/LED headlights as a must have too. Everything else is gravy and not necessary…had a 2015 M3 with all the gadgets and don’t miss most of them.

  • avatar

    Despite having them, I don’t really care for climate control or sunroofs. Wouldn’t pay extra for them.

    But I’ve decided I do like integrated navigation, and now that a lot of cars have screens anyway you don’t pay much extra for it. Turns out I like Bluetooth, too. Leather cleans up more easily so I like it. I like power seats because my ideal seating position is always in between two backrest detents (I’m more sensitive to that when the car has a clutch pedal, which is still a must for me). Oh, and adaptive headlights – I’d have to slow down without them.

    In short, I’d rather buy a fully loaded economy compact than a base entry-level luxury car, and bought a Mazda3 2.5L MT hatch. It’s loud and unrefined, but I think I’d get more annoyed if I drove a car with fewer features. Mounting a phone to the dash for navigation is annoying. Base seats in fancy cars are often noticeably worse, along with other aspects of the interior design.

  • avatar

    I kind of have a split personality – I like my cars loaded up with pretty much everything, save for the bigger engines. As long as one of the more fuel efficient engine selections still offers decent performance, I’ll go that way. Problem is that most cars don’t allow you to option them that way – they usually limit the smaller engine option to basic level equipment it seems. I was pleased to discover that I could get a V6 Challenger with basically all the same equipment that could be added to a V8 car, save for the manual trans (bummer) and the more aggressive sport seats, which are now available on the new V6 AWD GT package.

    The other side of my personality is that I prefer trucks and utility vehicles to be fairly basic. My ’06 Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited had just a manual transmission, A/C, cruise control and the OEM subwoofer from the factory. To that I added the compass/temp mirror, a factory NAV radio that was available in other Chrysler products, the SKIM key (key with transponder) security feature to give it a basic level of theft resistance and a Mopar ipod integration kit so I could listen to my tunes. So, as far as ’06 Wranglers go, it’s now as “loaded” as it can be, but it still lacks power windows, power door locks, ABS/Traction control or any safety nannies.

    Something I can’t live without as I get older is good lighting. My last 3 new cars had HID headlamps, which while not equally good, were far and away better than the base setup on each respective vehicle. So far I’m pleased with the HIDs on my Challenger – they are the best I’ve had so far. As far as the Jeeps go (I have an ’02 Sahara as well), I upgraded both of them with Cibie H4 lamps and good Osram Rallye bulbs. Gotta love older vehicles with basic glass sealed beam lamps – opens up all kind of options to upgrade on the cheap.

    I will say that I’m a little surprised at all the people that have had issues with sunroofs. Most of the cars I’ve owned had sunroofs and none of the ones with OEM sunroofs ever leaked. My first car, a 1965 Mustang, had a cheap aftermarket unit that would dribble a little bit if melting snow was sitting on top of the car or it was in a downpour, otherwise it was fine.

  • avatar

    I could do without:

    Ventilated seats with massage feature
    Cabin scent diffuser
    Gesture control on the command OS
    Mobile wi-fi hotspot
    Full Napa leather headliner and floor mats
    Foot rests for rear seats
    A chauffeur

    That would be my idea of a stripper.

  • avatar

    I hate gadgetry and unnecessary complication. My ideal new car would be a Studebaker Scotsman.

  • avatar

    I must be in the minority, but I don’t like automatic climate controls. My car has it and I usually override it manually. I don’t like the noise blowers make when at full speed so I always want to slow it down unless it is ridiculously hot outside.

    Last summer I bought a pristine 1990 Miata. It was loaded by 1990 Miata standards (b-package, so A/C, leather steering wheel, power windows, alloys, power steering, original radio CD and cassette). I found a Bluetooth gadget on Amazon for $15 that plugged into the lighter socket and broadcasts BT through an FM channel. It sounds amazingly good and the built in microphone actually allowed me to make a phone call while driving with the top down with no complaint by the person in the other end of the line. It also has a USB plug so I can still charge my phone while using the socket. Basically, BT is now a $15 add in to any car with a working FM radio.

    For my daily driver, though, I don’t think I could stand not having power locks with remote control (exotic on early 90’s cars). Keyless angry and start has been awesome on rental cars but I wouldn’t pay extra for it. One thing I do want, though, is the ability to open all the windows by remote like on a Lexus. That also seems like something incredibly cheap to add to the program on the remote control but few manufacturers have it. Seems like a nice little convenience for entering a car in a hot day and keeping the kids from whining.

    • 0 avatar

      That “keyless angry” sounds like an interesting option there, Steve. I get that for free when I walk out to the garage and find I’ve left my keys in the house.

  • avatar

    There were cars designed to have base models that fit exactly this sweet spot that was instead filled by the Audi 100 in your story. They were called Oldsmobiles and Mercurys.

    I owned a couple. They were well-appointed for their model years, even though base models.

  • avatar

    Bought my wife a loaded MB E350 BlueTec. I can’t think of anything it doesn’t have. Last new car I bought for myself is the 2012 500 Abarth. It has everything available on that year’s model but the Tom Tom and heated seats.

    As has been pointed out, it’s hard to buy a car – at least a car that I’d want – that doesn’t come with a lot of what used to be options as standard equipment. And they all seem to come in trim levels, none of which are very basic.

    I also have an ’81 X1/9, and basic was all you could get on that one back in the day. Except for AC, which was defeating the purpose.

  • avatar

    I saw a spot on TV (may’ve been Motorweek) that featured a sales mgr at a Ford dealer who hired high school kids – paid them $10 an hour – to teach their new car purchasers how to use all of the features on their cars. He said it was quite popular. Sounded like a great idea to me.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Heated Steering Wheel
    Heated Seats
    Rain Sensing Wipers
    Rear Camera
    Key Fob Access + Push Button Start
    Express up and down on all windows
    Killer Stereo
    Bluetooth Hands free
    Comfortable seats with adequate thigh support (sorry Toyota)
    Power driver’s seat
    Cruise control (BMW-style, with ±1 MPH and ±5MPH adjustments via the stalk)
    Xenon headlights
    Tilt/telescoping wheel
    Power locks
    Blind spot warning
    fold down rear seats

    In other words, just about any car will do.

  • avatar

    My base in mid-1980s: late ’60’s SWB Land Cruiser: 3 speed manual, manual choke, power nothing (windows, locks, steering, brakes), boom box in the passenger seat for music. The luxuries were hi/lo range transfer case and (manually) locking hubs. Had that vehicle in my mid-20s.

    Now, I tend to buy the top trim of the smaller car, not a low trim of the bigger one– C-segment is my preferred vehicle size, anyway. I’ve spent weeks to years with plenty of lo-trim cars (Lada Niva, comrades!) and living with them was fine, but I’m now routinely willing to spend on things that help me ENJOY my time in my car, mainly a good sound system, a good seat, a/c (don’t care about climate control). I’ve also become to believe in getting the best available headlights, and that’s often a top-trim thing in the segments I shop. My upcoming car is going to have a lot more electronic goodies, (blindspot, back-up, radar cruise, pocket fob that replaces key, etc), and I’ll see if any become future musts or future meh’s for me.

    I used to spend for built-in nav, but Apple Car Play has taken that off the list.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, and my upcoming car will be the first one I buy with an automatic transmission. I was a manual special snowflake for, um, forty years, but improvements in automatics have slid it off my ‘must’ list.

  • avatar

    Navigation, Adaptive Cruise Control, Bluetooth and rear camera are a must in any future car of mine. Once you’ve had adaptive cruise, you’ll never buy a car without it.

  • avatar

    You’ve polled the wrong group. Half the people here “must have” a manual transmission. Manual transmissions don’t sell, even in Europe anymore.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Low mileage driver, so, no options. For $800 roll up windows and non automatic locking is fine.

    Came from an optioned up car. I kinda liked the heated steering wheel. Heated seats not so important.

    I’m interested in adaptive cruise control. Lots of cameras. Auto park. Not much else.

  • avatar
    King of Eldorado

    For 11 years I drove a bare-bones 1986 Nissan “Hardbody” pickup with crank windows, vinyl bench seat, no AC, no power steering, 5-spd manual, and no factory audio (I added an aftermarket AM-FM cassette). Following that was a 1998 Civic CX hatch, same lack of features except it had factory AM-FM cassette and comfortable cloth bucket seats, but still crank windows and no AC or PS. The Nissan had other issues such as the hard ride and cramped cab typical of small pickups at the time, but the Civic was actually pleasant (double-wishbone front suspension!), including on the 140-mile round-trip commute I endured for about 8 months.

    In hindsight, the one thing I really missed was cruise control. It’s now a must-have, and fortunately it’s now standard on even some very basic models. I like it for comfort on long trips; it also saves me from speeding and from being one of those people who unconsciously speed up 2-3 mph when someone is passing them. I can now afford most of the niceties those earlier vehicles lacked, but if I had the choice, I would probably still omit nav, which I rarely need. When I do I prefer not to use my phone due to battery and data conservation issues, and the $150 stand-alone Garmin I currently own fills in quite capably.

    • 0 avatar

      My ’99 XL F350 is pretty base – only had an idle controller, air conditioning and chrome front bumper kit on it when I purchased it new. Not even a spare wheel/tire was included. I wanted cruise as the only real option above base. An engineer from Upstate New York posted on a Ford Superduty blog the instructions for adding cruise control to a 7.3 manual like I have. Radio Shack parts – 3 switches, three resistors and a small project box did the trick. The wiring was existing in the steering column bundle so I just spliced into it. Cost me right around $20 to do it; Ford wanted $448 plus installation for adding cruise. I’m so pleased with this base truck (crank windows, manual locks, manual tranny and my added cruise) that I still own it after 18 years and 270k miles.

  • avatar

    Depends on what it is. For a daily driver car in Maine, I generally want:

    Manual transmission
    A/C – but I could not care less about “climate control”, generally
    Heated seats (and I am perfectly happy to DIY this, and have)
    Decent stereo with Bluetooth and a USB port
    Handling over ride comfort as a general rule
    I love sunroofs, but often don’t fit in cars with them well
    A third/fifth door on the back, usually

    Everything else is nice, but not really necessary. I did go for the tech package on my latest car, because why not? Rounding error at that price point. And I must admit I have gotten to like having the little niceties like keyless entry and go, autodimming mirrors, rain sensing wipers, etc. I usually prefer the smaller motor given a choice, but had to get the big motor to LOSE the sunroof this time around.

    For trucks, I like the more basic the better. I’m looking for a white, rubber mat, a/c and auto Ranger pickup to keep in FL at the moment. Auto only because my Mom will need to drive it, otherwise it would be a stick. I usually prefer the smaller motor given a choice, but had to get the big motor to LOSE the sunroof this time.

  • avatar

    How low I’m willing to go depends entirely on model year. Since we’re talking about 2017….I want power windows and auto headlights. Bluetooth is dirt cheap and everywhere, so add that. Power windows? What doesn’t have that. A/C and cruise. Beyond that? Long as I can move the seats to a good position, I’m good.

    I recently drove a 2016 Hyundai Accent. The only things I really wished for was bluetooth and cruise. It was a true stripped down base spec rental.

  • avatar

    I haven’t had enough vehicles to really develop a laundry list, but power seats (don’t even have to be memory), power windows, and A/C are my only real requirements, I guess. And maybe the largest available engine. Not hard to find in flyover country. I could only live with cranks in a 2-door vehicle, like an old regular cab pickup. I’m not much of an audiophile when it comes to my car, so I’m content with listening to music through a tape deck adapter.

  • avatar

    Well, I currently drive 1998 4 cylinder single cab Ford Ranger with manual everything, so I think that’s pretty much the lowest.

    My wife’s car gets all the fancy stuff, but she has to drive clients around in hers sometimes. People usually only ride in the pickup on a dare.

    I’m sure my next car will be more well-appointed in modern terms. But as long as it has AC, runs, and gets 20+ mpg, I can drive it a while.

  • avatar

    I was in the back of the world’s quickest production car (Tesla) yesterday and remembered that great seats are the most important car feature in my book.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Exactly. Some features you can’t get from most manufacturers at any price.
      I’ve yet to sit in a Japanese car with great seats. The original NSX’s were merely good.

      The other thing I recently realized I won’t do without is amber turn signals. I just can’t stand the thought that a manufacturer saved a few bucks at the expense of my safety, and still charged me for real tail lights.

      For those who don’t know, amber rear turn signals have a higher influence on accident rates than center high-mounted stop lamps do. The manufacturer saves $5 by using red turn signals, and you are 50% more likely to get hit (which leads to more parts sales). I can’t sign-up for that deal. I was almost there, but I just could not do it.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    I guess my last true base car was my 91 Saturn SL. It did have AC, but came with an AM only radio and no passenger side mirror. I added the mirror and upgraded the radio later.

    • 0 avatar

      My SL had no AC nor a passenger side mirror. Oddly enough, my current Saturn – an Astra – recently dropped its mirror from the housing. Apparently the glue was no match for cold weather.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        Those original cars were good cars. I had the 91 and a 95 wagon. Both SOHC models and both surpassed 200k miles without drama and held up really well. Both of mine were sticks too.

  • avatar

    I had a 1987 Dodge Lancer ES turbo for 11 years. It had the 2.2L turbo, 3 speed autobox, Level 3 suspension, A/C, AM Stereo/FM radio with four speakers, hatchback body, split folding rear seat, full gauges, 15″ alloy wheels and Eagle GT tires (when delivered). Manual locks, crank windows, cloth sport seats (Japanese Recaro rip-offs), a low dashboard with a substantial lip so you could leave small items on it and a sliding two hole coffee cup holder. I got great utility out of that car, and a fair amount of fun.

    To that basic car, I would add Bluetooth connectivity, remote entry, remote start, four wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, traction control, eLSD, a modern six-speed autobox and a self dimming interior mirror.

    Oddly, that self dimming mirror is one of my favorite features of my newer cars. Remote locking and remote start are wonderful things, especially as it pertains to safety issues in dark parking garages or other situations you may find yourself in…

    To my delight and my older daughter’s credit, she bought a “strippo” 2016 Chevy Malibu Classic (really, the 2015 LS model) which has most of the things that I listed above. With the exception of the hatchback body style and the addition of a lot of convenience features (PW, PSeats, etc.)that I really don’t care for, a car like that could be a keeper for me as I enter my dotage.

  • avatar

    …an electric starter is handy, and i like having side windows and a hood if i need to drive through slow traffic in the rain, and i also enjoy a nice stereo with real knobs and buttons, but other that, the less superfluous automated/comfort features, the happier i am to drive the car…i guess i really don’t mind the convenience of power locks or keyless entry, as long as i can still operate them manually without power or corvette-style heroic effort…

    …that’s for a daily-driver runabout; for long road trips, it’s nice to have a little acoustic insulation and roomy rail-sliding seats…

  • avatar

    On some cars, I like options. On others, I like no options.

    For my Mazda 6, which I traded in for my truck, I wanted the Grand Touring…but with a stick, which you can’t get in the US. I had to settle for the Touring model, which had everything I really needed. I would have liked heated seats and a better stereo, but some things that came on in I actually found useful. The blind spot monitor was a nice feature, especially when reversing out of a spot. The vinyl seats were fine, but leather would have been nicer. Keyless start? Don’t care.

    When I traded that in for my 2016 F150, I thought I knew what I wanted: an XLT with some options. But the more I sat in the almost-base version of the XL, I liked it more. Bench seat, power equipment, cruise control, and the lowest version of SYNC. The only thing I was missing was a bigger screen, but I didn’t want bucket seats, big wheels, or a bunch of other things that came with it. I got everything I wanted, nothing I didn’t, and spent less money because I chose to sit in the one I didn’t think I wanted.

  • avatar

    I want Air Conditioning. That’s about all.
    My 2000 Dodge Caravan was $12,500 total price and only had the option of A/C.
    2.4L 4-cyl
    3 speed auto NO OVERDRIVE
    3 sliding doors
    crank windows
    no power door locks, either.
    manual (no INSIDE LEVER) mirrors. PUSH ON THE MIRROR ITSELF.
    fixed position steering wheel
    And it was fine.
    I also would exceed 100 MPH every weekday on my commute to work.
    Topped at about 112 or so.

  • avatar

    Last base model I bought new was a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. 5-speed manual transmission and seats and an engine and tires was just about it. Very basic. Kept if for a year then decided to go with car share services for a few years.

    Now when I shop a base model for me needs to have power windows and locks, heated seats, some time of phone connectivity or bluetooth and that is about it. All cars come with standard safety like full array of air bags, ESC, ABS. Added luxury to me is pushbutton start.

    One of the best sub $20K deals in Canada right now as far as I’ve seen is the Jetta Trendline+ with manual, a turbo engine, full safety kit, air, power locks and window, apple car play, heated seats and mirrors and other stuff i can’t remember. Essentially, a complete car for $20K. Automatic transmission at a grand or so more.

  • avatar

    My absolute base is actually pretty basic.

    Aside from now standard items like airbags all around, rear view camera, power windows, locks…..Think the only deal breakers for me are wheel covers, rear drums (do they still sell cars with those?), No Bluetooth, and cloth seating.

    I seem to be in the minority as I see no use for automatic dual climate control, prefer manual controls.

    I buy generally on styling, value and some measure of what I feel is technical superiority. Love buying cars that are overbuilt/engineered but unloved by consumers thus great bargains.

    Wants generally include HID/led lights, moon roof, leather, keyless entry/ignition, larger attractive rims, decent sound system. Can’t think of much else that really would away my decision. Given up on buying manuals only, opens up a lot of options.

  • avatar

    My current car is a “base” model, but it really feels like a small luxury car, a ’16 VW Golf. Turbo engine, power locks and windows, eight speaker stereo with satellite, CarPlay, Bluetooth and CD, leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, giant sunroof, aluminum wheels, AC, cruise, tilt/telescope wheel, trip computer, outside temp display, and heated mirrors. It’s quiet, rides nice, and is happiest crusing between 80 and 90 on the open road. Sure, I could have gotten more, but for what I paid for the car, I feel like I stole a luxury sedan!

  • avatar

    As I buy used, my specific options are more limited. When I bought my A5, I looked for a manual transmission and the S Line package, in the color that I wanted. When I finally located one that met those criteria, I pounced. I didn’t get to choose specific options.
    But, I will say that buying used allows me to buy a higher optioned car than buying new, in this case an S line for the price of a base model.

  • avatar

    I just went thru this w myself as I was car shopping, I generally buy used , but I will not buy a car with out a sunroof and really I prefer a Pano Sunroof that goes into the backseat, which ruled out a bunch of cars this time around, must have AC, heated seats,w lumbar, I spend many many hours in my car to the tune of 30K a year so comfy seats are a must, decent sound system, w Sat radio I would welcome better lights, AC seats and a heated steering wheel but not deal breakers. almost all of my cars are foreign cars with the last three Saab,VW,Volvo , nothing beats Volvo and Saabs for great seats. I do not care about power seats or memory seats but most of my cars have them.

  • avatar

    Requirements for me – I think I set the bar pretty low:

    1) ABS brakes. ABS has saved my rear from veering sideways during a panic stop on a few occasions.
    2) 3 or 4-cylinder engine that gets at least 36 MPG on freeway.
    3) Folding rear seat.
    4) Power windows.
    5) Air conditioning.
    6) FM radio with USB outlet. No need for CDs any more.
    7) Power locks.
    8) Driver’s seat with height adjustment.
    9) Overhead map lights.
    10) Rear window defroster.
    11) Tilt/telescoping steering wheel column.

    The 2017 Jetta 1.4 S (base) model has all of these and then some.

    My 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity did not even having a reclining front seat, trip meter that could be reset, passenger side door mirror or a light in the trunk compartment – all things everyone takes completely for granted today!

  • avatar

    I’ve never really cared about all the crazy tech treats that they offer up today. I get the point of it is differentiation, as when all the ‘basics’ mentioned above are standard on a stripper Corolla you need to come up with crazy stuff (a camera that looks ahead to read the road and change damper settings in advance, etc…) to make your expensive car seem special.

    Air conditioning
    Power locks
    Power windows (do crank windows even exist outside of a panel van?)
    Tachometer + full gauges
    Automatic climate control.

    Heavy wants:
    Heated seats
    Leather seats
    Power tilt-telescope w/auto away — I’m a big dude.
    no-sun/moonroof (I own my cars a long time and they always leak and make wind noises after about 10 or so years… it’s basically impossible to get this and the above options on one car)
    At least 8 cylinders.
    bluetooth/usb connectivity
    NAV (Google maps nav with wifi would be a differentiator)

    I have a 1991 LS400 and a 2008 LX570, and both of these cars have everything I’d ever want in a vehicle. I’d take build quality, materials quality and longevity over stupid options any day.

  • avatar

    Manual trans
    Engaging engine
    Single CD player

    That’s about it. First car I really had fun with was a 97 Jeep Cherokee. Manual locks, windows, mirror, seats, transmission….it had power mirrors, but I think I could get by without those. It didn’t even had a tach.

  • avatar

    I only have one really basic want in any car I buy:

    The biggest or most powerful engine option.

  • avatar

    Depends on the type of vehicle.

    When I bought my Wrangler I didn’t care about A/C or power windows, and actually avoided leather seats.

    My work truck? XLT level was fine.

    Mustang – Premium package with all the options was the way to go. Leather, fully integrated touchscreen audio, etc

  • avatar
    el scotto

    This real question should’ve been: Which of 3 or 4 trims that the manufacturers supply chain spits out and which one of those 3 or 4 trim levels that the local mega auto store has on the lot that day is acceptable to you? The most commonly sold new car trims become the most commonly sold used car trims. Stuff you don’t need or really want? You’ll buy the stuff you don’t want to get the stuff you do want. Cue the I waited six months for my unicorn or I actually bought a year end basest of the base at a discount stories.

  • avatar

    I can go pretty low. In my older age, I’m becoming a minimalist.

    So a Citroen 2CV would suit me fine, preferably one of the last ones that were built. If I feel the need for a radio, I’ll install one.

  • avatar

    My formative years were the bad old days of three pedals and crank windows. So pretty much everything past the clown car end of the market already seems specced like a Lexus to me while the actual Lexuses have become so absurdly pampering that I’d feel a bit ashamed of myself for driving one, were I capable of feeling any additional shame beyond that which I already felt for the gaudy Chinese monstrosity that was attached to the front of my car in place of a grill.

    (Cue that Chevy commercial where Howie Long asks the metro with the heated steering wheel if that’s a manicure.)

    So I’ve stuck to the stripper trims with as few options as necessary to get the big motor and never felt as if I were missing out on anything.

  • avatar
    fishfry smith

    I had a base ’91 Isuzu Rodeo. Among other things that were not included with the base model were intermittent wipers. I missed those. Everything else, meh. It was a great car.

    These days I definitely need intermittent wipers (can you even not get them? don’t know), AC, bluetooth, radio, keyless entry (button on key fob is ok), and adjustable lumbar is preferable, but not necessary in a good seat.

  • avatar

    Things I really want to have:
    Power windows
    Power locks with remote control
    Leather seats
    Tilt and telescope adjustable steering wheel
    Seats with plenty of adjust-ability whether it is power or manual
    A/C with dual zone control … manual control preferred
    Back up camera
    Decent sounding audio system. Doesn’t have to be amazing, but can’t be horrible
    Aluminum wheels highly desired, but not with ultra low profile tires

    Things I don’t care about:
    In car navigation (used to be a must have, but Google maps is better)
    Keyless entry
    Push button start
    All wheel drive
    Excessively wide tires with low sidewalls (which are very much in fashion now)

    Our most recent purchase was a 2016 Dodge Grand Caravan SE-Plus trim. It lacks the desired leather and Android integration and has a rear seat video screen we have yet to use. Other than that the equipment level is perfect for me.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    I thought my 91 Saturn SL with AC as the sole option represented the most base I’d go, but then I remembered my dearly missed 91 Miata which was truly option free. Manual steering, stick of course, no AC, roll up windows, and steel wheels for the win. I ditched the steel use for something lighter in a 15 inch rim and with the help of the JDM radio surround put a decent stereo in it. But now I live in Georgia so I’d have to have AC.

  • avatar

    Lol @ FTHorn; my last modernish vehicle was an ’06 base model Caravan. Because I was afraid of Mitsubishi V6s and didn’t trust a salesman to tell me was it really a Mitsubishi 6 or a Chrysler 6, (I don’t know why I didn’t do more research) I bought the 4 cylinder. Automatic, I added cruise control, sunscreen glass, keyless entry and power windows. No power mirrors, no remote mirrors, no power doors, a fairly base car . . .but not compared with an ’86 Sentra we had growing up which had NOTHING and was a real penalty box. Not even a cigarette lighter or radio. No A/C.

    My current driver is a ’91 Cadillac Brougham which was really loaded for ’91 but nowadays is lacking feature wise. The only thing that it did not have that I cannot live without is Keyless Entry, which is important because I cannot lock my keys in the car with Keyless Entry, or it’s harder.

    I have experienced some newer features in rental cars I have had. I had a mercedes in Spain and it had a backup camera and proximity sensors and I had to turn them off every time I started the car because they beeped alarmingly. I can drive a car. I do not need beepy things and find them distracting. I do not want collision warning or laser radar or lane departure whatever. If I Do get a new car I will tape over the backup camera because I find it distracting. I hate pushbutton start because when I go to start the car I:

    Pull out keyfob to unlock car
    Place keyfob in cupholder
    start car, drive, turn off car, forget keyfob in cupholder. Also I believe that pushbutton start will break eventually.

    I live in Atlanta so I do not need heated seats or a heated steering wheel. I don’t know what is Bluetooth or why I would want it.

    I need a car to have:

    Enough power; the 4 cylinder Caravan was not quite sufficient.
    A/C but I don’t care about automatic climate controls.
    I don’t like touchscreens and want knobs/buttons.
    Keyless entry but not pushbutton start
    Power mirrors, windows in all four doors for a minivan, door locks
    A CD Player, no bluetooth or whatever.
    no power doors/tailgate.
    I prefer cloth to leather if it is a nice fuzzy velour and not like the material they make wetsuits out of that is common now in cars. Cloth is warmer in winter, cooler in summer, breathes, and doesn’t crack and disintegrate with age. Cloth stains sometimes but leather wears out.
    Decent headlights cos I do a LOT of driving in the country dark at night looking for houses.

    I like memory seats/mirrors but not a must and I would like a sunroof.

  • avatar
    Big Wheel

    Nice reference in the article title to Public Enemy & “Bring The Noise”. Not sure if that’s where it originated, but that’s what I’m going with.

    I won’t mention car options that are pretty much standard these days (air conditioning, cruise control, et.). I also won’t mention things like comfortable seats, good sightlines, etc., since those are design features. Options I need are:

    LED or Xenon headlights. Regular halogens just don’t cut it anymore. Living in Michigan, my lights are on going to & from work over 6 months of the year, & good lighting is a must.
    Heated seats
    Optional upgraded stereo if the base unit doesn’t cut it.
    As many air bags as possible, like rear side & curtain air bags.
    If choice of suspension tuning, I take the most comfortable.
    Rear camera

  • avatar

    Those of you wishing for those minimal options on your manual transmission car can keep wishing. The options list for the few cars with a manual is almost as long as the toenail on your baby toe. You CAN get some (not all) of those options with a manual transmission, but you’ll have to factory order the car, and good luck finding a dealer who will take the order for you.

    Jack Baruth got what he wanted in his Honda, but I expect he’d have struck out in other parts of the country with a lot of dealers of other makes. Unless you pay a lot closer to list price and accept a more expensive dealer supplied loan, they really can’t make that much off you, compared to somebody buying off the lot.

  • avatar

    Recently speccing a SEAT Toledo – a VW group Spanish fastback built in the Czech Republic by Skoda from a mixture of old Golf and Polo parts. You can see them in Mexico.

    I wanted a basic, cheap to run car.

    However I soon decided that I wanted rear parking sensors, as my current car has them and they’re handy, especially as the Toledo has a sedan shaped trunk out back.
    Wind up windows are so 90s, electric windows all round as an optional extra on the base model.
    Digital radio, as the local FM stations don’t have a great selection. Wheeltrims? No, alloys please thank you very much!
    Armrests, as this would be an automatic DSG transmission (which itself was a specific spec and engine option) commuting car. Come with the optional “Comfort pack”.

    By the time I’d specced it up I’d increased the price by 50%!

  • avatar

    Decent powertrain, comfy seats, good ride, A/C and cruise control.

  • avatar

    I have a 1990 Chevy work truck, 1/2 ton. No air, no auto, no V8 (4.3 6) and no electric windows or locks. When I want to change the temp and it’s cold outside, I slide the lever to the right. When I want to cool off and it’s hot, I slide the lever to the left, pull the floor vents open, and roll down a window to suit.

    It aint that hard, Mrs B :)

    That said, one gets used to the automatic CC as in my Passat. Set and forget. *shrug*

  • avatar

    Most powerful engine available, AC, cruise, good audio system, power everything, auto climate control, blind spot detection, backup camera.

    Nav is nice to have but I could probably live without it since we take the wife’s car when we travel.

    I do not care about a sunroof, heated or cooled seats, heated steering wheel, or the newest driverparking assist gadgets.

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