By on February 24, 2017

2017 Chevy Equinox L

Most readers are aware of my unbridled enthusiasm for base model cars. Sure, there are a few luxury models that spring to mind where it’s imperative buyers select the top trim, lest they run the risk of an arch nemesis pulling alongside them in an Escalade Platinum when they are piloting a lowly Escalade Luxury.

Thing is, it behooves the frugal customer to pay attention before they sign the note on a set of base wheels. For years, commercials told us “America Runs on Dunkin” when we all know that America Runs on Monthly Payments. Most shoppers have a monthly or biweekly figure in mind and, examined through that lens, base cars aren’t always the best deal.

Take the 2017 Chevy Equinox as an example. With a newly redesigned model on the way for 2018, you can bet dealers are anxious to move their old stock. The base, front-wheel drive Equinox L stickers for $23,995. As of this writing, no (visible) cash is on the hood. Moving up a rung, an Equinox LS with the same drivetrain shows a suggested price of $26,405. Sounds about right, given the extra kit like satellite radio and such that appear on the more expensive model.

Once one looks closely, customers of the more expensive LS benefit from a $2000 allowance towards the MSRP, plus an additional $1,250 cash back for *ahem* well-qualified buyers. That knocks the bottom line well down into base model territory. No one benefits from an atrocious 6.9% interest rate over 72 months, however.

Chrysler 300S

Chrysler’s 300 is another good illustration. The base model Limited (yes, the cheapest 300 is called the Limited) has an MSRP of $32,260. On a 30,000-mile three-year lease, a myriad of offers and incentives put the monthly payment in at $403 per month with no down payment. Or, purchase the thing over 72 months at 1.9% for $37 more per month.

Here’s where it gets fun: the 300S, a full $3,335 more dear than the base model, works out to be a few shekels cheaper per month than its lowly brother. Absent of any down payment and flush with incentives, the snazzier 300 — equipped with better rimz and BeatsAudio approved by Dre — is an even $400 a month on an equivalent three year, 30,000-mile lease.

Infiniti QX30

Don’t think it’s solely the domestic manufacturers playing this game. Infiniti has foisted its diminutive QX30 upon a crossover-hungry marketplace, offering an array of trims on its stylish take of Merc’s GLA250. The base model opens at $29,950. Customers can take a $2,650 walk to the next trim level, a Luxury trim that essentially adds heated leather seats.

Yet, the more expensive QX30 is only $10 more per month on a 39-month lease, thanks again to aggressive lease discounts on the costlier trim. An extra $390 over the term of the lease is worth considering, given the extra kit between the two models.

These aren’t the only models where pricing shenanigans on the lowest rung make stepping up a more financially sound decision. The folks over at carsdirect.com have a few more examples.

None of this dampens my enthusiasm for base cars. Smart customers, as always, will read the fine print and seek out the best deal. Now, go spend your lunch break on various Build and Price tools. My browser history is rife with ‘em.

Payments and prices in these examples do not include taxes or destination charges. ZIP codes for Florida were used on the build and price tools because I’m freezing my nuts off in eastern Canada and dreaming of warmer climes, so rebates and discounts are calculated specifically for that area of the country. However, with a few exceptions, incentives appear to be similar across the nation. As always, do exhaustive research and bargain hard before signing any paper in the F&I office.

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30 Comments on “Waste of Base: Deals Don’t Always Extend to Base Models...”


  • avatar
    seth1065

    6.9% for 72 months , your making that up right? Holy crap does that suck if it is true.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      The dealership will find a buyer another rate that significantly less. The captive finance company just doesn’t want loan on that particular model. Or if they do, they want some cash.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    If they are dying to move metal, I am sure the bases could be had for much cheaper.. who pays sticker anyway?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    6.9% interest rate over 72 months…

    Oy how do they expect to get anyone on that deal?

    A lease is a lease is a lease – look around for the best deal. Who leases a base model anyway?

    Now if you want a real deal on a 300 go look at the CPO specials and spend a small fraction of the savings on an extended warranty if Chrysler makes you nervous.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Perhaps *everyone* qualifies.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’m just laughing at some individual’s stupidity. Even as a divorced and remarried man with a strategic default in my credit history I got less than 4% interest on a used car loan at the local credit union.

        Dang near 7% as an advertised rate is pretty amazing.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      That’s nothing. I received a pre-screened offer from a loan company that must have worked out a deal with the Chevy/Mitsu dealer. I can borrow up to $39,000 at only 18.99% interest (or the highest interest rate available under state usury laws, should it be below that figure).

      I don’t get it, because my credit’s fine.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Yeah, I got one of those too. They figure 1 in 1,000 folks are stupid enough to go for it. And they do. Lots of people don’t know anything about their own credit.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      The dealership will most likely find better financing from one of the banks or credit unions they work with. They may even make a couple extra bucks from the spread.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Interesting stuff. I’d bet that they’ll be giving bigger discounts on that QX30 soon. I work under a mile from Nissan HQ, and though I can usually expect every one of their models no matter how weird or hideous to be plentiful on these streets, I saw my first QX30 yesterday. Oddly, it was driven by a plastic-faced woman who would look more at home in the GLA.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Jeez, I love the looks of that Equinox. Elegantly clean & simple like Hondas used to be.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Hurry up and get one before the update gets completely overwrought.

      A Terrain however will have a little more sound deadening and a bit nicer stereo trim level for trim level than the Equinox.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I just leased a white 2017 ‘Nox LT, nice rig.
      Basically the dealer called me up and begged me to come in.

      And the deals are out there.
      GM ate 3 months of my remaining 5 on the Cruze lease, and the dealer the other 2.

      Surprised it has Michelin tires, uncommon on GMs I think.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Yet, the more expensive QX30 is only $10 a month on a 39-month lease”

    If you don’t mean “$10 *more* a month”, this will be a hot seller.

  • avatar
    John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

    I can’t see paying $400 a month to lease a 300, unless its a V-8 fully loaded, certainly not a Limited or S. Even then I’d be tempted to look at what else I could get for that +/-.

    Who names their base car “Limited” and the step up “S”?
    Was it Opposite Day in Auburn Hills, and they forgot to change it back before it was released?

    I guess GM kinda did that with the Impala Limited and Cruze Limited being the old models built for fleets after the new ones were out. I always liked their “Chevy Classic” name used for that purpose. It’s a generic name that is reminiscent of Chevys of the past and it is the “Classic” older model, though I’d be hard pressed to actually describe those cars as classics. Maybe in 60 years when there are only a handful left.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Blame lousy FCA residuals.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Who names their base car “Limited” and the step up “S”

      LOL, good point. I also can’t see spending $400/mo to lease an old model that I can then only drive 10K miles per year. My daily driving routine is quite short and I still exceed 10k per year.

      • 0 avatar
        MLS

        The intention, I think, was to align trim levels with content rather than establish an absolute hierarchy. On the now-dead Town & Country and 200, Limited was the mid-to-upper trim. Because even the base 300 comes well equipped (e.g., heated leather seats, 18″ aluminum wheels, and 8.4″ touchscreen are standard), I can understand the desire to align it with the Chrysler’s other upper-end models. That way, Limited means something across the brand rather than being vehicle-specific. Same thing with S, which indicates a “sportier,” monochrome trim, regardless of the vehicle.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    If the only way I could get cash on the hood was the 6.9% for 72, I’d take it, and then even before the first payment was due, refinance it through a credit union. Many of them offer decent new-car re-fi rates for any car under a couple years old.

    On another note, I find 1.9 for 72 as “special” financing to be amusing. I just landed 1.49 for 72 from a local credit union, no special-ness needed. (Okay, other than good credit, which I have.)

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    And try finding those base models on the lot. There is a reason those deals on on the mid range models and that is because that is what they have in stock that they need to move. For many of those cars mention the dealer only orders a small number of those base models per year and usually use them as the price leader in their advertising. In other words those base models will still be cheaper in many cases it is just the cost is borne by the dealer instead of the mfg.

    • 0 avatar

      Neighbor wanted the $17k “launch editon” Golf. It was super base, with 15 inch tires (?) and a five speed trans. He went to every local dealer, no go….I suggested a few car websites, and he found it, a few counties away. My local VW (not that I’m likely to go there again) dealer has zero low end cars in stock.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    With regards to the Chevy and maybe the Chrysler, I’m thinking that base model is intended more as a rental car special, hence the lack of consumer incentives. I’m also wondering if part of that price difference is skewed in lease figures because especially when it comes to luxury cars, a base model may depreciate more than one with more desirable options. I had someone who sold Toyotas and Lexus’s say that Lexus’s without navigation were used car lot queens, so the extra cost to lease one with nav was minimal thanks to better residuals. That, and the ability to simplify manufacturing and ordering and stock up on fewer configurations is probably why a lot of the luxury car lease specials you see will include popular features like leather, navigation, and sunroofs.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    tl;dr

    “it’s just math. If you’re bad at math, you’re screwed.”


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