By on June 11, 2021

BlueSkyImage/Shutterstock.com

Yesterday you saw our new feature, The Right Spec, which exists to replace Ace of Base. As a reminder of how it works, Matthew (or anyone who pens one in his absence) will take a popular model (and/or one recently reviewed here) and tell you how he thinks you should spec it.

As I edited his piece, I was reminded of the endless debate that takes place in auto-journo circles when it comes to specs on the cars we actually test.

For the uninitiated, most of the test cars we get (or drive on junkets) are top-trim and fully loaded. And many of us scribes whine because we’ve noticed that for many models, consumers tend to buy mid-level trims in greater numbers, and we think we should be testing what’s popular with buyers.

Imagine whining about driving fully loaded cars each week. But aside from the fact that us well-fed auto writers are good at complaining, the argument is actually a pretty good one. We probably should spend more time testing the most-popular configurations.

Inside baseball aside, I am also curious how you, the average buyer, specs your vehicles. Do you go full boat? A mid-trim that has just what you need and not anything more? Are base models just fine? And how do you handle automakers like Honda that don’t offer features a la carte — meaning you might have to step up to a higher trim if you want, say, heated seats, even if that means also taking on features you don’t need?

So yeah, you’re getting two QOTDs for the price of one today. It’s Friday, it’s summer, and I’m in a good mood. Heck, I will even throw in a third one: What are your must haves? I know we’ve asked that before, but it’s been a while.

Sound off below.

[Image: BlueSkyImage/Shutterstock.com]

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75 Comments on “QOTD: What’s Your Spec?...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    The only option on my Charger R/T was the decklid spoiler. The Stinger GT has no options and it was the “base” way to get into the V6T.

    I’m generally willing to go for an extra-cost exterior color or performance-enhancing options. Anything else I need some decent convincing. “Base” cars in my price range are already very well equipped.

    As a consumer, I don’t like option bundles and trim paywalls. It’s a main reason why I tend to just stick with “base” cars. But from a business perspective I know why manufacturers do it.

    My must-haves are:
    0. A gazillion horsepower
    1. Styling I like
    2. Not grayscale color
    3. Good air conditioning
    4. Don’t scrape on driveways and speedbumps.

  • avatar
    4runner

    I know this is going to sound wishy-washy – but I usually aim for mid-level with leather/very good imitation leather (think softtex), Car Play, and the advanced ADAS stuff.

    (Let’s face it, the ADAS stuff saves lives and prevents accidents. If it just works once, it’s worth it. It prevented my car from hitting a pedestrian – who was looking down at their phone with the earbuds in their ears who felt that they could cross the road anywhere and without looking.)

    I don’t like the low profile tires. I live in Michigan and that simply results in bent wheels.

    I find that Honda’s one-size-fits-all option packages generally get better value than à la carte packages. For example, outfitting a GM with things that come standard in Honda’s EX-L, usually results in a significantly higher price differential. .

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Full Boat: The older I get the more comfort and convenience I want. I live in the north so I want heated everything. I want the best engine and the top grade interior. Tech gadgets are fine, but I only use half of them. I want navigation, because I get lost a lot ;-)

    I don’t want to see a comparable make vehicle with better stuff that makes me wish I didn’t cheap out on the options. At my age I want it all :)

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Definitely a heated steering wheel. Once you have used one for the winter you’ll never wear gloves to the car again!

      • 0 avatar
        nrd515

        I thought a heated wheel was just nonsense when I first saw a car with one. I don’t remember when that was. But time and age, along with 35+ years if working on cars, being a bouncer for about 5 years, and driving a couple of friend’s cars with one totally changed my mind. Now, I wouldn’t even think about buying anything without one.

        I don’t like “weak” colors, I want impact. I like black, but around here, the pollen makes a black car look terrible half the year, and I don’t want to spend the time washing a black car all the time. Silver/grey? Boring as hell. White? Nope, not a fan. Red, orange, yellow, bright blue, purple, all good. Hate hate hate the FCA F8 green and even worse is “Destroyer Gray”, IMHO, the worst color ever on a Chrysler vehicle.

        I picked “TorRed” for my present car, a Challenger Scat Pack. Last car was a Challenger R/T, in “Hemi Orange”, but I actually wanted yellow on both of them. It is/was hard to find on a car without a sunroof, which I won’t touch with someone else’s money.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Is it me, or is the pollen in Northwest Ohio worse than usual this year?

          To the QOTD: fully loaded. I like toys on a vehicle, and since I hang onto them for six or seven years, I might as well enjoy it! Must-haves include adaptive cruise, A/C, decent stereo, heated/vented seats, and some kind of navigation to supplement a phone.

  • avatar
    MPAVictoria

    This is such a great question! I have a few must haves;
    – Enough power to not feel slow (300 hp seems to be the sweet spot)
    – Power seats (I have a bad back and these have made long road trips way more comfortable)
    – Heated seats (Canadian winters)
    – A decent stereo
    Most of the other stuff (sunroofs, leather seats, advanced safety tech) are all nice to have but not really necessary.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    I will always pony up for the following, and generally accept some options I don’t want if I must in order to get them:

    -Biggest engine
    -Heated leather seats
    -Best stereo option
    -Manual transmission
    -Performance options (depending on vehicle)
    -A better headlight option (LED if possible)

    I am take it or leave it on:

    -Cooled seats
    -Heated wheel
    -Safety options (some I like, some I don’t, but they often come bundled together and I can turn off the ones I don’t like)
    -Wheel and tire packages
    -Extra cost paint colors/blackout/appearance packages
    -Entertainment system in family cars

    I hate the following enough that I would pay extra if necessary to ensure a vehicle does not have:

    -Sunroof
    -Diesel engine
    -Graphics packages (think Raptor)
    -CVT
    -Electrification of any kind
    -Non-defeatable stop/start

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’d like to have the up level stereo but increasingly it’s getting put behind a paywall that I’m not willing to pony up for.

    I want a less than 7 sec 0-60 but under 5 starts to seem a little unnecessary for my personal use.

    No sunroof or convertible top. One more thing to go wrong.

    AWD/4WD when available and LSD when available.

    3 row CUV/SUV needs center bench. I intend to keep the 3rd row folded as much as possible and the wife needs to be able to sit between the kids.

    Towing package when available if it comes with goodies like upgraded cooling.

    I need to be able to get all-season tires as part of what I’m ordering. Summer only tires straight off the dealer lot is as useful as paddles on a poodle.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I like the *idea* of an up-level stereo but in reality I almost always balk at it because they are either:
      -Behind a trim paywall
      -In an option bundle full of other stuff I don’t want
      -$3,000 or more

      I mean $3K (or more) to better hear Primus over satellite radio??? That’s like 2.3 sets of Michelin 4S tires or 2 years of fuel.

      Some companies are now doing a “mid-level” audio option for like $900. That’s more reasonable, assuming I can actually hear a difference.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Sights and Sounds on my Buick (adaptive headlights – REALLY GOOD ONES & BOSE stereo) was $1,800 extra.

        Playing with the Ford Maverick tool however shows that the B&O stereo is part of a package that’s $3,800 EXTRA on a LARIAT! ARE YOU KIDDING ME, FORD?!?!

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I like the upgrade sound system, I found out I like driving a concert hall. Even talk radio is more engaging with a premium sound system

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          I really like the Sights & Sound package on my TourX too. It is much better than the Bose in the 2018 CT6 2.0E plug-in.

          How is the Buick holding up? Will you have any repairs stories like Corey does on his VW?!

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            At 26,000 miles doing fine. Minor disappointments in the dealer with acting like there aren’t updates to make to the infotainment (I gave them the number of the freaking TSB). Original tires became unbalanced at 20,000 miles (despite being rotated at every oil change). Dealer tecs tried to cover it up with a $hit load of weights. Fix only lasted 50 miles. Local independent tire shop had to tell me the truth. I replaced them with UHP all-season tires.

            If you look at the Forums I believe the foam filled Continental Contisilent tires were not ready for prime-time.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I just bought an almost totally stripped out ’02 Silverado RCLB with THREE options:

    -automatic
    -cruise control
    -heavy-duty suspensio0n

    As it turns out, I rather enjoy manually operating my windows and door locks and seats and mirrors.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      But, but, no A/C?! No way, even here in Wisconsin it’s going to be 97 degrees F today

      • 0 avatar
        eggsalad

        By 2002, A/C was standard, although there was a “delete option” (I think) only available to fleet buyers or Canadians. In Vegas, A/C is NOT an option.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          The only vehicle that I have even a passing interest in that does not come with A/C standard is the Jeep Wrangler. How many are actually built that way?

          Although I want the bare minimums listed above those requirements are dropped when I do off road fantasy builds. If I’m dreaming about a full size Bronco or Wrangler I want 2-door bare bones. LSD and hardtop as only options.

  • avatar
    EAM3

    I want everything except for:
    1. Engine auto stop/start
    2. Panoramic sunroof (seems mandatory these days)
    3. Touch screen controls for every function in the car
    4. Leather (south FL)

  • avatar
    redapple

    Must have

    1 Cloth Seats. (i dont get leather. Hot in the summer. Cold in the winter. Screw that.)
    2 AC obviously.
    3 Cruise
    4 Decent Stereo. Top level stereo in the car sometimes is a big $ option that is not worth the extra $. I have an expensinve system at home.
    5 No Start stop or must be easily defeat able. Having to go thru 4 levels of menus on the TV screen is not ‘easily defeat able.’

  • avatar
    lifino

    I don’t often shop new cars with any intent to buy (play the online options game at least once a week)

    I replaced a 2007 Odyssey with a 2021 Civic. Went with the EX, wanted the advanced safety, couldn’t swing the extra monthly payment to add Leather. Any of the stuff added after the EX wasn’t critical for me, although a better amp/speaker buildout would have been nice, just can’t justify it for the little bit of time I actually would use it.

    Beyond that, when I was shopping on thing I had toward the top of my Want list was a driver seat with position memory because my wife drives my car frequently and we are significantly different sizes. When optioning the Mazda CX-5 I could get it, at Honda it just wasn’t in the cards.

    However, relating to the Which MX-5 Top question from yesterday; I daily lust after the MX-5, that is one where I would go soft top on the base model, with three pedals.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I go with lowest trim (unless engine involved) but then I look what I lose I usually endup in the next to lowest.

    Examples
    2011 Mazda3i Touring (2nd lowest) – added alloys, blue tooth, couple other useful features
    2019 Highlander LX v6 AWD (2nd lowest) – added v6 AWD
    2017 Mazda6 Sport (lowest) has all I need, including navigation. Problem going up was leatherette. I like upholstery.

    Speaking of Honda – Honda packaging is exactly a reason why I never bought one since 1993. When I shopped Mazda3/Civic, to get blue tooth in Civic, I had to go to 21K+ model, while Mazda had this in 18K model. Civic also gave me unwanted sunroof. But if I would go LX – no blue tooth, no split folding seat, drums on rear, and many other “no”.
    Unfortunately, from 2014 Mazda went Honda way of packaging but at least their lowest package had a lot of goodies. Unfortunately, if you want upholstery, you must stay in the lowest trim.

    At the Jeep, when I shopped JGC, you could customize till you lose your mind. Mini too BTW. I took the lowest model and loaded it with features I wanted, It became $45K car with a lot of goodies and upholstery, heated seats. Mini, can be custom built for you totally.

    • 0 avatar
      lifino

      I find lately the Honda “Trim” packages line up well for my desires. On the other hand the Toyota strategy of infinitely fine cutting and blurring of the lines to be a major turnoff – I just can’t compare all the options packages and it makes it harder to compare with other manuf. not to mention the Toyota/Honda like models, I always find I prefer the H’s driving dynamics.

      BMW also falls into this strategy of making thousands (ok, dozens) of variants of the same model and their website becomes an obstacle to determining which is best suited to meet a set of desires & needs. I’ve never thought of putting my money in BMW’s hands, but have helped my FIL in his biannual searches.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Selling a car to Slavuta has to be a nightmare…

      “Back seat? Don’t want no back seat, in old country we use old sofa cushion, make strong men out of little Russkis”

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        Selling a car to me is very easy. I already know what I want and OOD price. I come, I cut all the BS out, I ask for OOD price. And this is the only one thing salesman must talk to me about.

        Actually, last time I also had a trade-in, but since dealer paid straight KBB value I just agreed to it in a sec, for a car with engine, transmission and suspension issues. I wouldn’t sell this car to a private person.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Prefer a mid range with leather. All I really demand is bluetooth, heated seats, and a power drivers seat. Color depends on what looks good on the car. Every car is different.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Give me the upgraded powertrain in a low (ie: cloth) trim level and I’m usually happy.

  • avatar
    KOKing

    As much of a PITA (because dealers in the US do NOT want to order to spec) and money sink (cause you never recover it at resale) I like it when carmakers let you a-la-carte options. I tend to not like a lot of gadgets in cars, so when playing with configurators I tend to stay toward the low to mid spec, but often the trim packaging makes that impossible.
    I recall when I considered getting the then-new 3rd gen Mazda3, the only way to get HIDs on a MT hatch was a full boat Grand Touring at ~$27k, when I’d just driven a friend’s base-af $18.5k one and found it otherwise perfectly acceptable. Ended up ordering a ‘English reading room’ (BRG slicktop, chrome, brown/tartan/open pore wood interior) 3cyl Cooper for that $27k where half the options became one-year-only.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    I will pay for almost anything if I think I will use it enough. Often the mid-trim levels have most of what I need.

    The thing that often gets in the way of finding the Perfect Spec is: Trim Levels and Packages.

    We just bought a 2021 Toyota Venza XLE which had almost everything we wanted – except for rain sensing wipers. Adding that 1 feature would have required us to step up to the Limited trim (+$3,800) and then add a $750 package on top of that (HUD + rain sensing wipers). A package that is confusingly not available on the XLE. So, ~$4,500 for the 9 extra things on the Limited I don’t really want just to get the 1 thing I do want.

    On the flip side to that, in 2017 I bought a manual Mazda6 Touring. I really wanted all the features on the higher trim Grand Touring but Mazda did not offer a manual on that trim level. I would have even settled for the Lighting Package on the Touring…but selecting that package required also selecting the automatic transmission! Very confusing. Mazda was too busy pumping out the CX-5 to care much about the handful of manual buyers out there.

    The answer to these problems is more variety or selling a la carte, which becomes very expensive very quickly (see: Porsche).

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I’m a total feature junkie and tend to buy fully optioned. I’ll budget for the fully optioned car new, and I’ll spend a lot of time finding the full-boat version used.

    With that said, my actual must-have features used to all be top-trim stuff, but lately have been percolating throughout lineups. In descending order of importance these are my favorite features:

    – Electric or hybrid power (for family cars)
    – Auto climate control (the more zones, the better)
    – Heated seats
    – Power seats with memory
    – Sunroof
    – Upgraded stereo

    I only care about upgraded powertrains if either (1) the base powertrain is slow enough that it wouldn’t be comfortable doing 85 up Lookout Pass or (2) the upgrade is from a four to anything else.

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    My absolute MUST have items are because I’m 6’4″. Legroom, headroom, seats with good thigh support. These are not usually “spec-able” except in the case of an intrusive sunroof.

    My absolute MUST NOT have item is goofy styling which looks like an anime warrior helmet with wheels. This is getting harder and harder to avoid. My idea of a beautiful car is something like an early Jaguar XJ6, or a first-gen Lexus SC, or (more affordably) an early ’90s Camry.

    Spec-able things which are a must for me:

    No monochrome paint jobs
    Multiple audio connections (All three of USB and bluetooth and a 3.5 jack)
    Analog controls for HVAC and audio.

    Things that are nice but not absolute must haves:

    Power seats with a memory function.
    Remote start for cold mornings.
    Heated seats ditto.
    If automatic, manual up-down shifting on the console (not paddles)
    Sunroof if it does not take away headroom.

    Things that I actively do not want:
    Any nanny functions that I can’t turn off.
    High-end audio if it costs me anything (my ears can’t tell the difference).
    In-dash satnav (I have a decade’s worth of custom routes and waypoints loaded into my Garmin).
    Turbochargers – unless the specific engine has a rock solid reliability record.

  • avatar
    Yankee

    This is a great idea for reviews. Someday my 204k-mile car will have to be replaced, but the problem is I just don’t like anything out there these days. Everything seems to be over-styled (e.g., fake air vents on the back) and over-contented. I suppose I’m not the average buyer, but I think of things like sonar sensors I don’t need quadrupling the cost of a bumper cover paint touch up in the future. 4runner’s point about safety tech saving lives is valid, but I just want a simple, well-built vehicle. I also don’t need tons of horsepower for just getting to work and the grocery store. Even base models are coming with a lot of stuff to justify a higher price. I’ll never forget renting a Toyota Yaris for work a few years ago in Vermont that had lane-departure warnings, forward collision alerts, and automatic braking, but you had to reach outside to manually adjust the side mirrors!

  • avatar
    JMII

    Different OEMs sell so many packages, trims and options in multiple different ways this is impossible to answer. In general the Asian makes (Honda & Toyota) have trims where as the Big 3 allow you check boxes on and off as desired to create nearly endless combos.

    I love that my C7 is fully loaded (Z51 3LT) since its nice knowing I got everything and thus am not missing out on something. However not all the options are “good” – in my case the upgraded leather dash is known to fail (cheap glue thanks GM). So checking every box can increase risk as its just more stuff to break down the road.

    For my Dodge truck I actually didn’t want all the goodies. I downgraded to plain cloth seats since they tend to wear better. 20 years later I feel a made the right choice as my interior still looks like new, where as the leather in my wife’s 7 year old Infiniti is already showing some cracks. On flip side I added options that made my truck more durable such as the towing package that gives you more cooling, bigger alternator, better gearing, etc.

    I will say for the big ticket items like the engine I want the best available. Most OEM stereos are junk so would save money there. Electronic gizmos are hit or miss but I’d rather have them then not. For example heated seats are nearly worthless in FL but come bundled with something like power memory that is a must have for me.

    In general with most offering a 3 tier approach I find the middle model is the sweet spot. If anything I’d go up, not down… I’ve honestly never owned the “base” version of a vehicle, it just seems like that can only lead down a path of regret.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Generally these are my priorities.
    Quiet ride, decent power and handling, good fuel efficiency, AC, cruise control, decent cloth seats, light color interior. I hardly ever use entertainment systems (on long road trips I might put on some music for an hour or so), so all the high zoot sound systems are meaningless. Essentially these days, Ace of Base usually has me more than covered.

    Lots of the stuff that the higher trim levels buy today just buys ornamentation and more complex gimmicks with complex operational protocols, no thanks. Keep it simple, stupid.

    That light color interior preference is the b**ch. Lots of models only offer lighter color interior options on their upper trim levels, otherwise black is the default and that is the worst interior color IMHO.

  • avatar
    Drew8MR

    I want all the performance options: big motor, manual, handling package and none of the comfort options, except ac. So, cloth, manual everything,no sunroof, radio delete. I’ll be stuck with stupid big wheels no matter what probably, but they are easy enough to trade on CL for base wheels. Pretty sure no one will build this for me except Porsche these days and probably not even them.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      You can get pretty close to this spec with the pony cars, although base radios are cheap enough and integrated enough with car systems that nobody’s going to be deleting them. The Mustang GT non-Premium and Camaro LT1 really don’t have much fluff. They have big wheels but they also have big brakes.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        A base Wrangler comes pretty close to this wish list too, although I can’t seem to find the handling package on the options list.

      • 0 avatar
        Drew8MR

        The base Mustang’s manual doesn’t have a very good rep unfortunately, and I think the Tremec is GT350/Bullitt only. In a Mustang I’d want a stripper GT350 ideally. In the real world I can afford my options are basically Caterham,Ariel and the Elise.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          If I wanted a base Mustang GT, I’d roll the dice on the MT-82. Some of the issues can apparently be fixed by installing a stronger clutch, while others might cause the transmission itself to wear faster than it should. But $1k for a new clutch or $5k for a transmission rebuild down the line is a lot cheaper than spending $20k+ to upgrade to the Mach 1. (The GT350 is now dearly departed, but the Mach 1 has the Tremec.)

          If I were looking at a loaded GT Premium, the upgrade to the Mach 1 for the better transmission would make a lot more sense.

  • avatar
    Fred

    It would be nice spec out a car exactly like I want, but that is unlikely. Example; With my TSX Sportwagon I wanted a back up camera, but the only way to get it was with the $2000 Tech package. So I got the base and later put in a infotainment screen and camera for about $800

  • avatar
    MeJ

    I will say what I absolutely DON’T want: anything with a million different driver’s aides (self parking cars??? WTF). If you need these to drive safely you shouldn’t be driving

  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    Excellent question! My list of must haves is a two car approach. To wit:

    1) I want at least one vehicle that is a good road vehicle for trips. Usually, that means that this car is more fully loaded, as in top (limited or touring) trim. I will demand current safety technologies, leather interior, dual zone climate control, adaptive cruise control and a decent stereo. My wife would add to that dual memory seat settings, although I personally am flexible on that. It can be either a sedan or an SUV, and I will almost always buy it new.

    2) Vehicle number two does not have to be top spec. I do want the safety technologies. but cloth seats, regular A/C, and fewer niceties are fine. Buying used is OK for this, although it could also be a higher mileage first vehicle that is being “retired” to second car status.

    In addition, since I live in NE Ohio, I do want at least one car to have AWD, and one car needs to have cargo capacity. Those requirements can be met by either the first or second car.

    Right now, our first car is a 2015 Sonata Limited that has done incredibly well as a great vehicle for trips. However, it is pushing 80,000 miles and is likely to be switched to second car status fairly soon. If I do that, it will be a great vehicle for local driving and grocery runs (large trunk). I bought it new.

    Our current 2nd vehicle is a 2010 Venza base model with AWD that we bought used and only has 73,000 miles on it. I would keep it indefinitely, but it has none of the safety technologies, especially the back up camera. At age 71, I trust myself less and less when backing up, and am not enthused by the aftermarket backup cams I’ve seen. So…I’m probably going to sell it sometime this year and buy an SUV or wagon with cargo capacity, which will then become our road trip vehicle.

    The main point is that I want two vehicles that meet these two uses. Whether the cargo and/or AWD capability is in car one or two is negotiable. But I want my two vehicles for those two uses – one mostly for trips, one mostly for local. Fortunately, my wife is pretty flexible on what she drives, so this approach works for us.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Didn’t GM destroy much of its brand equity by allowing customers to spec a Chev sedan with options comparable to what were included in a Cadillac?

    Why pay to go ‘full zoot’ on a lesser marque when you can often get a vehicle from a more prestigious marque for the same coin. For example what is the difference between a loaded Toyota and a base Lexus in both comforts and price?

    For the past 25+ years I have tended to go, with the ‘base’ style model if it provides the same engine as the higher spec model.

    Perhaps I am jades from putting many miles on air cooled VW’s, etc?

    Most of what we need, and much of what we don’t are now considered as standard equipment:
    Bluetooth.
    ABS
    Stability/traction control
    Vanity mirror
    Map light
    Decent multi speaker, push button radio/sound systems
    Tinted windows
    Multi speed wipers. I remember when they had 2 speeds, if you were lucky.
    One touch ‘flash to pass’ control. VW was the first with this.
    Column mounted high beam control. Remember when they were operated by a pedal on the floor? The column mount was also a VW feature.
    Remote door lock control/fob

    Options that I have been informed we must have:
    Heated seats
    Blind spot monitor
    A/C.
    6 way adjustable driver’s seat
    Power side view mirror adjustments
    Cup holders
    USB ports/chargers
    Centre console
    2 pedals (yeah, I just gave up my MT car)

    Options that we ‘like’ to have:
    Heated steering wheel.
    Light in the glove box
    Light in the trunk, hatch and hood
    Proper road clearance, to get up and down raised driveways, etc
    Seatback pockets

    Options/features that I prefer/require:
    Analogue gauges/instrument panel.
    Dials and/or knobs to adjust the HVAC and radio.
    Reclining/adjustable rear seating with proper adjustable head restraints for all 3 passengers.
    No scrolling through multiple screens. The screen is usually impossible to read if the sun is behind us, and it requires that we take our eyes off the road to make adjustments.
    Cloth seating. And I would prefer a nice velour. Had it up to here with ‘leather’.
    16 inch maximum tires. And nothing with ‘low profile’.
    Steelies. Since we swap tires at least twice per year have little to no use for expensive alloys. I often even leave the wheel covers off even in the summer to make it easier to retorque the wheels monthly.
    Proper floor mats. Hello Weathertech.
    Auto on/off lights.
    Dipsticks for all/most of the fluids.
    An actual horn, that sounds like it means business.
    On Star. Yes I believe that it is a useful option/service.
    An extended/long manufacturer’s warranty.

    Things that I want that are now largely unavailable (possibly due to my price range):
    Actual key locks on at least both the 2 front doors.
    A real spare tire.
    On-board air compressor. Like GM put into Montanas.
    Deep pile carpeting. Why is most carpeting in cars now much like mouse fur?
    Real chrome.
    A big(ger) torquey engine. Like a GM 3800.
    Manual windows.
    Cornering lights.
    A trunk/hatch that has a separate locking mechanism. Like VW used to use.

    Things that I do not want/need want to pay for:
    AWD/4wd. Thanks very much but I use winter tires, do not go off road and ‘know’ how to drive in the winter/poor conditions having been driving in Canada for nearly 50 years.
    Push button start.
    Remote start.
    Leather interior.
    Turbo.
    Sat nav. Thanks but we have phones.
    ‘Extra large’ and/or low profile tires.
    Power opening or closing doors/hatches. Thanks but I can do that myself faster than the electric motor.
    Back up camera. It blinds me when it comes on at night. And I still prefer to turn my head when parking/backing up.
    Roof racks. Have had cars with them since 1992 and have never used them once.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “For example what is the difference between a loaded Toyota and a base Lexus in both comforts and price?”

      As it happened I went through this recently and ended up with the Toyota.

      If you compare the top-trim Highlander Hybrid with the RX450h (this involved cars from before there was a RX450hL) you find the following pros for each:

      Toyota:
      – Has a third row and more cargo room
      – Has well-integrated factory hitch kit
      – Has thigh extenders and heated wheel that require rare, pricey “Luxury” package on the Lexus
      – Has pano roof standard where it is an expensive option on the Lexus
      – Looks nicer (although generic)

      Lexus:
      – Better materials
      – Has some features not on the Toyota (the big one for me, a city parker: auto-folding mirrors)
      – A bit quieter

      New, the loaded Highlander costs about the same as a RX450h with the common options but none of the expensive or rare ones. Used, the RX tends to be slightly cheaper for the same year and miles.

      The cars have the same safety suite and most of the same feature content, but the extra room and better looks sealed the deal for the Toyota.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Thanks. I would assume that the availability of a 3rd row could be a deal maker/breaker and even move it somewhat into a different market.

        One facet that you did not mention was the ‘dealer experience’ which some of the B&B take very seriously. For instance doesn’t Lexus provide both a pick-up and drop off service and free loaner vehicles? Would that not make a difference for some consumers?

        I am surprised that heated seats are not standard on the Lexus. However up here in Canada they are becoming standard on even some entry level vehicles.

        The biggest surprise for me is that a Toyota ‘goes for more’ on the used market than a Lexus.

        And I did forget in my previous post to mention another ‘do not want’. Sunroofs. I have many reasons for disliking/not wanting one. But I ardently long for the day when T-Roofs make their return.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Dealer experience used to be a factor, but honestly our local Lexus dealer is so high-volume that it really isn’t much different anymore. At either the Toyota or Lexus dealer you’re making a service appointment at a time like “9:08,” getting rushed through intake by an overworked service writer, getting told that, no, we don’t do loaners unless we need your car for a week or more, and either getting dropped off by a harried gofer driving a shuttle van or finding a Jump bike to get back to downtown, and then getting a call half an hour before closing that your car is ready.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      “I often even leave the wheel covers off even in the summer to make it easier to retorque the wheels monthly.”
      Hmmmm, a functional reason for steel wheels. Here I was thinking that all of those naked steel wheels I have seen in Canada was some sort of fashion / fad.

  • avatar

    It really depends on what it is. Trucks and offroad oriented SUVs, I really just care about the mechincal options. Same with a performance car. For daily drivers give me as loaded up as possible. The less I like a body style (ie sedans) the more stuff it takes to win me over.

  • avatar
    Norman Stansfield

    Don’t need navigation, Car Play does that.
    Don’t need driver aids like auto pilot, lane departure, blind spot monitoring etc… I’m driving, I’m doing those things.
    ABS & traction control, sure.
    Climate control, yes. Set a temperature and forget it.
    Leather is nice, depending on the ride.
    For some cars, the backup camera is needed.(Camaro).
    HUD is nice to have, but not need.
    Bluetooth connectivity.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I’m an ABC kind of guy when it comes to daily drivers and toys.

    For working trucks I prefer the XL Plus for the power locks and windows though I’m really only after the power locks. If it is a pickup then 4×4 with the off-road package or stand alone skid plates. I also want the limited slip or locking diff.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    I look at what’s out their and decide what my price limit is and then go from there.
    Right now I’d like a Colorado ZR2 diesel but any Colorado is hard to find and in 2022 Chevy is going to discontinue the diesel. I have to pizz or get off the pot.
    The next gen Colorado is supposed to get the turbo 4 out of the Sierra. If a turbo 4 is all I have to look at and Ford comes out with a Ranger Raptor, that would change the math.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I’m a middle trim kind of guy, and if there’s only two levels, I usually go for the lower one. My must haves include power seats and heated seats, but my last 2 cars have had the power seat lower cushion extender and OMG, what a big improvement over the short Lexus seat cushions. What I used to need, but now don’t care about: sunroof (hardly ever use it) and fancy stereo. What I don’t ever want: run flat tires. I will NEVER again drive a new car off the dealer’s lot with run flats installed. Bumpy, noisy, and very expensive to change (despite the dealer swearing that they have gotten “so much better” in the last 10 years.) My previous “must haves” are now almost universally included: back up cameras, BSW, auto emergency braking. (Lane Keep Assist is a PITA on canyons, if have turned it off when I’ve driven a car with it.) I am over 70 and am not getting any more agile, attentive or improving my senses with every passing year. I want all the help I can get.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    Ok let’s get to it:

    Must haves:
    -A/C
    -PWR windows/locks/mirrors
    -Alloy wheels
    -Android auto / Carplay
    -Tires with decent sidewalls. The worst I’ve gone with is 55 profile and I went through 2 tires in the same year. My city is pothole land
    -20 MPG combined or greater
    -0-60 in less than 8 seconds
    -Timing chain
    -Trip copmuter
    -Cloth seats
    -Temp gauge

    Nice to have:
    -PWR seats
    -Sunroof
    -Manual transmission
    -AWD/4WD
    -Limited slip or locking diff
    -Premium audio with subwoofer. It’s not a must since I’ve been handy replacing the sound system on previous vehicles and saved tons of money doing so.
    -Oil pressure gauge, Volt meter

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    “-Timing chain”

    Doggone, I forgot to mention that.

    Last time I was car shopping though, every one of the eight or nine cars I was considering (2016-19 models) had a chain. None of them were particularly big ticket models either.

    How many timing belt cars are still being made, I wonder.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Yep. That is a must have. I forgot to mention that as well.
      And full analogue gauges.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      GM’s tiny 1.2 engine bolter to the Trailblazer and Encore GX has a timing belt. I’m not sure about the 1.3L though….

      Also the 1.5L I-3 Ecoboost in the Bronco Sport and Escape has a timing belt.

      Honda has a timing belt in its 3.5 J-series engine. All of the above examples are interference designs.

      FWIW, my wife’s 2012 FIesta 5 spd has 140K miles under its timing belt (which is rated for 150K). I’ve already bought the kit with water pump for $100, but will let someone else do the JOB and replace the car in 1 or 2 years with something else.
      Next car will have a timing chain for sure, since I’ve never ever needed replacing timing chains nor tensioners on previous cars.

  • avatar
    Dan

    I came up in the dregs of the 80s and my ideas on cars haven’t shifted much since then. My spec is purely reactionary, I hate what I had – little economy cars – and love what I couldn’t. The closer it is to a 500ci Cadillac the more I like it.

    Gimmicks and gadgets don’t speak to me all, the basest of crap boxes already have more than ever existed back then so six cameras and an iPad in the dash are more annoying for their presence than their absence.

    In practical terms that means whichever half ton has the best motor in a trim with cloth seats, a Challenger, and awfully little else.

  • avatar
    deanst

    I look for three things:

    Cloth seats
    Manual transmission
    Panoramic sunroof

    I think the GTI is about the only car available with these options, but I’m not willing to roll the dice on VW reliability. Guess I’m headed to a used car lot.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      Get a full size Bronco and trade the Pano roof with a removable roof. I’d definitely do that if I was in the market. Maybe in 4 or 5 years…

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Just the stuff that’s tough to upgrade later. I got the base XL pickup, Arrest Me Red, came with V8, extended cab, 4X4, 3.55 gears, locker and then “donor” upgraded to Lariat, Limited, FX4 parts including trim, power windows/lock, 20″ wheels (285/33″ wildpeaks), power rear slider, fog lights/bumpers, power leather heated seats, power/heated/signal mirrors, skid plates and few others, plus Pioneer DVD/monitor/satellite/Nav/CarPlay, custom console/sub-box/work-station, kept the column shifter and did DYI black carpet and tint.

    • 0 avatar
      eng_alvarado90

      that’s cool as long as you’re handy and confident about DIY.
      I did about half you did to my 2014 Ram.
      I got a QC Tradesman with the Convenience package and tow package so it already has the trailer bracke and such, as well as alloy wheels, backup camera, auto diming rear view mirror.
      Then replaced the base radio with an AA/Carplay unit, added the top glovebox, fog lights and replaced the 6 speakers with some kickers. It’s pretty much a Big Horn edition now.
      Next step: I’d like a PWR driver’s seat but it mostly requires the sport seats with center console which I like but are rarely found in cloth trim. I’m not a fan of leather seats.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        If you like the truck, why not do something custom instead? Including upholstery? The center console or jumpseat in the middle are such a waste of space in a truck, but I too have the column shifter. But it occurred to me when I found a sub box at a yard sale that ended up filling that void perfectly. So it’s a work table and full-length arm rest (32″), bar height (in relation to the seat bottoms) adding great comfort/lounging to the truck, not to mention amazing sounds. It’s a slit-vented/tuned Rockford Fosgate, set to fire downward, with Pro 10″ subs.

        So now I don’t mind the long drive or heavy traffic, almost look forward to it.

  • avatar
    kscott

    (oops, my first copy of this went into the wrong article, recopying here…)

    My 2009 Altima 2.5 S (manual, with no option packages) did a pretty amazing job of including the features I wanted and leaving out those that I didn’t. Its manual seat lacked a tilt adjustment, so I made a bracket to permanently bring the front of the seat up to an acceptable level, and was then pretty much good to go.

    Must-haves (without these, a vehicle effectively doesn’t exist):
    • EPA city rating of at least 18 MPG
    • Either FWD or AWD (for high-performance, AWD would be required; otherwise, either is fine)
    • Body style must not be ugly (among other things, this eliminates vehicles with an excessively high beltline)
    • Cruise control
    • Driver armrests must be positioned so that the wheel can be held at normal 9:00 3:00 positions with my elbows reaching the armrests. In 2017 when I was shopping for cars, the entire Honda and Mazda car lineups failed this test and got written off. The Ford Focus also failed this test, and that failure unfortunately included the RS.
    • A/C
    • The dash vents must be located so that in the winter, they can blow warm air on the driver’s fingers (both hands). Almost all cars pass this test. The 2001 Saab 9-3 failed this test.
    • Power windows & locks
    • Driver’s seat with tilt adjustment for the base
    • A spare tire of some sort
    • Tire sidewall height must be no less than on previous cars I’ve owned.
    • Important controls needed while driving must be physical knobs/switches that can be located by feel, without taking my eyes off the road.
    • Cargo area must be able to hold either a bicycle or an 88-note keyboard (i.e. foldable rear seat)
    • Interior color not black
    • Exterior color not black

    Highly desired:
    • Cloth upholstery (if it isn’t cloth from the factory, this can be fixed by a seat-cover shop as I had done with my 2017 Fusion to get rid of the leather; it’s just an extra expense to do so)
    • Manual climate controls (in my 2009 car shopping, I wrote off some car models from consideration when they had auto climate control as the only choice)
    • No sunroof (I prefer less complexity/weight)
    • Seats with adjustable thigh supports (it’s puzzling why this feature is so uncommon)
    • Remote start (although I’d forego this for the right car with a manual)

    Must not have:
    • Excessive cameras and electronic driver aids

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I hate the looks of so many cars and SUVs made presently. I like the Challenger a lot, enough that I’m on my second one. Don’t like the Mustang’s looks much, and really hate the Camaro. Too bad, it’s a nice car in an awful wrapper.

    Requirements for my vehicles:

    300+ HP. My present 485 seems “just right”
    Automatic. My nightmare would be having to daily drive a stick.
    RWD in a car, 4WD in an SUV.
    Leather, with heated seats and even more important, a heated steering wheel. My soon to be 65 year old hands feel 10X better in the cold months since I got my car with one.
    Decent looking wheels. And I wish my car didn’t have black wheels, but I don’t hate them enough to change them.
    No boring colors. The FCA high impact colors are great, IMO.
    At least a mid level stereo. I have the HK in my car and it’s disappointing, but the bass is near perfect. There’s something off about the midrange though.
    Pretty much loaded, but they can take the lane keeping tech and shove it. I haven’t driven anything with it that isn’t crying “Wolf” constantly or waiting until you’re already over the line to pop up.

    Things I don’t care about:

    Adaptive cruise. I barely use the CC anyway.
    Lane keeping.

    Absolutely not:

    Sunroof.
    Bad colors, like F8 Green and the worst Destroyer Gray. Baby shit green and Gray Primer Clearcoat would be better names for them.
    Manual transmission. IMO, it makes driving a total chore.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    If I had to pick one decision rule for all time for a new vehicle which I planned to live with for awhile, it would be:

    -> Second trim from the top

    This would generally get most of the good stuff (upgraded powertrain, seat adjustability [including lumbar], audio, climate control) while avoiding some of the bleeding-edge gimmicky fiddly easy-to-break and expensive-to-repair items (and avoiding the Most Impractical tire and wheel sizes).

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      In the website ‘Build’ process, why do Kia and Hyundai force you to choose ‘Select Options’ in order to change the Trim? (And why show a base invoice pop-up right away, before I’ve even compared trims? This is called “anchoring” and it’s not helping you.)

      [Chung Eui-sun, your U.S. marketing teams owe me $1,000 plus my next lunch receipt as a consulting fee (maybe a Fiesta Taco Salad from Taco Bell? Oh wait, “not currently available”).]

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I have a 2000 Lexus that can’t compare to a new Hyundai Elantra for features, I like it that way, no ‘infotainment’ no nav, no wi-fi hot-spot, no self-park, etc. but it’s got a big V8, sunroof, leather and wood, cruise and A/C, all I really need.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I have pretty much the perfect spec in my car today. Finally pulled the trigger on a Mazda3 Turbo.

    Must haves:
    1) A color (you can keep your black, white, silver, greige – some of the gunmetal/matte greys might be an exception)
    2) Sunroof: I like light
    3) Upgraded sound system (I wish CD players were still more of a thing, even if there was just a disc cassette hiding in the trunk)
    4) AWD
    5) Heated seats/wheel (leather – or a reasonable facsimile – is nice, but not necessary)
    6) Tint: the darkest legally possible.

    Thinks I’d, but aren’t deal killers:
    1) parking sensors (had these in my Chrysler and they were wonderful)
    2) manual (I know, take away my card.)
    3) the aforementioned CD player
    4) 360° camera (primarily for the poorly maintaned curbs that can bark lower bumpers)

    Things that can f— right off:
    1) enormous wheels (I have 18s and they’re even a bit big – thinking of maybe doing a -2, but wonder if that would look weird)
    2) driver attention monitors (I went for a drive to Gooseberry Falls today ~ 250 miles and had the thing bong at me. It was more of a distraction than a help.)
    3) incessant bongs (like the seatbelt bong – I’m getting ready to put it on, maybe wait a minute while I prepare other things)

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