The Case for Base
If you own a Wrangler or WRX, you can skip this post. You probably already agree with most of what it will say. For the rest of us--whether car consumers, designers, marketers, or dealers-- this post will attempt to advocate that we all pay more attention to entry-level vehicles in each model range. They can be awesome and shouldn't be ignored.
Some car companies hold out on enthusiasts, making their base models well, really basic. Trucks are a good example of this. I daily a Chevy Colorado ZR2, which is an excellent on- and off-road performer. I would never buy a base Colorado; it's a four-cylinder work truck. No amount of upgrading is going to make it fun to drive. Another example of a base, base model is the Kia Stinger. When you drive the GT-Line model, which is down 116 horsepower, Brembo brakes, and an LSD compared to its fully GT'd siblings, you may not understand the initial hype about this car. But the Stinger is awesome—especially if you add Napa leather and a 720-watt audio system to its true potential. No wonder Kia cut all but one of the four-cylinder models for 2020.
Arguably, the entry-level Colorado and Stinger are two completely different vehicles than the maxed-out models typically reviewed by auto journalists. No one will buy the base versions unless they are trying to fulfill simple transportation needs. On the other hand, many manufacturers gleefully pack screens, massaging seats, and autonomous driving features into higher-end trim levels without making any performance changes that justify the premiums they charge. CUVs are the most guilty of this. Interested in a RAV4? Aside from the hybrid drivetrain option, the current lineup offers only upgrades in tech and some modest off-road gear. Essentially, you are spending more money on computer systems that increase complexity and obsolescence. Do you need all of the add-ons to enjoy driving a vehicle such as this? Probably not.
Still, some vehicles are so well engineered and spec’d that it doesn’t matter which trim you get. You will still get the full experience without the extra expense. Still reading? Here are three of the best base models you can buy.
The Jeep Wrangler Sport
There is a reason why the Wrangler holds its value so well. Instead of loading up on amenities (maybe excluding some JL models) FCA wisely decided to let the customer personalize it. This Jeep is purpose built to the core and gives you the freedom not only to enjoy recreation but also to complete many tasks a truck can, like towing and hauling and getting dirty. The Wrangler Sport's spartan interior and solid underpinnings encourage endless aftermarket upgrades that can turn your rig into a comfy cruiser, a hard-core rock crawler, and into anything in between. This popular 4x4 rewards off-road explorers, do-it-yourselfers, and beach-side tailgaters alike without breaking the bank, proving that the Sport deserves just as many waves as the Rubicon.
The Subaru WRX
Another resale superstar, the WRX is a darling among tuners and bodykit stylists everywhere. Yes, there are many special editions, but they vary mostly in parts that enthusiast owners will add later anyway. For many drivers, the WRX can be compared to a Corolla on steroids, and this premise holds true throughout this Subie segment. It will eagerly get you around town each day all while reminding you that all-wheel drive can be cool. Excluding the STI, the WRX drives exactly the same whether standard, Premium, or Limited. Like the Toyota, the WRX offers low-frills transportation; unlike the Toyota, the WRX can rally. That’s good because many of us love to combine capability with practicality and affordability, making this car an excellent choice.
The Porsche 911 Carrera
The Ultimate Base Model. I was lucky enough to drive the 991 Carrera as well the Turbo S last summer to compare the two. Sure the latter is WAY faster, but I found the former offers an equally outstanding experience. You can spend as much as you want on a 911 to increase performance, customize it, and show it off at your local Cars and Coffee. But those opting for the build quality and driving dynamics of a 911 without the extra cost will not be sorry. In fact, I would go so far as to say the Carrera is, in many ways, superior to its venerated brethren. The Carrera is much more of a momentum car: the rucksack that is its 3.4L rear-mounted power plant is much more controllable with less torque trying fling it to the side. It is also costs much less—especially used. Most of us would be happy with any 911 but set our sights too high when aspiring to own one. Don’t be afraid to “settle” for a Carrera.
If you're in the market and want to save money, or if you're looking to avoid the creeping ubiquity of technology into our driving time, then the base model of your favorite vehicle might be right for you. Choose your favorite ride and compare trim levels to see if which will meet your needs. You may be surprised to find that less can be much more. Have any of the best base models been left out? There are certainly many honorable mentions. Please let us know your favorites in the comments.
Bill hosts a blog and YouTube channel that lead him to think more deeply about what it means to drive. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.