What is a car trim?

A father looks on as a mother and daughter sit in the driver's seat of a new car at an auto dealership.Image: A father looks on as a mother and daughter sit in the driver's seat of a new car at an auto dealership.

In a Nutshell

Your new car should have amenities that suit your lifestyle. That’s why it’s essential to choose an appropriate car trim.
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Choosing a suitable make and model is essential when buying a new car, and it’s just as important to choose the proper trim.

Almost every vehicle on the market comes in different trim levels. Each trim level has various features, equipment and amenities that separate it from other trims in the range.

If you want your vehicle equipped with specific amenities, you may need to look at what each trim offers and choose the one that’s the best match. Once you’ve selected a trim, you can further enhance your vehicle by adding optional features. Typically, you can purchase these features as standalone options or option packages that bundle several amenities.

Trim levels

Many vehicles come with a choice of trim levels. These trims vary in price and the amount of equipment offered.

The least expensive trim in the range is the one with the fewest amenities. The features offered on this trim – sometimes called the base trim – are considered the model’s standard equipment.

So, what features come standard with the base trim? Federal law mandates that all new passenger vehicles come equipped with a rearview camera. Many cars and SUVs come standard with Bluetooth connectivity and a touchscreen. Some of the latest models also come with vital safety technology like automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and forward-collision warning.

As you move up the range of trim levels, you gain access to more features. The price also increases with each step up to a more lavishly equipped trim. Top trim levels sometimes offer amenities like ventilated front seats, a surround-view camera, a heated steering wheel and leather upholstery.

How many trim levels are offered?

The number of trim levels offered varies between models. Some cars come in just one trim level. This is sometimes the case with high-performance cars and specific luxury models, for example, Audi’s RS7.

Some models take things in another direction, offering a trim lineup exceeding nine or 10. An example of this is the Porsche Panamera, a model with a lineup that includes more than 15 trims.

It’s common for cars and SUVs to offer at least four trims. Popular vehicles like the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Explorer each give buyers a choice of more than four trim levels.

While each carmaker has a unique way of naming the trims in its lineup, it’s common for automakers to designate each trim with a letter, a series of letters or a series of letters and numbers. For example, Toyota’s trim lineup across its vehicle range includes names like L, LE, SR5 and XSE.

In other cases, carmakers create a more evocative and descriptive naming convention. Case in point: Audi’s trims include names like Premium and Prestige.

Sometimes the letters in a trim’s name are abbreviations for words that offer insight into what the trim provides. Here are some examples based on Kia’s naming convention:

  • D/DL/DX: Deluxe
  • EX/X: Extra
  • GT: Grand Touring
  • LX: Luxury
  • S: Sport/Special/Standard
  • SE: Sport Edition/Special Edition
  • SL: Standard Level
  • T: Touring Edition

Finally, some automakers offer trims focused on off-roading. These trims typically include off-road-friendly amenities such as all-wheel drive, skid plates and all-terrain tires.

What are car trim options and packages?

Trims aren’t your only choice if you want to customize your new car precisely the way you like it. You can also add amenities via various options and packages.

An option typically adds a single feature. For example, some models offer heated front seats as an option. An alternative is to purchase an option package. These bundle several features and sell them as a single package.

Car trim options

Car trim options can be numerous. Some are appearance upgrades. For instance, some allow you to replace cloth upholstery with leather seats, and some allow you to upgrade to a leather-wrapped steering wheel. 

Other car trim options are functional. For example, if you frequently drive in rough weather, you may be interested in upgrading a two-wheel-drive car to all-wheel drive; a feature that boosts traction on wet or icy roads.

Some brands offer models with a single trim and a choice of options. This setup allows you to add the optional features to customize the vehicle to your liking.

Car trim packages

If you’re interested in adding several options, a trim package may be the best solution. As with standalone options, trim packages may include amenities that are either cosmetic or functional, and some combine both types of features. Some manufacturers use historical sales data to determine which options to combine as part of a package.

Sometimes, the features in an option package have a unifying theme or purpose, which may be reflected in the package’s name. Here are some examples of available option packages from Ford:

  • Cold Weather package heated seats, heated side mirrors, windshield wiper deicer
  • Technology package navigation system, upgraded stereo
  • Driver Assistance package blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control
  • Performance package upgraded engine, exhaust, brakes, suspension
  • Appearance package unique exterior mirror caps, grille, wheels
  • Off-road package skid plates, off-road suspension, all-wheel drive, higher ground clearance

Which trim level is best?

So, which trim level should you choose? That will depend on what you’re looking for and what you can afford.

The base trim is a great place to start, especially if you’re a price-conscious shopper. Some models have base trims that offer desirable amenities like blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, so it may be possible to find a base trim with most or all the features of interest to you.

Remember that a range-topping trim can be significantly more expensive than the base trim. Though a more expensive trim may have many features, some bells and whistles may not align with your personal preferences. If that’s the case, you may be paying for amenities you don’t care for and never use.

Each buyer may have different preferences regarding amenities. First, figure out which features are most important to you, then look for trims, options or option packages that offer those features and fit your budget. Taking a targeted approach will help ensure you spend your money wisely.

About the author: Warren Clarke is a writer whose work has been published by Edmunds.com and the New York Daily News. He enjoys providing readers with information that can make their lives happier and more expansive. Warren holds a Bac… Read more.