By David Thomas on June 12, 2013
An ode to the base model.
Black door handles and a seat that can't move up and down/
paying monthly for not a lot has me feeling like a clown.
Just because you might not be able to afford more than the very least in a car doesn't mean you have to sing the base-model blues. Automakers are adding more features to their lowliest trim levels to entice shoppers even if some are stuck in the stone ages before the USB port became a necessity.
Here are 10 models that we consider to be solid picks, even in their base-model version.
2013 Chevrolet Spark LS
Base price (MSRP + destination): $12,995
Standout Standard Features: 10 airbags, four-speaker stereo, power windows, 15-inch aluminum wheels, body-color mirrors, air conditioning
One of the least expensive new cars comes surprisingly well-equipped. Chevy's new Spark is small, inexpensive and bare in most respects such as upholstery quality; it certainly won't wow a first date. But you get essentials like air conditioning and power windows, which hasn't always been the case for bargain-basement models. Ten airbags are another standard feature that should help some buyers get over the small size of the Spark.
2013 Scion xB
Base price: $17,555
Standout Standard Features: two years of free service, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, six-speaker stereo with USB port
Need some cargo space but don't want to pay for a pricey crossover? Scion's xB remains one of the best cargo-for-the-dollar deals despite some misleading specs. Rated at 11.6 cubic feet with the rear seats in place, the xB falls behind the Kia Soul at 23.7 cubic feet with a wider floor. Scion only provides unofficial numbers for the amount of space with the second row folded, reporting 69.9 cubic feet, which trumps the Kia's 53.4 cubic feet number handily. The base version of the Scion hauler comes with standard USB integration and a six-speaker stereo. Cruise control is also included, helpful on those long cargo-hauling trips. That makes the xB a good pick for college students.
2013 Honda Civic LX Sedan
Base price: $18,995
Standout Standard Features: rearview camera, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, USB, Pandora compatibility
The 2013 version of the Civic received a number of upgrades that we've talked about (at length) with the addition of an LX model to Cars.com's long-term fleet. The inclusion of a rearview camera and Pandora compatibility make it stand out from a crowd of once-sparse compact sedans that are now getting a surprising amount of content. Even the automatic transmission isn't a huge hit to the wallet at an additional $800. Standard body-color mirrors and door handles also add a touch of class, even if the wheel covers are turnoffs.
2013 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sedan
Base price: $18,655
Standout Standard Features: all-wheel drive, four-speaker stereo with USB, Bluetooth phone and audio, body-color door handles, tilt-telescoping steering wheel with audio and hands-free controls, trip computer
The standard feature list could be a mile long but the one that seals the deal for the Impreza's inclusion on this list is the all-wheel drive: In sedan form the Impreza is the most affordable new car to feature it. There are also a few niceties like Bluetooth and USB integration to help offset the old-school looks of black side mirrors.
2013 Mazda Mazda5 Sport
Base price: $20,735
Standout Standard Features: auto-off headlights, body-color door handles, cruise control, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, six-speaker stereo with USB, satellite radio
Like the Impreza, the Mazda5 lands on the list more for what it is than what it has. It is the most affordable six-seat vehicle on the market. Dodge's Journey comes close but a third row of seats is an option. For a base Journey with seven seats, you'd be paying a base price of $21,240, and spending more in gas. The Mazda5 with either manual or automatic transmission is rated at 24 mpg combined, the Journey, 21 mpg. The Mazda5 isn't without other winning attributes, including a six-speaker stereo, cruise control and automatic headlights.
2013 Hyundai Sonata GLS
Base price: $21,990
Standout Standard Features: cruise control; Bluetooth; USB; tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls; heated mirrors
The Sonata recently finished fifth out of six in our $26,000 Midsize Sedan Challenge, so how come it's included here? Our experts scored the Sonata significantly higher than the similarly priced and equipped Nissan Altima. It may be a few dollars more, but that's why it's the base sedan of choice with standard automatic transmission and heated side mirrors.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro 1 LS
Base price: $24,245
Standout Standard Features: six-speaker stereo, satellite radio, Bluetooth, spoiler, 18-inch heritage steel wheels, body-color mirrors and door handles, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, steering-wheel audio controls, cruise control
You could be a Ford Mustang fan through and through, but there's no denying the base Camaro is an attractive package. Yes, it has body-color door handles and mirrors, a spoiler, cruise control, Bluetooth and a few other features that are impressive but it's those black heritage steel wheels that steal our hearts. When you see a base Camaro roll down the street, it still looks cool, and knowing you didn't have to pay extra for the retro-look is hard to beat.
2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Base price: $27,995
Standout Standard Features: dual-zone climate control, cruise control, rear air conditioning vents, MyKey, six-speaker stereo with Sync, USB, Bluetooth, 10-way power driver's seat, heated mirrors with puddle lamps, 17-inch aluminum wheels
Ford's "base" Fusion Hybrid is actually a well-equipped SE trim level, but it's the least-expensive version available and it trumps the lower-priced Sonata Hybrid on mileage and standard features. Items like Ford's Sync system, puddle lamps in the mirrors, 17-inch aluminum wheels and dual-zone climate control make this a car you won't want/need to add on to.
2013 Toyota Avalon
Base price: $31,785
Standout Standard Features: dual-zone climate control, 6.1-inch touch-screen, eight-speaker sound system, USB, Bluetooth, cruise control, heated front seats, eight-way power driver's seat, four-way power passenger's seat, push-button start, keyless entry, auto up-down on all windows
The large sedan segment is getting more competitive and more expensive. Enter the redesigned Avalon. Its price is close to the competition, but it delivers luxury-like features like dual-zone climate control and a 6.1-inch touch-screen along with push-button start and keyless entry. You'll seem overly sensible even in a car that might be bigger than you need.
2013 Volvo S60 T5
Base price: $32,795
Standout Standard Features: rain-sensing windshield wipers, 7-inch information screen, Bluetooth, USB, satellite radio, heated mirrors, headlight washers
As we move up the price spectrum, "standard features" might seem like an afterthought for more well-heeled buyers. But in the luxury realm some things you'd expect to be included can cost extra. That's why we continue to be impressed with Volvo's S60, which came in second in our recent $46,000 Sport Sedan Challenge. At a price well south of the competition, the S60 loads up on features and its standard spill-resistant cloth upholstery is a clumsy person's — or a family's — best friend.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David