When you look to buy a car, the various trim levels are sure to cause some confusion. Do you want the base model or are you looking to upgrade to the luxury-focused trim? What is “trim” on a car and does it matter which one you choose? When automakers discuss the trim you can choose, they aren’t normally looking at the body of the vehicle but rather the features included.
In this article, we discuss what various trim levels mean. We also talk about how to choose the one that best fits your lifestyle and budget.
What is a Trim Level on a Car?
The trim level of a vehicle reveals what features and amenities are included with the car. In general, the trim shows what safety technology, powertrain options, aesthetic features and comfort amenities are added. Most automakers provide several trim levels for every model.
All vehicles feature a base trim level. These are the models with the least amount of features included. From here, there are other trim levels that build upon this base trim. Many trim levels consist of various letters predetermined by the manufacturer.
Car Trim Level Examples
1. Base Trim Levels
All car manufacturers use a base trim to start the models. This is the most standard vehicle in the lineup, with the basics covered.
Here are a few of the trim level names you might find, depending on the manufacturer.
- S – Standard
- L – Entry Level
- SL – Standard Level
- SV – Standard Value
- EX – Extra
2. Sport & Performance Trim Levels
When a vehicle offers a turbocharged powertrain or sport-focused trim, there will be a special designation illustrating that. Sometimes, the trim level uses the words turbo or sport in the name.
Other times, you might see these trim levels:
- RS – Rally Sport
- GT – Gran Turismo
- GTS – Grand Turismo Sport
- SR – Sport Rally
- LS – Luxury Sport
- SRT – Street and Racing Technology
- XSE – Extreme Sport Edition
- TRD – Toyota Racing Development
3. Luxury Trim Levels
On the higher end of the spectrum, you will find luxury-focused trim levels. These high trims will contain names, such as Touring, Reserve, Black Label, Premium or Platinum.
There are some other abbreviations that might be used.
- EX-L – Extra Luxury
- ES – Executive Sedan
- LE – Luxury Edition
- LX – Luxury
- LT – Luxury Touring
- SLT – Special Luxury Touring
- LTD – Limited
- XLE – Executive Luxury Edition
- SEL – Special Edition Limited
How Many Trim Levels Do Manufacturers Offer?
It depends on what type of car is being offered and what company made it. Some companies offer one trim level, while others have six or more. In the majority of cases, you will find about four or five to pick from.
The base trim is the entry-level model. It will come with a barebones amount of equipment but is also the cheapest of the bunch. As the trim levels move upward, there will be more equipment included, but the price also rises accordingly.
By the time you get the highest trim level, the car will have all or most of the options offered. It will be the most premium option in the lineup.
Illustrating the Trim Level Classifications
As an example, we can look at a popular model on the road right now, the 2022 Kia Telluride. Let’s examine all of the trim levels that are available with this midsize SUV.
Kia Telluride LX
This base model includes synthetic leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and proximity keyless entry. It also comes with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a 10.25” infotainment system, satellite radio, a navigation system, voice recognition, Bluetooth, six USB ports and a six-speaker sound system.
Standard safety features include a rear-seat alert, a rearview camera, safe exit assist, driver attention monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring. Plus, it includes stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, highway driving assist, lane keep assist, pedestrian detection, cyclist detection, forward automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning and lane departure warning. This is the cheapest new Telluride model.
Kia Telluride S
The S trim level builds on the base model. Everything included with that model can be found with the S, except for a few upgrades.
This SUV includes a sunroof, heated front seats and a leather-wrapped shift knob. It also comes with an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and wireless device charging.
Kia Telluride EX
Moving up another level, we come to the EX trim. This SUV includes a second-row bench seat for higher occupancy.
It also gains leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, an 8-way power-adjustable passenger seat and an extra USB port. Plus, it has second-row sunshades, power-folding exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a hands-free power liftgate.
Kia Telluride SX
The top trim level is the SX. This model has the highest price but includes the most standard features. Among these, owners gain LED headlights, LED fog lights and a dual-pane sunroof.
Among the technology features, it includes a 7” instrument cluster display, 64-color ambient lights and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon premium surround-sound stereo system. It also comes with a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat featuring memory settings, stainless steel pedals, a blind-spot camera, a surround-view parking camera system, front parking sensors and automatic high-beam headlights.
What Are Car Options?
On top of being able to choose the trim level, you will also have some options to pick from. Each add-on will increase the price accordingly.
Sometimes, options will only be allowed with specific trim levels, while others can be added to any trim. There are options for aesthetics, convenience, comfort and entertainment. You can also add-on safety features if you wish.
Here are a few examples that might be available:
- Premium stereo system
- Adjustable seats
- Turbocharged engine
- Leather interior
- Rear spoiler
- LED lights
- Wireless device charging
- Rear-seat entertainment
- Towing hitch
What are Car Packages?
Each manufacturer also offers a variety of packages. These are added on to a specific trim to provide more functionality, design or comfort. Here are a few basic types of packages available.
The appearance packages change how the vehicle looks. It can include interior and exterior changes.
Some examples of what might be included would be a new paint scheme, window tint and a roof spoiler. It could also include upgraded interior accessories or exterior decals.
With a performance package, the automaker changes how the vehicle operates, whether it increases power or changes the handling. These upgrades could be made directly to the engine.
There could also be some brake upgrades to improve stopping distance. If you are driving a truck, there could be special tie-downs added to increase capability.
If you are driving a sports car or one that could be sportier, there might be a special package that helps to elevate it. Whether it is with the style or function, the sports package has a lot to offer.
You might find Recaro sports seats or larger wheels included. It could also contain special tires, paddle shifters and a better steering wheel.
If you plan to tow with your vehicle, a towing package might be in order. With many vehicles, you can’t achieve the maximum towing capacity without this package.
It could include special engine cooling features, such as transmission cooling and a heavy-duty radiator. It might also have a trailer hitch with wiring and upgraded axle gearing.
If you desire increased on-road safety from your vehicle, you will want to add the safety package. It adds to the standard equipment that’s already on your car.
Depending on what model you choose, this package could include adaptive cruise control, extra airbags, automatic emergency braking and adaptive headlights. It might also include blind spot detection, forward collision avoidance, a surround-view parking camera and parking sensors.
If you drive a vehicle that could be taken off-road, you might want to see if there’s special equipment that can be included. Instead of purchasing each option separately, most manufacturers provide a package.
In an off-road package, you might get bigger tires, a special suspension, more clearance and upgraded springs. It could also include new shocks, anti-roll bars and off-road navigation.
If you want more technology, there’s normally an option to add some heightened entertainment. These packages are especially helpful if you have rear-seat passengers that need to be occupied.
With an entertainment package, you might get rear-seat screens, an upgraded stereo and extra USB ports. It might also include satellite radio, wireless device charging and an in-car intercom system.
How to Find Car Trim Level
If you don’t know the trim level of your vehicle, you can look at the back. There might be a decal showing the trim level.
Otherwise, you can look for it in the owner’s manual or on the original dealer invoicing. You can also use the VIN (17-digit identification number) of the vehicle to run a check online with KBB to get the trim level. If all else fails, call the dealership and give them the VIN to determine the trim level.