Hooniverse Asks- Expensive Cheap Car, or Cheap Expensive Car?

These days you can buy pretty much the same car from an auto maker’s different divisions. Whether it be Ford Fusion vs. Lincoln MkZ, Toyota Camry vs. Lexus ES350, or even BMW 328i vs. BMW 528i, you have the option of loading up a lower-priced model to exceed the features of its higher cost, but bare-bones, sibling, at a price that is comparable.
While there remains intangible benefits to having the more prestigious brand, substituting value over repute may be prudent, especially if one is less label-conscious. Alternatively, resale value on higher-end brands trend to be better than their less-aspirational brethren, so there could be long-term benefit to sucking it up and paying for the brand and not the features.
So, the question is: At a similar cost, which is better, buying a feature-rich cheap car, or a less well-equipped expensive car?
Image Source: [Netshowcars.com]

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33 responses to “Hooniverse Asks- Expensive Cheap Car, or Cheap Expensive Car?”

  1. Ash78 Avatar

    The lightly-optioned, more expensive car is usually the better long-term financial decision, since my experience shows that fancy add-ons depreciate more quickly (and more fully) than the vehicle itself. The running gear is king.
    But I live in a household with two fully-optioned “cheap cars” (Passat GLX), which is a nice way of getting all the goodies from a higher-end platform mate for a lot less cash (in my case, the Audi A4). But both were bought used, so my first paragraph doesn’t hold as much water. But I still stand behind it for my future purchases.

  2. Ash78 Avatar

    I meant to add that factory options are also way more expensive than most aftermarket mods.
    Buy the lightly-optioned car, mod it with aftermarket bits, then later sell the mods and the car separately. This both saves money and gives you more flexibility against obselescence and boredom 😉

  3. joshuman Avatar

    My example from three years ago illustrates my thought process:
    A replacement for the GTI is needed. The car should be a small to medium wagon with all-wheel drive, a manual transmission, and have an engine that is somewhat peppy. Used is preferred. The decision is between a Subaru Legacy GT or an Audi A4 (preferably the 1.8). Manual transmissions are few and far between but one A4 with 40k miles on the clock became available from a private seller two hours away. I drove it home and got a bonus set of Nokian snows as part of the deal.

  4. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

    There are too many variables to be able to decide. For example, Fusion/Milan/MKZ…. My buddy wants the MKZ (used) because he liked his Fusion (leased) and to replace it wants something that has a few little extras. He knows they're the same car, but just for whatever reason, driving the Lincoln will make him feel better about the car. And, right or wrong, isn't that what it's all about? Enjoying what you drive?
    For me, it usually comes down to styling and performance. Don't care what brand it is, as long as I like the way it looks, and has the best engine in it! So, to answer your question: feature-rich cheap car. Every time.

    1. tiberiuswise Avatar

      Fusion/Milan/Zephyr is a good example. I usually prefer the look and feel of the Ford.

      1. FTGDHoonEdition Avatar

        Personally I would go for the Milan. Nice enough to edge itself from the Fusion but not too laden with old people/rich fart stereotype like the Zephyr/MKZ/Whateverthefucktheycallitthesedays.

        1. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

          I know that probably no one will like what I'm about to say, but I think these three comments are one reason why badge engineering isn't so bad after all. My buddy wants a MKZ, for his own reasons, Tiberiuswise prefers the Ford, FTGDHoonEdition, the Milan.

          1. FTGDHoonEdition Avatar

            I do agree. But I still don't agree. There isn't enough real stuff to differentiate a Mercury from Ford. It has always been the tarted up Ford brand. Why not just scrap it and offer it as a trim level as part of Ford?
            p.s: The only reason I like the Milan better is that it actually looks better than the equivalent Gillette razor style Ford Fusion. And maybe slightly better interiors. But there is no reason to have a whole separate brand for it. Buick actually has more differentiation from Chevy than Mercury has from Ford.

          2. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

            Same response here, I agree with you too, but not entirely. There really is nothing really different between the two at all, but…… if someone doesn't like the Fusion's styling, and wouldn't consider it for that reason, then give it a different grille, different taillights, more standard equipment (maybe) and sell it at a Lincoln-Mercury dealership. Maybe that gives you more buyers, for the least amount of investment.
            Agreed, Buick has more differentiation then Chevy, and that's a good thing too, but then the business decision comes into play, because how much more did it cost to get those other buyers? New dashboards and sheet metal stamping equipment are expensive, so how much more went into the development to get those extra buyers?
            Of course, it's also public opinion of the brand, and what that does to long-term viability, etc.
            Either way, I think it's an interesting topic… maybe a good one to debate over a couple of beers!

  5. Deartháir Avatar

    Personally, given the option, I'd vote for "all of the above". In other words, if I had narrowed it down to wanting a Fusion/MKZ, I would determine the price I was willing to pay for it, and wait until I could have the fully loaded MKZ for that price. If I had to wait a year, then that's fine. But I refuse to compromise any more on any of my car-buying decisions. I have done it too many times in the past, and regretted it every single time.

  6. Alff Avatar

    Quite so. Around our house, we apply similar logic to the maintenance component … For the price of paying a shop to do X repair, we can buy Y tools.

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      I have pretty much free reign from The_Missus for buying tools that I'll be able to hang on to.
      When it comes to DIY Vs Shop, there are 3 deciding factors:
      1) Price of parts Vs price of parts + Labor. i.e. if it's not much more to have someone do it…
      2) How urgent is the service needed. i.e. must get done this week, or else…and it's a busy week.
      3) How likely am I to screw it up in a way that requires a full-price (or more) redo.
      Example: Clutch goes out on my daily driver, I'm having it done at a shop. Labor at a shop isn't much more than the parts, it takes a long time to do it in my driveway compared to on a lift, and it's easy for me to screw things up.

      1. Alff Avatar

        I like your 3 factors (especially having screwed up enough to require professional intervention) and would include a fourth – how much do I like the car? I'm much more inclined to let someone else wrench on Mrs. Alf's minivan than I am on any of my toys.

        1. Tim Odell Avatar
          Tim Odell

          Ah. Hadn't occurred to me, as I love all of my cars 😉
          Come to think of it, we had no problem letting Jiffy Lube do changes on The_Missus's Dodge Ram.

  7. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    Not sure if Crown Vic Vs Towncar is the best way to illustrate the concept, but for me it's definitely "Cheap Expensive Car".
    …not so much in terms of luxury, but in terms of capability or sheer awesomeness. I'd rather pick up a used 3/4 truck than a newer 1/2 ton. I'd rather drive a 25 year old (but properly maintained) BMW than a 5 year old Toyota. In general, I'll take on the increased hassle that comes with getting "more car for cheaper".

  8. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    Pay for the engineering, not the gewgaws and badging. So neither, really, but "cheap expensive car" is closer.

  9. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    I love the GTO on paper. Killer power, nondescript styling, under $20k.
    It's difficult to see it turning into a bit of a white-trash halo car. I can't help but think of silly tattoos and bad Nu Metal whenever I see the avatars GTO boards…let alone the drivers in person.

    1. Smells_Homeless Avatar

      Oh, man. Why'd you have to go there? I haven't even adapted the flying chicken to my hood yet and there you go getting all mullet on GTO owners.

  10. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

    I like simple cars, hence the Sport TJ and the baseline (read stripped as far as possible) Vibe. I like buying used and getting as much value/style/fun as I can for the money.