What to Buy: A Base Premium Brand or a Loaded Non-Premium Brand?


New-car shoppers continually debate between buying a fully loaded economy vehicle or a base-trim premium car.

When buyers realize that $40,000 can either buy a Kia or a Volvo, some interesting comparisons arise. Is it better to get a lower-end brand with the latest high-end features or a luxury brand that’s missing some desirable options?

For the sake of comparison, I spent the weekend shopping for two vehicles: a 2016 Volvo XC90 T5 FWD Momentum and a 2017 Kia Sorento Limited V6.

The base price of the Volvo is $2,450 more than that of the loaded Kia. Is the extra cost worth it?

First, let’s check out some features of each car.

2016 Volvo XC90 T5 Momentum, starting at $43,950:

2.0-liter 250-hp 4-cylinder turbocharged engine
Front-wheel drive
Seating for five
Laminated Panoramic Moonroof with power sunshade
Leatherette Upholstery
Aluminum roof rails
High-performance audio
Keyless Entry & Drive
Hands-free Power Tailgate
12.3” Digital Instrument Display
Leather Steering Wheel
Aluminum Inlays
18″ 5-Spoke Alloy Wheels

2017 Kia Sorento Limited V6, starting at $41,500:

3.3-liter 290-hp V6
Heated mirrors
All-wheel drive
Seating for seven
Voice-command navigation
Blind-spot detection
Push-button start
Panoramic sunroof with sunshade
Folding outside mirrors
Premium Napa Leather
110-volt power inverter
Heated and ventilated seats
Heated steering wheel
Power liftgate
19″ alloy wheels
Infinity sound system
Backup camera
Rear air conditioning

Buyers will get the most bang for their buck with the Kia. Features such as all-wheel drive, heated seats, premium leather seats, a heated steering wheel, a V6 engine, and blind-spot detection are only found in up-level trims of the XC90 and will cost much more than on the loaded Sorento.

However, buyers of the loaded Sorento have to be okay with the Kia logo staring back at them for the next few years. Volvo buyers get the prestige of the brand, but I think it only makes sense to buy if you can afford a higher trim level to get some of the desired features.

Plus, Kia just overtook Porsche to lead the industry in J.D. Power’s annual report on vehicle quality, marking the first time in 27 years that a non-premium brand has topped the list. That should put some minds at ease and make that Kia logo a source of pride, rather than something for which a buyer had to settle.

Unless you’re shopping for a low-priced economy car, it’s a good idea to compare upper trims of non-premium cars with lower trims of premium cars. Aside from the lower cost of entry, buyers also get lower maintenance and repair bills, which can help keep the overall costs of ownership down.

Would you prefer a base premium brand or a top-of-the-line non-premium brand?


Find Certified Pre-Owned Cars and Used Cars in your area at CarGurus.

Used Volvo XC90
Used Kia Sorento

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