The average transaction price for new vehicles has been steadily rising over the past few years. In April it was $40,545, a 3% increase from the prior year, according to Edmunds data. Some of this jump can be chalked up to people buying pricier trucks and SUVs, but another part of the story is their desire to get all the “bells and whistles,” often found on the top trim levels.
For some vehicles, the juice hardly seems worth the squeeze on your wallet. But for others, the fully loaded version remains attractive even with the jump in price.
Edmunds’ experts have compiled a list of the most enticing top-of-the-line vehicles for their price. Some may offer an exclusive engine with more power, while others include luxury features to make you feel at home inside the cabin. All prices include the destination charge, and our list runs from lowest to highest manufacturer’s suggested retail price.
2021 KIA SOUL
The 2021 Kia Soul is a strong choice in the extra-small SUV category thanks to its roomy interior and long list of standard features, but upgrading to the top-end Soul Turbo comes with even more benefits.
As the name suggests, the Soul Turbo is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 201 horsepower — more than 50 horsepower over other Soul models. You’ll also find LED headlights and foglights, a head-up display and upgraded Harman Kardon stereo system to make the interior feel upscale. Finally, adaptive cruise control is added to the Soul’s set of safety technology.
2021 Kia Soul Turbo, MSRP: $28,825
2021 MAZDA 3
In any trim, the Mazda 3 is definitely a good buy for a small sedan. But it is especially attractive at the top end of its range. Compared with base models, the Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus gains a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 227 horsepower — a big improvement over the base engine. All-wheel drive and 18-inch wheels are also included.
The included safety equipment is what makes this trim really stand out. There’s a surround-view camera and front and rear parking sensors, plus rear automatic braking if a collision with an object is detected. On top of that, Traffic Jam Assist combines adaptive cruise control and steering assist to help reduce fatigue when you’re driving.
2021 Mazda 3 2.5T Premium Plus, MSRP: $33,395
2021 HONDA RIDGELINE
It seems fitting that the Swiss Army knife of midsize trucks is jam-packed with features. Every Ridgeline, for example, has an in-bed storage trunk and a tailgate that can open one of two ways. Upgrading to the top-trim Ridgeline RTL-E gets you even more useful and clever features.
The Ridgeline RTL-E starts by including standard navigation, ambient interior lighting and a heated steering wheel. Add to that a wireless smartphone charging station, USB ports for rear passengers, and a power outlet in the bed. There’s an eight-speaker stereo system, and there’s even a stereo system within the bed walls that pumps out sound from concealed speakers so they don’t get wet.
2021 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E, MSRP: $43,595
2021 HYUNDAI PALISADE
One of the champions of modern value is the Hyundai Palisade, a three-row SUV with a surprising amount of luxury for the price. That trend is only intensified on the Calligraphy trim. It includes a number of premium items from the lower Limited trim — including classy interior ambient lighting and two rows of ventilated seats — and turns up the splendor a notch.
Throughout the interior you will find a suede-like headliner and quilted-leather door panels, materials normally found in much more expensive vehicles. In addition, there are puddle lamps that illuminate the ground at night, plus wheels and exterior design that are exclusive to the Calligraphy trim.
2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy, MSRP: $47,385
2021 LEXUS ES
The Lexus ES is the brand’s entry-level luxury sedan and shares a mechanical relationship with the more plebeian Toyota Camry. But if you option the latest ES sedan to its top trim, the Ultra Luxury, it begins to feel like a higher-tier vehicle. Sure, there’s standard navigation, an upgraded stereo and a surround-view camera. But there is also a special suspension setup to reduce vibrations on the road.
The ES Ultra Luxury adds interior accoutrements you will notice right away too. The steering wheel is heated to make cold mornings more bearable, and the leather upholstery is a step up from the leather in other ES models. Finally, rear passengers can pull up their window sunshades in the name of privacy.
2021 Lexus ES 350 Ultra Luxury, MSRP: $50,025
We normally advise shoppers to consider a midlevel trim with more friendly pricing. On rare occasions, however, the top trim presents a wildly different experience compared with cheaper versions. In that case, if it fits your needs and your budget, you might end up pleased you opened your wallet.