Most commercial and government fleets usually get a basic specification that helps in the bottom line of their business or budget.
How did we arrive at using the term “poverty spec” for a base model in the automotive world?
Sounds derogatory, doesn’t it? It implies that someone who drives a base model does not have the means to enjoy upgraded content and amenities that would make driving more of a pleasure. Not to mention adding value to your vehicle when it comes to trading it in.
Perhaps “fleet special” seems apt? Maybe. Most commercial and government fleets usually get a basic specification that helps in the bottom line of their business or budget. Saving money is important and a baseline level of equipment helps to keep repair costs down – in theory, that is.
The truth is that a base model today has more content than its predecessors of 20 or so years ago.
If you have been in a base model back in 1990, you were lucky to get power windows, remote locking, anything beyond AM and FM radio, air conditioning, and comfortable cloth seats. These models might have its own trim designation – just the model name.
However, the 2022 Toyota Corolla LE I rented recently for a work/grocery/supply run was not even the base model. Though one would mistake it for being the Corolla’s lowest priced model.
In the Corolla lineup, there is an L model that not everyone can get. It comes with 15-inch wheels and tires, instead of the LE’s 16-inchers. There are no variable intermittent wipers, a shark-fin antenna, automatic climate control, center armrest cupholders, a remote keyless locking, or illuminated vanity mirrors. These features are standard on the LE.
What is shocking to learn is that both the L and the LE offer smartphone integration, radar cruise control, and lane departure warning. Who would’ve thought that these three features would be standard on even the most basic model?
The price difference between the two of the lowest trim levels on the Toyota Corolla is also shocking. Based on the sticker price alone, we’re talking just $450 between the two. That is before any packages and options. You also cannot upgrade the Corolla L, unless you shop the accessories list.
Simply put, the Toyota Corolla LE is a good bargain – with a sticker price short of $22,000.
At least on the LE, you can select a package to upgrade on content, including blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. These two features were not equipped on this rental. A shame, really.
The reason why I am focusing on a vehicle’s content rather than the driving experience itself is to focus on some of the practices found these days in the automotive marketplace thanks to a two-plus year-old pandemic that has affected everything socially and economically. Supply chain issues and microchip shortages continue to thwart consumers in providing the right vehicle at the right time. Let alone, the fact of rising inflation, impending recession, and other economic challenges that are present and forthcoming.
In many cases, new vehicles have been delivered to customers with deleted features. These features either require a key microchip to function or a component that is on a perpetual backlog to produce due to some unavailable raw materials.
Couple that with a used car market that has seen prices rise to new vehicle levels. How can anyone justify paying the same price for a Certified 1-to-2-year-old vehicle at the same price of a brand new one?
Through all of this, there is this 2022 Toyota Corolla LE. A symbol of what a consumer need right now. An inoffensive compact sedan that is attainable and would never let you down. Sure, it has a humble 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine tacked onto a Continuously Variable Transmission. It offers a solid specification with all of the features listed earlier in this article. It has a reputation for solid reliability.
Perhaps it is a good time to let you know that Toyota will be doing some updates to the Corolla for 2023. The 1.8-liter engine gives way for the more powerful 2.0-liter version as its standard power source. There will be updates in styling, technology, and safety to boot. Toyota will also add all-wheel drive to the lineup, as well as expanding the hybrid lineup to other trim levels.
It might not be the vehicle you want when you have to rent something. But, if you are in the market for one and are on a tight budget, it won’t let you down. Neither will it let you down after you sign off on the rental agreement.
After all, there should no shame in your game if you run around in a "poverty spec" vehicle – even for a day.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle rented by Victory & Reseda for this story
All photos by Randy Stern