Decoding Vehicle Trim Level Designators

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The combination of letters after the make and model of a vehicle are called trim level designators. For example, if you are in the market for a Honda Accord, you'll have to decide if you want the LX, Sport, EX, EX-L, or Touring. But what do these letters actually mean?

The term "trim level" refers to a system of packaging and naming vehicle options using various letters that first became popular starting in the 1980s. While you'll find a few vehicles that come in only a single configuration, the trend today is toward offering customers a choice of additional trim levels. Trim levels can relate only to surface features, such as paint, trim, and upholstery, while others indicate performance options like four- or all-wheel drive, engine power and suspension, specific mechanical and electronic features, and even safety packages. 

Understanding Trim Levels

Not all manufacturers use the same letters for the same trim designations. Each manufacturer can hang a couple of letters on the back of a model name, and those letters can mean whatever they want them to mean. But there are some commonalities.

Here is a list of what some of those letters usually mean:

  • T: Often means touring edition; it can follow another designator
  • L: Level
  • S: Sport, special, or standard, each of which can have different meanings, depending on the manufacturer
  • D: Deluxe
  • E: Either extra, edition, or equipment—again, specific meanings can differ
  • G: Grade
  • X: Extra

Now put some of them together for these common trim levels:

  • CE: Classic Edition or Custom Edition
  • DX: Deluxe
  • DL: Deluxe Level
  • EX: Extra
  • GL: Grade Level
  • GLE: Grade Level Extra
  • GT: Grand Touring
  • LX: Luxury
  • LE: Luxury Edition
  • LS: Luxury Sport or Luxury Special
  • LT: Luxury Touring
  • LTD: Limited
  • LTZ: Luxury Touring Special
  • SE: Sport Edition or Special Edition or Special Equipment
  • SL: Standard Level
  • SLE: Standard Level Extra
  • SLT: Standard Level Touring
  • SV: Special Version
  • XLT: Extra Level Touring

Trim Level Examples

Let's take a look at some trim levels for the Toyota RAV4. The base model of this vehicle is indicated by its lowest trim level or LE. The next step up is the XLE trim level, which offers a more advanced climate control system, improved audio, navigation apps, and a power ​liftgate. The next trim level is the SE, in which S stands for "Sport." This package features such amenities we have come to associate with a "sportier" vehicle, both in looks and performance. What that means with the RAV4 is a sport-style suspension, paddle shifters, and flashier paint and grille. The trim levels Limited and Platinum, feature the kind of luxury features one usually finds in an upscale car or SUV.

What Trim Levels Mean for You

Trim level is tied directly to price—the higher the trim level, the more expensive the model. In addition, replacement parts and paint are always specific to the trim level, so again, the higher the trim level, the more likely you'll be looking at a higher cost for repairs as well.

It's easy to decide which trim level is right for you. Just about every car manufacturer's website includes extensive information on what is and isn't included in their base models and trim levels. So take your time and read the fine print to make sure you're getting the most for your money.