Most car shoppers know that a used car can be a fantastic value. In the long run, a used car will usually cost less than a new one, and it will virtually always be cheaper than leasing a car every three years.
As practical as it is to buy a used car, it can also present an opportunity to get a little fancy. This is where "cousin cars" come in.
Cousin cars are vehicles that are produced by one parent company and offered in two versions: one for the luxury buyers and the other for the masses. But because luxury vehicles tend to depreciate more quickly than everyday cars, the price difference often narrows as the cars age. The upshot is that if you shop for an upscale used cousin car, it is often possible to get it for a price that's close to that of its more mundane relation.
Some cousin car pairings include the workaday Toyota RAV4 and the luxurious Lexus NX, the fuel-efficient Honda Civic and the sporty Acura ILX, and the commodious Ford Flex and the fully appointed Lincoln MKT.
Here are a few examples across different car segments. These are based on average transaction prices for the year, make and model discussed. They do not represent any particular trim level.
2012 Lincoln MKZ and 2012 Ford Fusion
In 2012, the average transaction price for a new Lincoln MKZ was roughly $37,024. That's about $11,600 more than the average price of its mass-market cousin, the 2012 Ford Fusion, which had an average sale price of $25,427. The average sale price of a used 2012 MKZ is now $12,887 compared to $9,939 for a 2012 Fusion, narrowing the difference to about $2,900.
If you opt to buy an MKZ for that extra $2,900, you'll get a plusher cabin, fancier styling, heated and cooled leather seats with memory function, and a long list of other standard features.
2012 Lexus ES 350 and 2012 Toyota Camry
If you were considering both the ES 350 and the Camry as new cars six years ago, you would have had to decide if the Lexus, which had an average transaction price of $38,415, was worth paying $14,000 more than the well-equipped but less opulent Camry. The Camry's average sale price was $24,306 in the same time frame.
If you shop for them as used cars now, you'll find the ES 350 will have an average sale price of $17,775, only about $5,500 more than the average used car price of a 2012 Camry, which is $12,285.
The ES 350 has upgraded features such as smart-key access, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, larger wheels and tires, the option of parking assist, and a quieter, more refined ride quality.
2013 Lexus GX and 2013 Toyota 4Runner
The 2013 Lexus GX is a midsize SUV that has all the features you'd expect in a high-end vehicle. But its standard V8 engine, off-road prowess and 6,500-pound towing capability set it apart from luxury crossovers that wouldn't dare to cross a stream. Its utility reflects its kinship to the Toyota 4Runner: They share a fair amount of automotive DNA.
In 2013, the GX had an average transaction price of $57,181 compared to $36,704 for the 2013 4Runner, for a $20,477 difference. As used vehicles, the average price for a 2103 GX is about $29,509. A used 2013 4Runner will have an average sale price of $25,245. That difference is only about $4,300.
If you pony up the extra money for the GX, you would get a well-appointed interior that includes heated and cooled leather seats, a moonroof and a power-folding third-row seat. The Lexus also has a more premium feel and an upscale exterior to match.
2013 Cadillac Escalade and 2013 GMC Yukon
A new 2013 Escalade had an average price of $71,747. The average sale price of its cousin, the 2013 GMC Yukon, was $55,041, for a $16,706 difference. Fast-forward to 2018, and the average price of a used 2013 Escalade is $35,871, compared to $31,346 for a 2013 Yukon, a difference of about $4,500.
The extra charge for the Escalade gets you an engine that's larger and more powerful than the engines found in the Yukon line (with the exception of the Yukon Denali). You'll also get a flashier exterior, standard navigation, a Bose stereo system, and a slew of other luxury upgrades.
When you're shopping cousin cars, remember that the luxury option could come with additional long-term costs, such as a higher insurance rate and more expensive parts and service. It might also require premium fuel, which can cost up to 50 cents more per gallon.
To help you shop, here are the standard car brands and their luxury cousins:
• Honda and Acura
• Volkswagen and Audi
• Ford and Lincoln
• Hyundai and Genesis
• Nissan and Infiniti
• Toyota and Lexus
When it comes to General Motors, the vehicle hierarchy isn't always quite as clear. The GM family includes Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. Several vehicles share platforms across the brand names with varying degrees of upgrades. As a rule, Chevrolet is the entry point. Buick and GMC are more upscale. Cadillac is strictly luxury.
Edmunds says: If you're a savvy shopper, you might be able to get a great deal on a used luxury vehicle for not much more than the price of its more humble cousin. Being practical doesn't mean you can't pamper yourself.
This story was provided to The Associated Press by the automotive website Edmunds.