Auto Trim: What Do The Letters Mean?

Is there a chart somewhere that tells you what S, SL, SE, etc., actually mean when they’re tacked onto a make and model insignia? I’ve tried googling but I can’t actually find any results that are about the system of designating trim.

why do they have to mean anything?

they vary so much by manufacturer that to make any sense of them, writ large, is a pointless endeavor.

S usually means a sport version (different gear ratios, stiffer suspension, peppier engine, etc)
E usually means economy
L usually means either luxury or long wheelbase, depending on the manufacturer

it all depends on what the manufacturer means them to be. in Ford parlance, “S” is the base, no frills model (you’ll find these at finer rental establishments near you.) “SE” is the next level up, “SEL” is above that, and sometimes there’s a “Limited” or “Sport” at the top. Chrysler used to do SE, then SXT, then R/T. The only one that “meant” anything was R/T (for “Road/Track.”) they couldn’t live up to that moniker, but oh well.

They’re generally pretty arbitary. They’re not even always consistent within makes. Sometimes there’s even trim inflation, where the cheapest trim gets dropped and they invent a new top-o-the-line. For example, I had an old 70’s Chevy truck with the smallest engine and zero options (no power steering or brakes, no cigarette lighter, no carpet) that was somehow a Custom Deluxe. A few years earlier it would have only been a “Custom”, which had in turn been the Luxury truck in the early 60’s. During the next redesign, they dropped Custom Deluxe and the Cheyenne trim, which had been near the top when my truck was made, became the bottom of the barrel.

I think similar things have been happening with all the DX/LX/SE nonsense that seems to go on with the Japanese cars-- my old Accord LX was the top of the line in its day, but on the current one LX is the cheap trim, with the EX being the fancy one.

I know that the Civic and Accord are different, but my in my day, the LX was always the cheap Civic. The Si (discontinued for a while) was always the top one, with the EX just behind. I had both an Si and then an EX. The LX was the economy version.

Until the early Seventies, the various car lines had individual names like Greasyjack mentions for his truck.

Chevys went from Biscayne to BelAir to Impala. This worked well when there was only one Chevy. Beginning in the early Sixties manufacturers began making different sized cars, compact, mid-size, subcompact, ponycars, etc. The new cars had their own model names - Chevy II 100, 300 and Nova. Soon there were so many damn names that nobody could keep track.

The Japanese popularized the idea of option packages instead of individual options. They differentiated them with S, SE, XL and all of the stuff you see now. Detroit followed suit because they had to drill fewer holes for the nameplates and save paperwork by eliminating model names and just listing the letters with their option packages on the back page of the catalogs. Instead of two or three model names for each platform, you had a three step plan for each of them and they were labeled the same within that brand.

Since the new model designations were more or less meaningless, the public came on board too. No longer would they feel shame for owning a base Biscayne instead of a BelAir. Now they owned an SE and your neighbor didn’t know that was good or bad. You told them it meant Special Edition or LuXury or whatnot and everyone was happy.

I’d like to see one market a really awesome muscle care and give it the brand name of BAD SOB. I think there might be a market for it.

That’s even worse than my idea for Mazda to make a car called the Rhadi…

Actually, I like your idea much better than my own.

Maybe my hypothetical car should be called a BAD ASSSOB.

I can see it now:


Oh, it’s a Fishburn Badass MF!

Thanks for answering, folks. I had thought they were standardized because I was looking at the website of a local used car place and their dropdown for “Trim” had all those letters in it, even if you hadn’t picked a make and model yet. I drove a Cutlass Ciera SL for years and never had the first idea what that meant.

As others have said, there is no standard. Some of them are semi-standard throughout the automotive industry though.

SE = Special Edition or Sports Edition
R/T = Road and Track
RS = Rally Sport
SS = Super Sport
SL = Sport Light (i.e. light weight and sporty) or Series Limited
ST = Sport Touring
LE = Limited Edition
LTD = Limited
LS = Limited Series, Luxury Sport, or Luxury Sedan
GT = Grand Touring (gran turismo in Italian)
GTS = Gran Turismo Sport
GTO = Gran Turismo Omologato (Which is Italian for Grand Touring Homologated)
LX or LXE = Luxury Edition
DX = Deluxe Edition
DLX = Deluxe
CE = Compact Edition
CL = Comfort Luxe
ES = Euro Sport
GL = Grand Luxury
C = Convertible, Coupe, or Compact

R usually means racing or rally. L usually means luxury. A lower case i added to the mix of letters often means fuel injection (this was more common when fuel injection was a new thing).

Similarly, a ‘D’ in the mix will usually mean diesel. At least on cars here in Europe.

TD = turbo diesel

2.0T = 2 liter turbo

AWD = All-wheel drive (implies full-time system)
4WD = 4-wheel drive (implies a part-time system)

Z = Marketing (Sounds Cool: Turbo Z, Shelby Z, 370Z, etc)

Ironically, the full designation of “Sport”, not the initial, has evolved to mean: Pretty much entry level, with just enough creature comforts to meet your needs.

But then the Fusion Sport is the top tier model.

It’s individual to the auto manufacturer. An S or L on one doesn’t mean the same on another. You got to look it up by manufactuer.

Fusion Sport: Which is further evidence that there are no wonderful standard meaning to all the designations.

Many designations don’t mean anything other than: This sounds cool and will market well.