Smart deals at the pump, on the road and to the pocketbook
Anybody want an SUV? You know -- a big one. We didn’t think so. As fuel prices rise, interest in large SUVs wanes. That’s been a fact for awhile, and it continues to define automotive sales as domestic automakers go through the painful process of lowering their inventory, cutting their losses and reconfiguring their lineups into something that competes well with import brands such as Toyota and Honda. It’s not pretty. Unless, of course, you happen to be in the market for a large SUV or truck. If that’s the case, it’s downright gorgeous. Just mosey on down to your local Ford or Chevy store and ask about rebates on their large SUVs. For the rest of us, getting a good deal is a bit tougher, and will continue to be, as several conflicts in the Middle East – along with our increased demand – are driving up gas prices and sharpening interest in fuel economy. In essense: we all want the same thing, so why would automakers cut the price on their most efficient vehicles? That's true...but there are some deals to be had outside of the gas guzzler giveaways. Sadly, big SUVs aren't the only cars domestic auto brands have had trouble selling -- there's still plenty of Ford and Chevy sedans available. General Motors, for one, is getting ready to launch a new discount program across most of its model lines to clear some of these excess cars. But instead of employee pricing, the emphasis is now on finance rates. According to a number of automotive journals, car shoppers are most interested in low financing because standard rates are rising, and many are selecting the low rate deal over the rebate. As a result, automakers are responding: starting soon and lasting at least throughout the summer, GM will offer zero percent financing on most of its 2006 models – with an astounding 72 month zero percent offer on large trucks and SUVs. It’s all part of the “Big Three” sales hangover from the employee pricing party they had last year, so look for Ford and Chrysler to follow with better deals on financing than on cash back. Indeed, Ford’s earlier program tipped the company’s hand as to what car buyers can expect: zero percent offers combined with a $1,000 debit card. The most pressing challenge for domestic brand automakers is inventory: reports indicate unsold levels as high as 99 days. That’s music to a car buyer’s pocketbook, to be sure, so take a good hard look at some of more decent vehicles available at Chrysler, Ford or GM: dealers may be motivated to negotiate. Import brands, meanwhile, are worried less about moving unsold inventory then selling outgoing models -- not that they're having trouble doing that. Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai are selling cars briskly – reports show around a 30 day unsold list -- so the best deals to be hand seem to be on outgoing models, such as the 2006 Honda CR-V. One potential area of advantage for car shoppers, however, is with the mid-level imports: as more niche models come onto the market, smaller automakers are finding themselves competing against heavyweights in smaller markets. Subaru, for example, currently has several good deals on very capable vehicles, so a smart shopper would look carefully at non-mainstream brands – there may be deals to be had on unsold inventory.
How We Select Vehicles By our measurement, a good deal is more that just a good price. It’s a safe, efficient and dependable car. When these cars go on sale, why – that’s what we call a Smart Deal. Rebates are only part of the equation, which is why we bring you this monthly list of the “top deals.” Of course, what you think is a good deal will often vary from our idea of the same – so be sure to check the rebate pages and scan for other discounts not included here. And keep in mind that while we use MSRP pricing as the comparative value, when the time comes to negotiate, be careful to use invoice pricing as your starting point. Listed on these pages are ten vehicles with notably good deals that expire no later than the end of July, and some that go on until October. We do include dealer incentives, though regional differences may apply to the actual deal you get on a new car. These vehicles are generally considered to be quality cars by the automotive press. The list also factors crash-test scores from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), when they are available, and must rate 20 miles per gallon, or better, by the EPA. By our measurement, a good deal is more that just a good price. It’s a safe, efficient and dependable car. When these cars go on sale, why – that’s what we call a Smart Deal. The presumption is that a good deal means more than just cash back; it means a good price on a quality car that’s safe – one that will provide you with years of dependable service.
Acura RL 2006 Acura RL MSRP: $49,300 to $53,100 Deal: $3,000 dealer cash Expires: Sept. 5, 2006 NHTSA: Frontal impact - five stars driver and passenger; Side impact - five stars front and side; Rollover – five stars, 2WD IIHS: Good, frontal impact; not tested, side impact MPG (combined): 21 Known for its capability as a stick-to-the-ground driver, there's $3,000 dealer cash off an Acura RL -- a nice deal on a very capable vehicle. Consider: the power of a 3.5-liter, 300-horsepower V6 engine that generates 260 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm, a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode and paddle shifters -- there’s a lot to like about driving this car, especially when it comes to handling, thanks to its SH-AWD system. It’s the kind of car you can drive all day, a wonderful road companion, easy to drive and fun when you want it to be. At a price approaching $50,000, the 2005 Acura RL offers excellence in engineering and driving manner, but perhaps some blah design.
Ford Focus 2006 Ford Focus MSRP: $13,450 - $17,495 Deal: $1,000 - $3,000 cash; 0-5.9 percent financing 2007 Ford Focus MSRP: $13,425 to $17,495 Deal: $2,500 cash; 2.9-6.9 percent financing Expires: October 2, 2006 NHTSA: 4-door Focus: Frontal impact - five stars driver, four stars passenger; Side impact - three stars front, four stars rear; Rollover - four stars. 2-door Focus: Frontal impact - four stars driver and passenger; Side impact - three stars front, four stars rear with safety concern; Rollover - four stars IIHS: Good, frontal offset; Poor rating for side impact without optional side airbags MPG (combined): 28 Okay. So it looks like you missed the "Drive on Us" promotion. No worries - Ford just added more cash to strategic rebates across the model lineup. The Ford Focus just may be the perennial sleeper car of all time, and proof that first impressions do indeed count. After all, it offers virtually everything you need when it comes to commuting or basic transportation: Great gas mileage, low emissions, relative comfort, and zippy performance. Granted, NVH is an issue, but at this price – with money stacked on the hood – you should be ashamed to turn away from the Focus just because the interior is a little loud. This, plus rebates and special financing makes the Focus a virtual no-brainer for the segment, especially with gas prices rising and the sky clouding over with soot. The Focus is, ultimately, one of the feel-good cars of the year: a good deal at the dealership, a zippy ride, with great fuel economy and virtually nothing emitting from its tailpipe in “green” states, such as California. Who needs a hybrid, anyway?
Honda CR-V 2006 Honda CR-V MSRP: $20,395 to $25,450 Deal: $750 dealer cash; 2.9-4.9 percent financing Expires: Sept. 5, 2006 NHTSA: Frontal impact - five stars driver and passenger; Side impact - five stars front and side; Rollover – four stars, 2WD; four stars, 4WD IIHS: Good, frontal impact; Good, side impact MPG (combined): 25 (four-cylinder) Okay, so maybe the 2006 Honda CR-V fails to get gearheads frothed up or make musicians write songs about its power and style. If you’re a commuter, or need to ferry around a small family, or like utility, you will fell like singing inside the cabin of the CR-V. Dependable, roomy, efficient and easy to drive, the benefits of the CR-V will never go out of style. In fact, it will be soon going in style, thanks to a coming restyle for the 2007 model year. However, if you don’t mind the current CR-V, and don’t care about the riding in the “latest and greatest” version, you should be able to get some excellent deals on the current model, starting now and for the rest of the year. Honda CR-Vs come with your choice of two-wheel or four-wheel-drive, a five-speed automatic transmission and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 156 horsepower. Combined with excellent fuel mileage, the CR-V is a solid buy.
Honda Pilot 2006 Honda Pilot MSRP: $26,995 to $35,445 Deal: $3,000 dealer cash Expires: Sept. 5, 2006 NHTSA: Frontal impact - five stars driver and passenger; Side impact - five stars; Rollover - four stars 4wd IIHS: Frontal impact – good, best pick MPG (combined): 20 The Honda Pilot has become one of the more popular import SUVs on the road, eating away at SUV market share enjoyed by GM and Ford. Despite it’s somewhat homely looks, there’s little surprise as to why: Given Honda’s track record of dependable, fuel-efficient vehicles, the Pilot is a smart choice even unadorned with a rebate. Right now, however, there’s a $1,000 dealer incentive hanging on the rear view mirror, which makes it all the more attractive. The Pilot provides ample room on the inside with better-than-average fuel economy numbers, and adds the capability of traversing the occasional dirt road, thanks to Honda’s (Variable Torque Management) VTM-4 technology.
An eight-passenger SUV, the 2005 Honda Pilot comes with a standard 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates 255-horsepower and is rated at 17-mpg in the city and 22-mpg on the highway, and gets a combined 20 miles per gallon for its two-wheel-drive -- barely squeaking through our criteria.
Mazda Mazda6 2006 Mazda Mazda6 MSRP: $18,995 - $26,995 Deal: $2,500 rebate; $1,000 dealer cash Expires: August 31, 2006 NHTSA: Frontal impact – five star; Side impact - three star front, four star rear; Rollover - four stars IIHS: Best pick, frontal offset; Poor rating for side impact without optional side airbags MPG: (combined): 26, four-cylinder engine Here is an updated, fun-to-drive and stylish challenger to the sedan crown, with sporty road manners, exciting styling and a great price. Granted, some think that the interior is a bit small, but all in all the Mazda6 is an excellent choice. Through August 31, you can get a $2,500 rebate off the price of a 2006 model. Available as a four-door, five passenger family sedan, sports hatch, or station wagon, the Mazda 6 comes with two engine choices: A 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 160 horsepower and is rated at 23 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, or a 220-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 engine rated at 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Indeed, just why this vehicle continues to be offered with a rebate is surprising. Chances are, if the nameplate read “Toyota” instead of “Mazda,” there would be talk of boosting production and price – as opposed to cutting the MSRP.
Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid MSRP: $29,225 Deal: $1,000 rebate; 0 - 4.9 percent financing Expires: Oct. 2, 2006 NHTSA: Frontal impact - four stars driver, four stars passenger; Side impact – five stars, front and rear; Rollover – not rated IIHS: Not tested MPG (combined): 31 Okay, so maybe the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid is just a Ford Escape Hybrid wearing an off-the-rack suit. It’s still a capable SUV that gets great fuel mileage for what it is. And think of it this way: with low financing and money back, you’re getting the Mercury upgrade for free! As a semi-kinda-almost luxury suv, you get four-wheel-drive, a hybrid powertrain for under $30,000. As we wrote in our article: “For a fuel-efficient SUV, the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid is an option to be considered, especially if a Ford badge just won’t do and thoughts about future battery disposal issues are of little concern.” With low financing and a rebate, it looks like a better option all the time – for hybrid shoppers. And just think – you never know how much longer the Mercury brand will be hanging around, so you just might get yourself a piece of history.
Saab 9-2X 2006 Saab 9-2X MSRP: $22,990 to $26,950 Deal: $5,000 rebate; 1.9 - 4.9 percent financing Expires: Sept. 5, 2006 NHTSA: Frontal impact - four stars driver, five stars passenger; Side impact – four stars, front and rear; Rollover - four stars IIHS: Not tested MPG (combined): 25 (2.5-liter) Yeah. We know it's a bit strange looking. We also know that it’s a decent vehicle that hasn't sold well -- so there will probably be plenty to choose from at the dealership, and salespeople should be plenty desperate to sell you one. At a sticker price that ranges between $22,990 to $26,950, buyers may well get a Saab 9-2X for under $20,000 – where it should probably be priced, truth be told, and a good deal at that. It’s a 4-door, 5-passenger wagon available in two trims, the Saab 9-2x Linear and Aero. The Linear is equipped with a standard 2.5-liter, 165-horsepower engine rated at 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The Aero is equipped with a standard 2.0-liter, 227-horsepower, turbo engine with a fuel mileage rating of 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. A 5-speed manual transmission with overdrive is standard on both trims, and a 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive is optional.
Subaru Forester 2006 Subaru Forester MSRP: $21,795 to $27,895 Deal: $1,000 - $2,000 rebate; 0-4.9 percent financing Expires: Sept. 5, 2006 NHTSA: Frontal impact – five stars driver, five stars passenger; Side impact – five stars front and rear; Rollover – four stars IIHS: Good frontal offset test; Good side impact test MPG (combined): 25 Apparently, you don’t listen. For years we’ve been extolling the relative virtues of vehicles like the Subaru Forester. Safe, dependable, rugged...sure, that new design took the old shoebox and made it, uh, an interesting shoebox, and maybe SUV shoppers would like a little more room – especially in that back seat. Fact is, however, few cars are as safe as the Forester, with Good scores from the IIHS and Five stars from NHTSA. Still, they’re dealing Foresters, which means that Subaru planners need a new calculator or ya’ll aren’t grooving to the look of it. Or maybe there just aren’t enough people in Maine. Either way, SUV buyers would be hard pressed to find a much better deal, what will all-wheel-drive and good fuel economy.
Subaru Outback 2006 Subaru Outback MSRP: $19,195 to $35,695 Deal: $1,500 - $2,000 rebate; 0- 4.9 percent financing Expires: Sept. 5, 2006 NHTSA: Frontal impact - five stars driver and passenger; Side impact - five stars front and back; Rollover – four stars, 4wd IIHS: Frontal offset – Good; Side Impact – not tested MPG (combined): 25 It seems as though only the people who live in cold and rough climes appreciate this hardy little vehicle. There’s good reason, starting with all-wheel-drive, nice clearance between you and the ground, heated seats and rear views, wiper de-icers – what you need to beat Frosty at his own shivery game. And while that may not be such a big deal, say, in Southern California, what is a universal benefit to the Outback is its car-like ride, nimble performance and multitudes of trim offerings. From wagon to sedan, you get your Outback just how you like it. Granted, it’s a little expensive, and interior room is less than what most people find ideal. But then again, you get what you pay for – and now you even get some money back.