Drive Time


Best 2009 Year-End Car Deals

Mark Solheim

You’ve seen the ads on TV. Now see where the biggest savings really are.



Even with an uptick in business the past couple of months, 2009 is poised to be the worst year for the auto industry in decades. Only two carmakers -- Subaru and Hyundai-Kia -- will post sales gains for 2009.

Everyone else is trying desperately to clear inventory. In anticipation of higher production in 2010, automakers are piling on incentives and trumpeting the deals in an endless series of TV ads. Most of the promotions end January 4, but if you buy before New Year’s Day, Uncle Sam will put money on the table, too: You can deduct taxes and fees paid on up to $49,500 of the purchase price on your 2009 federal income-tax return (see “The Most -Overlooked Tax Deductions .”)

STEEPEST DISCOUNTS

The best deals right now are on 2009 models -- if you can still find them. According to Truecar.com, which reports average vehicle transaction prices, the 2009 models with the biggest discounts from sticker price (including incentives) are the Saturn Aura, Nissan Titan and Dodge Ram (all 24% off sticker price), Dodge Charger (22%) and Hyundai Sonata (21%).

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Among the 2010 models, Truecar.com lists the Ford Ranger as the vehicle with the biggest discount (17% off sticker), followed by the Jeep Grand Cherokee (15%), Jeep Commander and Ford Explorer (14%) and the Mercury Grand Marquis (13%).

The best deals by brand -- also based on discounts from sticker price -- are on 2009 models from Dodge, Saturn, Hyundai Kia and Chevrolet. For 2010 cars, the best deals are found at Ford, Lincoln, Chrysler, Mercury and Volvo.

DOMESTIC DEALS

Incentives vary significantly by model, depending on how desperate the carmaker is to move it off dealer (or factory) lots. It’s no surprise that Detroit’s beleaguered carmakers are offering the most-generous cash rebates and low-financing offers. Chrysler and Jeep are pushing hard to move metal after their sales plummeted 38% in 2009 through the end of November.

Chrysler is offering up to $3,000 cash back or 0% financing on all Chrysler-brand vehicles, plus a no-cost service program for three years or 36,000 miles. Jeep is offering up to $4,500 or 0% financing, plus the free service program. Dodge offers $2,500 or 0% (but no service program).

General Motors is playing the incentive game, too. For example, at the Chevrolet Red Tag event, the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu has $1,000 on the hood (plus another $500 if you take a pass on GM’s 60-day money-back guarantee) or 0% financing.

But GM is offering the biggest discounts on its dying Pontiac, Saturn and Saab brands. You can get up to $3,500 back or 0% financing on a Pontiac Vibe small wagon (the Toyota Matrix’s twin). The 2009 Saturn Aura, a midsize sedan built on the same platform as the Chevy Malibu, has a hefty $4,000 rebate. And Saab 9-3 and 9-5 models come with up to $7,000 cash back to customers, as dealers try to unload inventory in the wake of uncertainty about Saab’s future.

Ford is promoting its slow-selling 2010 Edge SUV with up to $3,000 cash back. And you can claim up to $2,500 for the 2010 Flex SUV or the Focus compact, or choose 0% financing in lieu of the cash.

LEASING MAKES A COMEBACK

On the luxury front, leasing is where the steals are. Luxury brands hate to offer cash back, so they subsidize not-so-transparent leases to push slow-selling cars.

BMW is offering a three-year lease on the 2010 135i convertible (based on a sticker price of $45,700) for $469 a month with $3,000 down, and it has a three-year lease deal on the 2010 528i sedan ($47,600) for $479 a month with $3,500 down.

Cadillac has a $479 per month, 39-month lease on the redesigned 2010 SRX sport ute. It’s for the $40,130 Luxury model, with $3,994 due at signing.

Or you can lease a 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK midsize SUV that stickers for $37,925 for 39 months for $459 a month, with $3,750 down.

Honda eschews cash rebates, but it’s offering a 36-month lease on a $22,565 Accord LX for $199 a month with $2,100 down. Honda’s luxury nameplate, Acura, is offering a 30-month lease on a $35,660 V6 TSX for $319 a month with $3,280 down.

You can lease the Volvo V70 wagon ($38,800) for 36 months for $479 a month with $1,999 down -- a bargain for the ultimate symbol of suburban success.

Lease deals can vary from dealer to dealer. But if you shop several dealers, you should be able to come close to these payments. In addition to a down payment, you may owe the first month’s payment and a security deposit.

For more details on current incentives, visit Edmunds.com.



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