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Best new car buys for President's Day

Consumer Reports cuts through the ad clutter to find best deals on good cars

Last reviewed: February 2008
Abraham Lincoln
 

As the United States goes through the Primary process for selecting candidates for the presidential election, the media is awash in promises and hyperbole. The next competition to wave the American flag in advertising will come from automakers and car dealers pitching their President's Day sales. As with the politicians, these print and broadcast ads will pledge change and offer a better life. But not all candidates will deliver.

With some research, you can make a smart, informed decision, saving money along the way. As the sound bites fly, the multimedia propaganda can sidetrack you from choices that might be a better fit for your needs and distract you from thoroughly researching your prospective purchase. It is important to note that beyond the advertised promotions, dealers might be more willing to negotiate during this sales period, as winter weather can often mean fewer serious buyers are visiting showrooms in some parts of the country.

Consumer Reports Auto Price Service has cut through the marketing oratory to highlight the best deals for February. As they do each month, our analysts scrutinize the available incentives on Consumer Reports recommended vehicles to assist shoppers in finding good deals on good cars. To be recommended, those vehicles must perform well in our testing program, have average or better reliability according to our latest subscriber survey, and demonstrate good overall crash protection if crash-tested. SUVs and pickups must either have been included in the government's dynamic rollover test and not tipped up or be equipped with electronic stability control. (For the monthly best new-car deals for Canada, visit crcanadacars.org.)

Below, we highlight three solid vehicles with at least a $1,500 rebate. The complete Best New Car Deals list has 37 models with rebates up to $5,000. When factoring in dealer incentives and holdbacks, as included in the , we find that those 2008 models offer potential savings of 5 percent to 15 percent below manufacturer suggested retail price. (Get the Consumer Reports Bottom Line Price and potentially save thousands.)

The best new car deals for February

As you might expect, the biggest incentives typically go to models that are the least in demand, although each model highlighted below has scored well in our testing and has met the Recommendation criteria, as is the case with each model featured in our Best New Car Deals list. Still, it's important to weigh their pros and cons against the savings they offer.

2008 Acura RL

This luxury sedan achieved a Very Good rating in Consumer Reports' testing, but ranks only mid-pack in the competitive luxury sedan class. All-wheel drive is standard. It provides good acceleration and excellent fit and finish, but has complex controls and a wide turning circle. The RL will be significantly updated for 2009.

2008 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 crew cab LT V8 4WD

This redesigned Silverado has a selectable, full-time, four-wheel-drive system and generous load capacity. Electronic stability control is standard in the crew-cab model, but optional in the extended cab. The truck has a very good ride and it's fairly easy to get into the cabin, but its braking distances were long.

2008 Saturn Aura XE V6

The Aura uses the same platform as the new Chevrolet Malibu. The XE model has a coarse 3.5-liter V6 paired with a four-speed automatic and returned 20 mpg overall in our testing. Our tested XE was nimble and responsive and had well-weighted steering. But the Aura easily slid its tail at its handling limits. Side-curtain air bags and ABS are standard, but ESC is standard only on the XR and the hybrid version. We only recommend the XE; the XR trim line has below-average reliability.

See the complete list of best new car deals.

Deep discounts often carry caveats

Understanding the reasons why a model is likely to be heavily promoted will enable you to decide if any compromises are worthwhile and might empower your showroom negotiations. Simply put, large incentives are seldom offered on the most-popular models. Typically, discounted cars are at a competitive performance disadvantage and/or are models that haven't been updated in a while.

The same can be said for the leftover 2007 models, if you can find any. Buying a year-old vehicle can have real appeal for high-mileage drivers, because resale value will matter less if you typically drive your car into the ground. The short-run depreciation will be balanced out over time by being spread across more model years.

The bottom line

A review of the highlights of this month's best deals reveals the importance of thoroughly researching your next automotive purchase. To understand the real deal, it pays to have the Consumer Reports Bottom Line Price, which can aid shoppers by providing an optimal starting point for negotiations, with information such as the hidden profit known as dealer holdback and current incentives. Providing consumers with information on what dealers actually pay for a new car and its options and on packages of incentives, rebates, and holdbacks, the Bottom Line Price equips consumers to negotiate a fair price. The Consumer Reports Bottom Line Price is part of Consumer Reports' New Car Price Service.

Before you vote with your checkbook, keep in mind that a good deal on a bad car is no deal at all. Historically, President's Day weekend is a rare time of year when dealers might be more willing than usual to work with customers on price. Even if you find other intriguing models without big rebates, go to the dealership prepared with complete pricing and CR test-performance information so you can improve your odds of driving home happy, with the right car at the right price.