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Presidents Day: 10 best deals on American-made cars

Smart, patriotic car buys for the shopping holiday

Published: February 13, 2014 07:00 PM

With a top-hat tip to capitalism and tradition, Presidents Day weekend presents a great opportunity for shoppers to find a deep discounts on new cars. Manufacturers and local dealerships are teaming up to slash sticker prices, cut interest rates, and foster founding-father-grade patriotism. Our analysts have cut through the red, white, and blue hype crowding the airwaves to find the best deals on American-made cars.

To ensure these picks are good cars, as with all our Best New Car Deals, each meets Consumer Reports' criteria to be recommended. These vehicles scored well in our testing, have average or better reliability in our latest subscriber survey, and performed well in government or insurance-industry safety tests, if evaluated. We focused the list on just those models that are made in the United States, regardless of brand.

Each vehicle highlighted below is available with at least a 10-percent discount off the retail price in national incentives, often available through the end of the month depending on manufacturer, and hidden dealer holdback. Others may also carry regional incentives, enabling further savings for informed negotiators. Specific pricing details on these and other trim variations are available on the model pages.

While all good cars, the profiles below provide our candid insights based on weeks of testing. Click through the model names to read the complete road test, and check detailed pricing, reliability, owner costs, owner satisfaction, and other key data.

Jeff Bartlett

Build & Buy Car Buying Service

In addition to research and reviews, Consumer Reports offers subscribers access to the Build & Buy Car Buying Service at no additional cost. Through this service, a nationwide network of more than 7,000 participating dealers provide upfront pricing information, as well as a certificate to receive guaranteed savings off MSRP (in most states). The pricing information and guaranteed savings includes eligible incentives. Consumer Reports subscribers have saved an average of $2,919 off MSRP with the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.

Cadillac ATS

2014 Cadillac ATS

Cadillac has long chased BMW, and the new ATS luxury sedan is as close as an American sedan has come to the 3 Series. The ATS is an absolute blast to drive. The ATS's sharp handling and eager performance give up nothing compared with the best European sports sedans, including the BMW 3 Series. We actually prefer the lively steering in the Cadillac over that in the latest BMW 328i we tested. The ride is taut and controlled without being punishing or harsh. Braking performance is outstanding. Interior fit and finish is impressive, and the front seats are very comfortable. However, the CUE infotainment system, with its flush buttons, is very convoluted and frustrating to use. The four-cylinder has better reliability and is available with a sweet discount.  

Make & model Expires MSRP Invoice price Incentive Potential savings below MSRP
Cadillac ATS
2/28 $42,020 $40,376 Yes  10%+
Chevrolet Malibu

2014 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT

The Malibu stands out this shopping weekend for offering an appealing discount on an already affordable, and appealing, midsized sedan. Refined for 2014 with suspension tweaks and incrementally increased rear-seat space, the Malibu is a comfortable, very quiet midsized sedan. A new 2.5-liter four-cylinder with a start/stop system is the base engine for 2014. A smooth-shifting six-speed automatic is standard. Compared to firmer peers, the Malibu ride is cushy and handling is sound, although our testers feel it gets soggy at its limits. Controls are simple and straightforward. Reliability has been average for all versions.

Make & model Expires MSRP Invoice price Incentive Potential savings below MSRP
Chevrolet Malibu 1LT
2/28 $24,335 $23,747 Yes  10%+
Ford Expedition EL

2014 Ford Expedition EL

The Expedition is a full-sized SUV that competes with the Chevrolet Suburban. As the size insinuates, it is the tool for big jobs, from people and cargo toting, to pulling large trailers. It's available in two lengths, with the extended-length EL offering massive interior space and seating for up to eight. The roomy third-row seat folds flat into the floor and seats three adults with ease. The coarse-sounding V8 produces 310 hp but often sounds as if it were straining. It's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Our tested EL felt sluggish and returned just 13 mpg overall, but its towing capacity is generous. Handling is relatively responsive for such a large vehicle, but braking distances are long. Big savings are available this shopping holiday on the massive Expedition EL, but before signing the bottom line, consider the large-scale owner costs associated with such a big rig.

Make & model Expires MSRP Invoice price Incentive Potential savings below MSRP
Ford Expedition EL
3/31 $48,240 $46,116 Yes 10%+
Ford Mustang V6

2014 Ford Mustang Coupe V6 Premium

The smart Mustang money is on the V6 coupe, with a low base price and 305 horsepower on tap, it delivers a lot of bang for the buck. With the next-generation Mustang just months away, Ford is already putting a bundle of cash on the hood. Depending on options, our analysis shows a discount up to $5,000 off is feasible.

The refined and punchy V6 attained an impressive 24 mpg overall in our tests, including 35 mpg on the highway. Despite its old-school, solid-axle rear suspension, the Mustang feels agile and athletic and maintains an even keel winding through twisty turns. Quick, well-weighted steering conveys a decent amount of road feel. A rolling piece of Americana, the Mustang boldly waves the flag and boasts big-time incentives.

Make & model Expires MSRP Invoice price Incentive Potential savings below MSRP
Ford Mustang V6 Premium
3/31 $27,435 $25,990 Yes  15%+
Kia Optima

2014 Kia Optima LX

The Optima is Kia's counterpart to the highly rated Hyundai Sonata midsized sedan. The base LX version we tested handles very securely, the engine and transmission perform well, and fuel economy is quite respectable at 25 mpg overall. At our track the Optima proved secure and predictable when pushed to its limits, and it threaded our avoidance maneuver at an impressively high maximum speed while instilling plenty of driver confidence. The coupe-like styling detracts from rear visibility, and the rear seat is a bit low, but it's still livable. With notable savings for this car-buying holiday, the Optima offers a lot of car for the money.

Make & model Expires MSRP Invoice price Incentive Potential savings below MSRP
Kia Optima LX
3/3 $22,300 $21,585 Yes  10%+
Nissan Maxima

Photo: Nissan

2014 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV

Feisty big brother to the Altima, the front-drive Maxima has a sportier personality. The highlight for this sedan is its smooth, powerful 3.5-liter V6 that gives it very quick acceleration and 22 mpg overall, albeit on premium fuel. The steering is oddly weighted. It's overly light at low speeds but then firms up rather abruptly, which takes away from the car's handling. The ride is comfortable enough, and the cabin is quiet. Quality interior materials give a good first impression. Controls are simple to use, and the front seats are very comfortable and supportive, but interior materials and rear-seat room aren't as impressive. As with many sedans, a low roofline inhibits rear access and visibility.

Make & model Expires MSRP Invoice price Incentive Potential savings below MSRP
Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV
2/28 $35,100 $32,890 Yes  15%+
Ram 1500

2014 Ram 1500 Big Horn, Regular Cab, 4X4

With its last freshening, the Ram is perhaps the most civilized full-sized pickup on the market. Its coil-spring rear suspension helps lend a cushioned ride, and handling is competent for such a big vehicle. Our Big Horn Crew Cab, with its smooth, effortless 5.7-liter V8 and slick eight-speed a automatic, averaged 15 mpg—same as the smaller Honda Ridgeline. The base 4.7-liter V8, mated to a six-speed automatic, is underwhelming and has no mileage advantage. The spacious cab is luxury-car quiet and the Uconnect Infotainment system, with its eight-inch touch screen, is easy to use. Reliability has been average.

Make & model Expires MSRP Invoice price Incentive Potential savings below MSRP
Ram 1500 Big Horn regular cab
3/3 $34,505 $32,020 Yes  10%+
Toyota Camry SE

2014 Toyota Camry SE 4-Cyl w/Sport Package

The latest Camry is refined, comfortable, and roomy. Handling is now more responsive, and the interior is nicer, with upgraded materials. The three impressive powertrain choices are the base 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine; a 3.5-liter V6; and the Hybrid, which gets an amazing 38 mpg overall. The four-cylinder engine returned an excellent 27 mpg overall in our tests. Drawbacks include touch-screen radio controls that are not so user friendly. Discounts are available across the Camry line, but the SE stands out for being more entertaining, with its sport suspension and paddle shifters. Reliability for all versions is average or better. When buying a Camry, check its manufacture date, as models built after November 2013 perform better in crash tests.  

Make & model Expires MSRP Invoice price Incentive Potential savings below MSRP
Toyota Camry SE
3/3 $25,900 $24,062 Yes  10%+
Toyota Sienna XLE

2014 Toyota Sienna XLE, AWD

The Sienna is a conventional minivan, with all the versatility and practicality that implies. Long suits include a very comfortable ride and a smooth, energetic powertrain that attains respectable fuel economy. The interior is spacious and versatile, and if you need all-wheel drive, the Sienna is the only minivan now offering it. Do note that AWD models come with run-flat tires, giving up a traditional spare tire. These can be more expensive to replace and have a short service life than traditional tires. Handling is neither agile nor engaging, which detracts from the everyday driving experience, but it is ultimately secure. Road noise is noticeable, and interior fit and finish and ergonomics also took a step back with the redesign. That said, the Sienna is a great solution for addressing the needs of an active family—especially if you can save thousands off sticker price.

Make & model Expires MSRP Invoice price Incentive Potential savings below MSRP
Toyota Sienna AWD
3/3 $37,045 $34,757 Yes  10%+
Toyota Venza

2014 Toyota Venza LE, V6, AWD

Derived from the Highlander, the Venza splits genres between an SUV and wagon. It's targeted to former sport-utility drivers who now want a less utilitarian vehicle for their daily drive. Like an SUV, it makes good use of cargo space. Our all-wheel-drive Venza had Toyota's zesty 3.5-liter V6, which provides lively performance. The Venza's fuel economy is commensurate with the class: 20 mpg overall using regular fuel. The Venza is quiet, roomy, and easy to access. Ride and handling are nothing special, and the sloping roof inhibits space and the view out the rear window. Unless you get the optional navigation system, the rear-view camera's image is relegated to a very small dashboard screen.

Make & model Expires MSRP Invoice price Incentive Potential savings below MSRP
Toyota Venza LE 3/3 $32,080 $29,788 Yes  10%+

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