Last Updated Apr 8, 2010 10:16 AM EDT
First, Toyota launched an uncharacteristic blitz of low-interest loans and low-payment lease deals. Then competitors-from Honda to General Motors to Ford-rushed to match those bargains, hoping to get in on the fledgling economic recovery.
Toyota-facing a federal fine for being slow to tell U.S. safety officials of its accelerator problem-has now extended its incentive program through April, and other car makers have followed. So if you have good credit, this is your chance to drive away a new vehicle with much more affordable payments than you could have found earlier.
Here's a closer look at four top choices--a small, high-mileage model plus three popular mid-size sedans:
1. Toyota Yaris-This subcompact gas sipper was not part of the Toyota recall, so if you aren't spooked by the company's reputation issues, you might want to grab the Yaris's $500 cash rebate or zero-percent financing for a two, four or five-year loan. The Yaris, which has the attractive interior and convenience features typical of today's small cars, also includes traction and stability control in the 2010 models. The almost hybrid-like gas mileage rating is 29 mpg in the city, 35 highway. With typical options, it sells for about $16,600.
2. Honda Accord-Always among the strongest-selling mid-size sedans, the Accord offers enticing deals for loans and leases. Loans are 0.9% for 24 or 36 months. You can get a nothing-down lease with payments of $250 per month for 36 months. A spacious sedan with excellent resale value, the Accord LX with automatic transmission sells for around $19,950. Accord's gas mileage ratings: 21 mpg city, 31 highway.
3. Ford Fusion -Ford's competitor to the Accord comes with either 0% financing for three or five years or a $1,000 cash rebate; Fusion offers no special lease deals. The 2010 Fusion improves on power and gas mileage (22 city, 31 highway) with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine. Stability control is standard, along with the SYNC system that lets you give voice commands for your iPod and phone. (For more on SYNC, see Full WiFi Coming in Ford Cars ).The I4-S model Fusion is selling for about $20,800-or $1,000 less if you take the rebate and get your own financing. (Average national car-loan rate: about 6.5%.) The strong-selling, high-mileage Fusion hybrid does not provide incentives.
4. Chevrolet Malibu-General Motors' most appealing mid-size sedan in years carries rebates of up to $3,000 plus (bullseye: Toyota) another $1,000 if you own a 1999 or newer Toyota or Lexus. To get a rebate, however, you have to finance a loan through GM at a market rate. If you want GM's 0% financing on the Malibu for three, four or five years, you can't get take the rebate. To decide which deal is best for you, use the Bankrate.com auto loan calculator. The Malibu combines good ride, handling and style with a new six-speed automatic transmission that helps it get mileage ratings of 22mpg city, 33 highway. The LT-1 model is selling for about $22,700-or $19,700 if you go for the rebate.
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