Best Car Deals on Hot Models and Cold

Last Updated May 18, 2010 12:25 PM EDT

With car sales rebounding, you wouldn't expect to find discounts on the hottest-selling cars on dealers' lots. But data from auto price web site TrueCar.com shows that even models gone after a few days are selling below list price, sometimes at even bigger discounts than the slowest sellers. "Sales are bouncing back, but the market isn't really that strong," says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for TrueCar.com. "Dealers still are discounting to keep the cars moving."

At the request of MoneyWatch, TrueCar compiled data on the 10 fastest- and 10 slowest- selling cars based on a statistic called "days to turn"-how long a model, on average, is sitting on dealers' lots before selling. The "hot" models are driving off lots in 9 to 16 days. The lonely "cold" ones are sitting for an average 101 days and for as long as 156 (the Hyundai Sonata, which is actually worth a look as you'll see below).

Today's hottest seller? Not a Corvette or another racy sports car, but the Mercedes Benz GL 350 Bluetec, a high-mpg diesel SUV (MSRP: $59,950; with a generous 7.7% average discount).

The rest of the Hot 10 list is studded with SUVs and crossovers such as Toyota's Highlander (with a 9.4% average discount -- the biggest pricecut on the "hot" list) and 4Runner, Chevrolet Equinox, Subaru Outback and GMC Terrain (3.3% discount--the smallest reduction of the bunch).

Some of the slowest sellers with the biggest discounts are ones where new, redesigned models are selling alongside the old ones or soon will be, such as the Sonata (with its stunning 17.5% discount --the biggest pricecut on the "cold" list), and Ford's Mustang and Focus. But the slow-moving compact Scion xD has just a 3.4% discount, about the same as a GMC and a Subaru on that hot-selling list.

Here two great deals apiece among the fast-sellers (Subaru Outback and Toyota 4 Runner) and the slow sellers (Hyundai Sonata and Ford Mustang):

Subaru Outback-One of Subaru's full slate of redesigned models, the fast-selling Outback competes with crossover SUVs and station wagons. Reviewers admire its new look and extra cargo space. Like all Subarus, the Outback comes with standard all-wheel drive. According to TrueCar, the average buyer is paying $23,815 for the H4 model with automatic transmission and four-cylinder engine or 3.5% below MSRP. Estimated mileage is 22 mpg city, 29 highway. Some buyers are getting this Outback for $23,457 or just $400 over TrueCar's reckoning of the dealer's real cost.

Toyota 4Runner-Toyota, looking to overcome its recall woes, has been flogging big cash rebates and promotional loan and lease deals. That may explain why the 4Runner SUV, which escaped any involvement in the company's sudden-acceleration recalls, is selling so briskly. Reviewers laud 4Runner for maintaining its rugged off-road capability and truck frame while many competitors are moving to smoother-driving crossovers. But the 4Runner makes a nod to practicality with higher gas mileage in its 2010 model: 17 mpg city, 23 highway. TrueCar shows the average buyer getting the four-wheel drive V6 4Runner for $30,307, or 4.4% below the $31,715 sticker price with some hard bargainers going as low as $29,783.

Hyundai Sonata-You can get that whopping 17.5% off list price on the barely-budging Sonata as long as you're willing to buy a 2010 model even though the 2011 is already on sale. Reviewers praised the 2010 for its value, many standard features and 10-year, 100,000-mile power train warranty. The 2011 has a much sportier, edgier design and is selling closer to list price. But if value and savings are your focus (mileage is 22 city, 32 highway), the TrueCar average price for the 2010 GLS with automatic transmission is $17,014, thousands below the $20,620 MSRP. Some buyers are getting this Sonata for $16,568.

Ford Mustang-If muscle cars at a discount get your engine racing, consider a 2010 Mustang GT. Like the Hyundai Sonata, the 2010 is selling alongside a redesigned, much-heralded 2011 model. As a result, its average parking time on dealer lots is 112 days. While reviewers loved the 2011, they also liked the 2010 a lot. You'll be getting the comfortable interior and powerful V8 (18 mpg city, 26 highway) for a TrueCar average $25,610, a 12.5% discount from the $29,245 MSRP. Some buyers are picking off this GT for $25,027.


Summary 2010 Models

Shortest days in inventory

Rank

Make

Model

Days in Inventory

Avg. Discount

1

Mercedes-Benz

GL350 Bluetec

9

7.7%

2

Hyundai

Tucson

10

2.7%

3

Toyota

Highlander

12

9.4%

4

Audi

Q5

13

5.0%

5

Toyota

RAV4

14

7.0%

6

GMC

Terrain

14

3.3%

7

Lexus

LS 460

14

6.9%

8

Subaru

Outback

15

3.5%

9

Chevrolet

Equinox

15

3.5%

10

Toyota

4Runner

16

4.4%

Longest days in inventory

Rank

Make

Model

Days in Inventory

Avg. Discount

1

Hyundai

Sonata

156

17.5%

2

Ford

Mustang

112

12.5%

3

Ford

F-250

103

15.7%

4

Jeep

Compass

100

12.0%

5

Toyota

Yaris

96

11.8%

6

BMW

535I

91

7.9%

7

Toyota

Camry Hybrid

91

10.5%

8

Scion

xD

89

3.4%

9

Mitsubishi

Lancer

89

6.3%

10

Ford

Focus

88

16.0%

Photos courtesy of Manufacturers

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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