After a multiyear run of gains, total 2017 auto sales are headed for a down year. Through November, sales were off 1.5 percent with little chance that December can turn that total positive.
For manufacturers, that means extra incentives to move cars off the lot, including remaining 2017 models. For consumers, that translates into some bargain lease deals this month.
Monthly payments on the best of these deals are below $140. The other financial component to a lease is how much you're required to put down in cash when you sign the deal. The five vehicles we'll look at here all require $2,000 or less as a down payment.
Leasing isn't for everyone. The best deal on a strictly financial basis is to buy the car and then keep it as long as you can. But if you like to change cars every few years, if you take good care of your vehicle and if you don't generally drive long distances, leasing can be the way to go.
But remember: If you return the car in poor condition at lease end or you exceed the mileage allowed in the agreement, you can wind up with costly charges that you may not expect.
Lease payments are generally lower than loan payments for buying the same car. That's because you're financing only the depreciation value over the time you drive the car -- not its total value. You're paying for the difference between the car's initial value and the estimated value when the lease is over, plus interest.
If leasing suits you, check out five of the best current deals as screened by U.S. News and Kelley Blue Book. If you're in the market for a fuel-saving commuter car, deals are particularly good on compact and subcompact cars. But even in the hottest segment -- SUVs -- we found two good lease deals. Here are the specifics, in order of the monthly payments.
2017 Kia Forte
The Forte can be leased for $139 a month for 36 months with $1,999 due at signing. Reviewers praise this compact for having an unexpectedly roomy interior. And you can get a full range of tech features.
The Forte is part of a brand that topped all makes -- including luxury cars -- with the fewest problems reported by those who had recently bought or leased a new car in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey. The Forte has an EPA rating of 29 MPG in city driving and 38 on the highway.
2018 Hyundai Elantra
The Elantra is leasing for $179 a month for 36 months with $1,999 due at signing. Kelley Blue Book reviewers praise the Elantra for stylish looks and for adding new technology and safety features for 2018. As with all Hyundai vehicles, it carries a 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty on powertrain components.
The Elantra with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine is rated for 32 MPG in city driving and 40 on the highway.
2017 Honda Civic
Often rated as the best small car, the 2017 Civic is leasing for $169 a month for 36 months with $1,999 due at signing. Reviewers like the Civic for its elegant styling, comfortable ride and strong safety ratings.
The Civic's four-cylinder engine with a continuously variable transmission is rated for 32 MPG in city driving and 42 on the highway.
2018 Subaru Forester
If you want a small SUV that can take you to the ski slopes or into back country, take a look at the Forester. Regional 36-month lease deals offer a payment of $219 a month with $1,739 down in the West and Southeast, and $239 a month with $1,739 down in the Northeast and Midwest.
Like all Subarus, the Forester comes standard with all-wheel drive. Reviewers also praise the Forester for its great visibility. It's rated for 26 MPG in city driving and 32 on the highway.
2017 Toyota Highlander
If you need a bigger SUV to haul people and cargo, consider the Highlander -- leasing for $329 a month for 36 months with $1,999 down. Reviewers like its power, comfortable interior and advanced safety features.
The Highlander's V-6 engine is rated for 21 MPG in city driving and 27 on the highway.