10 best end-of-the-year deals on new cars

ConsumerReports.org

As the holiday shopping frenzy dominates headlines and checkout lanes, you should know about the real savings available at your local car dealership. Extensive analysis by TrueCar has confirmed the adage that the last week of the year is the best time to buy car. Better news: All the cars on this list are CR Recommended and come with significant savings.

The analysis studied data over several years to identify the moment when prices and inventory hit a sweet spot. This supply-and-demand balance is titled in the consumers’ favor that last week of the year, thanks to month- and year-end bonuses, along with anticipation of low sales volume in January and February. The last half of December is when the dealership is most anxious to move the metal, and the sales staff is heavily incentivized to make it happen.

In studying all cars, trucks, and SUVs for sale now, we are seeing the deepest discounts on remaining 2013 inventory. Rest assured, the dealers are desperate to sell those leftovers, as they have likely been covering the floor plan costs on them for weeks, if not months.

In terms of pure dollars saved, we are seeing total savings available of up to $6,590—on a 2013 Toyota Avalon. For this top-10 list, we focused strictly on vehicles that promise at least 15 percent savings below MSRP.

These are just a few of our best new car deals—meaning these are notable discounts on models that meet Consumer Reports’ criteria to be recommended. These vehicles scored well in our testing, had average or better reliability in our subscriber survey, and performed at least adequately if included in government or insurance-industry safety tests.

These cars are ranked in order of potential savings, starting with the best deal.

2013 Toyota Avalon (expires 1/6/14)

Redesigned for 2013, the Avalon is spacious, comfortable, and has a well-equipped interior. The lively 268-hp V6 is teamed with a smooth six-speed automatic that delivers a commendable 24 mpg overall. The ride is stiffer than on the previous generation, and consequently, we advise against the 18-inch wheels. The hybrid gets an impressive 36 mpg overall, and it is, likewise, available at a good discount.

2013 Ram 1500 (expires 1/6/14)

With its last freshening, the Ram is perhaps the most civilized full-sized pickup on sale. Its coil-spring rear suspension delivers 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 automatic, averaged 15 mpg. The base 4.7-liter V8, mated to a six-speed automatic, has no mileage advantage. An available V6 is plenty capable. Among trucks, the Ram has become a staff favorite for noncommercial, everyday use.

2013 Toyota Venza (expires 1/6/14)

Based on the outgoing Highlander, the Venza is a combination of a traditional wagon and an SUV. Assets include easy cabin access, a quiet interior, and a roomy rear seat. The rear hatch and large cargo floor aid cargo flexibility. The strong 268-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine gets 20 mpg overall. All-wheel drive is available. One downside is poor over-the-shoulder and rear visibility, which is impaired by the short rear window and head restraints.

2013 Volvo S60 (expires 1/2/14)

The S60 is one of the best Volvos ever, with agile handling, a taut and steady ride, and a suite of advanced safety systems. The five-cylinder engine provided lively acceleration and respectable fuel economy in our tests—23 mpg overall. The top-level T6 trim with AWD is quick and refined. The interior is quiet and nicely laid out, and the front seats are very comfortable. But the rear is tight, and the trunk is small. Safety features are abundant and innovative.

2013 Chrysler 300 (expires 1/6/14)

One of the best large sedans on the market, the Chrysler 300 is roomy and luxurious. The 5.7-liter V8 is punchy, but fuel economy is only 18 mpg overall with the five-speed automatic. But the 3.6-liter V6, with its smooth eight-speed automatic, stately ride, and responsive handling, is a bargain luxury sedan and our preferred choice. It averaged a good 22 mpg overall in our tests. Inside, the cabin is roomy and nicely trimmed. The Uconnect touch-screen infotainment system is one of the best in the industry. All-wheel drive is available.

2013 Volvo XC60 (expires 1/2/14)

A good choice in the upscale compact SUV class, the XC60 isn't as involving or sporty as the Audi Q5 or BMW X3. The ride is a little stiff, but handling is responsive and secure at its limits. The 3.0-liter, turbocharged six-cylinder performs well but fuel economy is mediocre at 17 mpg overall. The interior is nicely finished with high-quality materials and well-shaped, comfortable seats. Lots of cutting-edge safety gear is available but opting for it can get fairly expensive.

2013 Lexus GS 350 (expires 1/2/14)

The revamped Lexus GS is a wholly different proposition from the forgettable GS it replaced. The Lexus GS is now on the same page as such class-leading mid-sized luxury sedans as the Audi A6, Infiniti Q70, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The ride is supple and controlled, handling is responsive, and performance is strong. The ultra-quiet cabin is beautifully finished and much more accommodating than it used to be. Fuel economy is 21 mpg overall on premium fuel.

2013 Volkswagen Passat (expires 1/2/14)

The Passat offers lots of room and delivers a quiet, comfortable ride. Its extra-spacious rear seat is a plus, but fit and finish isn't that impressive. Tough choice is the powertrain. The lackluster 2.5-liter five-cylinder that got 25 mpg overall is replaced with a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder for 2014. In tests of the turbodiesel, we got an impressive 37 mpg overall and 51 mpg on the highway—terrific for such a large car.

2013 Toyota Sienna (expires 1/6/14)

Sienna strengths 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 game in town. Since the 2011 redesign, road noise is more pronounced, and interior fit and finish and ergonomics also took a step back. But this is a proven versatile minivan with better than average predicted reliability.

2013 BMW 5 Series (expires 1/2/14)

The 535i is refined and fuel efficient. In our tests, the turbocharged six-cylinder engine delivered smooth and strong acceleration, and its eight-speed automatic shifted imperceptibly. Fuel economy, at 23 mpg overall, is commendable for such a substantial vehicle. While the ride is impressive, handling is disappointing, mainly because of the vague steering and the car's tendency to understeer at its limits. Interior fit and finish is excellent, but some controls remain overcomplicated. Minor updates distinguish the 2014 model.

Just missing the cut is a slew of 2014 models with deals nearly as good as the spotlighted 2013 models, including the Acura TL, BMW X1, BMW X3, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti QX80, Toyota Camry, and Toyota Venza.

When buying in this time of year, it is important to know that a 2013 model is essentially a one-year-old car, despite being relatively fresh off the showroom floor. This means a 2013 will take an even greater initial depreciation hit than a 2014 model. But the equity impact will balance out over time, should you hold on to the car for several years, especially if you log more than 12,000 miles annually.

To ease the buying process, Consumer Reports offers a Build & Buy Car Buying Service to subscribers. For Build & Buy, a nationwide network of more than 6,000 participating dealers have agreed to pass along discounts provided by any applicable manufacturer incentives for the vehicle you're buying. This includes unadvertised manufacturer-to-dealer incentives, for which it's typically up to the dealer whether to keep the savings or pass them on to the customer. Consumer Reports subscribers save an average of $2,791 off MSRP with the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.

See all current Best New Car Deals or use our New Car Selector to create your own list of vehicles by sorting and filtering by the factors that matter most to you.

For more advice on shopping, check our holiday gift guide.

Jeff Bartlett



More from Consumer Reports:
Consumer Reports' top scoring cars
Best & worst new cars
Guide to the best small SUVs

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

View Comments