When is less popular more desirable?

Popularity is one reason to choose something: a shirt, a car even someone to date, but it isn't always the best reason to make a purchase. Remember when leisure suits, fanny packs, and Britney Spears CDs were must-have items? Popularity doesn't guarantee that you'll like what you get long-term, and sometimes you'll find something you like even better if you look beyond the latest star.

Consider the Wallflowers

Some car shoppers ignore great choices simply because "they're not popular." It's just like overlooking the kinda-cute girl next door; she won't make other guys jealous, but she might end up being perfect for a long-term relationship. For your benefit, we've assembled a list of vehicles to consider even though they aren't anywhere near the most popular sales stars. Why? Well, because they may actually be a better choice in the long run.

Mercury Sable vs. Toyota Camry

In March, Mercury dealers sold over 1,800 Sable sedans. This past spring, Toyota sold about that many Camry sedans ... in two days. The Camry defines popularity in the automotive world, and Toyota dealers don't have to try too hard to sell them. Do you think your neighborhood Mercury dealer wants to sell you a Sable? He sure does!

The Sedan Wallflower: Mercury Sable

According to Automotive News, last February Mercury dealers sold an average of only five new vehicles each. Logically, these dealers will do anything to put you in a Sable. The Sable is roomy, high quality, and powered by an efficient 3.5-liter V-6. Styling is tasteful if a bit understated. Don't be afraid to take a great deal on this ultimate wallflower.

Saab 9-3 vs. BMW 3-Series

How do you say "great deal" in Swedish? We don't know, but we know a great opportunity when we see one. It's the 2008 Saab 9-3. Saab dealers would love to sell more of these sporting machines because this model's sales are only 20 percent of the sales leader, the BMW 3-Series. The BMW boasts monthly sales of over 10,000 units.

The Sporty Wallflower: Saab 9-3

Saab dealers want a piece of the 3-Series's sales action. They'll show you a deal on a handsome performance car that is thoroughly improved for 2008, boasting over 2,100 changes to the 2007 edition. Pick from turbocharged 4- and 6-cyinder engines and quality that's never been better.

Taurus X vs. Ford Edge

The Taurus X has family problems. In 2005, Ford introduced it with an underpowered engine. Then Ford changed its name (it used to be the Freestyle) and the market got confused. Then Ford introduced two new crossovers, the all-new Edge and 2009 Flex. The former selling over 13,000 per month, and the latter just waiting to be introduced.

The CUV Wallflower: Ford Taurus X

For 2008, Ford replaced the Taurus X's power train with a punchy and efficient 3.5-liter V-6 and 6-speed automatic. Ford also made hundreds of other improvements to this roomy, 7-passgner full-sized crossover. Ford wants to sell more than the 3,000 Taurus XÔøΩs per month, so you're likely to get a better deal on this than an Edge.

Kia Sportage vs. Honda CR-V

Decades ago, Honda fought for market share just like Kia is today. Back then, Honda won sales from the domestics. Today Kia targets Honda as much as anybody and hopes to take a wedge out of the overall sales pie with the Sportage. This little crossover sells about 3,000 units per month compared to Honda's popular CR-V that sold 19,000 units in March.

The Cute 'Ute Wallflower: Kia Sportage

There was a time when Hondas were styled somewhat oddly. Today, they are refined, and the upstart Kia is the quirky one. Buying the feature-heavy Kia means you'll live with imperfect looks. However, because Kia wants to grow sales, you can drive a Sportage for thousands less than the popular Honda CR-V.

Chrysler Town & Country vs. Hyundai Entourage

One could say that all current minivans are wallflowers. This class of vehicle declined in popularity a few years ago. However, the US market still purchases more than 1 million minivans per year, and Chrysler remains the sales leader. Hyundai introduced its Entourage in 2007 to win over families shopping for bread-loaf-shaped transportation.

The Minivan Wallflower: Hyundai Entourage

The 2008 Hyundai Entourage is a well-equipped minivan at a super-competitive price. However, in March, Hyundai dealers couldn't even sell 700 units. In the same period, Chrysler sold over 13,000 of its vans. The Town & Country has feature advantages over the Entourage, but you may want dollars in your pocket more than stow 'n go seats in your van.

The Next Wallflower Car: Saturn Astra

The all-new Saturn Astra is a terrific compact car. Enthusiasts know it is German-built and imported to your local Saturn dealer, a product of GM's Opel subsidiary. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is a remade Saturn Ion. It's much better and is waiting to be discovered. Get a deal before the market recognizes this gem.

The Next Wallflower SUV: Nissan Rogue

The smooth lines of the new Rogue are clean but completely unremarkable. There's nothing flashy about this car-based crossover. Since it's available with only one engine (a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder) and one transmission (an automatic continuously variable transmission), many shoppers will look right past it to V-6 powered choices. That is a big mistake. The Rogue is peppy, roomy, and loaded with value.
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