One man’s fat is another man’s meat, the old adage goes. It means that something is always of value to someone, even if it isn’t to everyone.
And so it is with cars and trucks.
We’ve selected a list of new cars and trucks that garnered some measure of acclaim, yet got hammered for bad styling, terrible naming, lousy marketing or all of the above. Such vehicles represent great buying opportunities if you’re willing to overlook the things that made them unpopular, because dealers are anxious to get rid of them. This means factory cash-back deals are prevalent, but dealers are also apt to have more money to play around with to close a deal on these models because of “hidden” discounts. These are wholesale incentives that car companies give dealers for hitting sales targets on slow sellers.
So, if getting the most vehicle for the money means more than having the hottest, most popular, or most fashionable set of wheels, read on.Notes: Where cited, J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study measures reliability over three years of ownership. Their APEAL Study measures how well buyers rate a vehicle’s design and packaging. Finally, their Initial Quality Study measures things gone wrong and things worth noting positively in the first three months of ownership. Pricing and rebate information comes from Truecar.com, Kelly Blue Book, and a survey of manufacturer and dealer websites.
2009 Saturn Aura XE
Price: $23,375 MSRP, up to $6,500 in factory and dealer incentives available
Why Buy? 2006 North American Car Of The YearThe Deal: There is no 2010 Saturn Aura because General Motors has folded the brand, yet dealers are still trying to sell off their inventory. The Aura was voted Car of the Year by a panel of 50 U.S. and Canadian journalists, but GM did a miserable job of marketing this attractive four-door sedan, which is mechanically the same as the Chevy Malibu. Try to find a four-cylinder model for its fuel economy.
2009 Buick LaCrosse
Price: $25,640 MSRP, $4,000 in factory incentives available
Why Buy? Highest ranked mid-sized car in the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability StudyThe Deal: The 2010 LaCrosse has been updated to a more luxurious and expensive package and has been hailed by journalists as a potential Lexus ES350 beater. That leaves leftover previous generation LaCrosses appearing even less sexy if they’re languishing at the back of dealer lots. The LaCrosse benefits from GM’s focus on overall vehicle quality in the last eight years. While driving one won’t make much of a statement, the LaCrosse makes a respectable rolling office. Perhaps that’s why it’s earned a reputation as the unofficial car of the National Realtors Association.
2010 Cadillac DTS
Price: $47,200 MSRP, $3,500 in wholesale discounts and $2,000 in factory rebates available
Why Buy? Highest-ranked large premium car in the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability StudyThe Deal: One of the larger cars on the market, the DTS is a full-size luxury sedan that debuted in 2006. When GM infused the smaller CTS with its most advanced engine technology and best interior treatment, the DTS got short-changed. Powered by a V8 engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels, the DTS may not be cutting edge but for some buyers that’s not important.
2010 Honda Ridgeline
Price: $29,160 MSRP, $4,500 in dealer discounts and 1.9% financing available
Why Buy? 2006 North American Truck of the Year, highest-ranked midsize pickup in J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study and APEAL surveysThe Deal: The midsize Honda Ridgeline is the only unibody pickup on the market, meaning that it’s built like a car rather than with a separate body mounted on a frame like other trucks. Perhaps that’s why sales have been anemic -- or maybe it’s the Ridgeline’s strange looks. With a standard 250-horsepower V6 engine and all-wheel drive, the sport utility truck is capable of towing 5,000 pounds. If Honda quality is what you are looking for and you just need to haul plywood and bags of dirt, the Ridgeline is the ticket.
2010 Lincoln MKZ
Price: $35,075 MSRP, $2,000 customer cash and $2,000 dealer cash available
Why Buy? Highest-ranked entry-premium vehicle in the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability StudyThe Deal: The MKZ has received several nice interior upgrades since it launched in 2006 as the Lincoln Zephyr, but there is no mistaking this merely competent sedan as a badge-engineered Ford Fusion. While the exterior doesn’t scream luxury, inside the seating and instrument panel are certainly premium. The next MKZ will be distinct from the Fusion, but in the meantime, the MKZ is a better deal than the Lexus ES 350 -- which, after all, is a Toyota Camry with a Sunday hat on.
2009 Mercury Sable
Price: $30,205 MSRP, remainders are going for $26,999 and lower
Why Buy? Highest Ranked Large Car in J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study and APEAL StudyThe Deal: The 2009 Sable sedan is a member of one of the most unloved Ford families of all time. This car began life as the Montego, a sibling of the former Ford Five Hundred that was renamed Taurus at the same time the Mercury version became Sable. An arched roof gives it a roomy interior reminiscent of a 1950’s sedan. While that makes the Sable practical, that’s about where its virtues end. The good news for those shopping for the biggest car they can get for the least amount of money is that remaindered 2009 models are beyond cheap. Grandma would be proud of you.
2010 Nissan Armada
Price: $44,060 MSRP, $4,000 in factory rebates, $4,000 in dealer cash available
Why Buy? Top Ranked Large Multi-Activity Vehicle in J.D. Power’s APEAL studyThe Deal: Despite heavy discounting, sales of this model remain weak. The 2010 Nissan Armada comes in either two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive versions, both powered by a 5.6-liter V8 that produces 317 horsepower. With an EPA rating of just 14 miles per gallon combined, it could be fuel economy that’s at the center of the Armada’s failure to catch on. Then again, there’s the odd styling. People who do buy one of these dreadnaughts rate it very well, proving that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
2010 Hyundai Accent
Price: $14,265 MSRP, $1,000 in factory cash, plus $500 in dealer cash available
Why Buy? Ranked second among subcompacts on J.D. Power’s Initial Quality StudyThe Deal: The Accent has been outflanked by lots of newer entries in the cheapo-transpo category: Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Fit, among others. The Accent is not sexy, but has shown itself to be a fine method of conveyance for those pinched in the wallet. The seats are good, and the manual tranny is better than you would expect. A nice stereo and a ten-year warranty are good bonuses.
2009 Pontiac G6
Price: $19,995 for remainders, $1,000 factory rebates
Why Buy? Second mid-sized car in J.D. Power’s APEAL StudyThe Deal: Pontiac is joining Packard and Plymouth in the annals of history this year as GM winds down the storied brand. A victim of scatter-shot product strategies, brand plans and ad campaigns, in the end, nobody knew what Pontiac was supposed to be -- especially GM management -- and people just stopped buying. The G6 was forgettable for any number of reasons, from a cheap looking interior to its dull exterior styling to an anonymous name. But orphans on dealer lots and low mileage demos and the like can be had for a song.
2010 Chrysler PT Cruiser
Price: $18,995 MSRP, $2,000 in factory cash and $2,000 in dealer cash available
Why Buy? 2001 North American Car Of The YearThe Deal: The PT Cruiser was once the darling of the auto industry -- but that was during the Clinton administration. Built on the old Neon platform, it’s not winning any quality awards, its fuel economy lags the competition and crash safety ratings are nothing to write home about. But the PT remains one of the handiest packages on the market for the money, the mini-minivan that started the whole retro-design trend. Chrysler had cancelled the model, but then changed its mind and decided it would sell it for at least another year. Offered only in a naturally aspirated four-cylinder model, you could do worse than picking one up on its farewell tour.