10 Cars Making You Happy Leases Are Back

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Owning a new car is great and all, but there's a reason leases were attractive before the recession.

Leases are a less costly way of getting behind the wheel of a new car, but those short-term deals disappeared during the economic downturn. Tightened credit took car buyers out of the lease market, while automaker bankruptcies ended lease offers altogether for a time.

Leases are making a comeback, but rising used car values, shrinking used car supply and a changing credit landscape are making them much different than the boom-era leases buyers may remember. Three years and 36,000 miles with $0 down payment? Try two years and 20,000 with a down payment similar to the price of a used car.

Brandy Schaffels, an analyst at auto pricing site TrueCar, says there are still deals to be had in the recovering auto lease market. The following deals offer buyers some options while providing an alternative to costly financing plans or upfront payments:

10. 2012 Honda (HMC) Civic 4-Door Automatic LX
MSRP: $19,595
Monthly lease payment: $220
Months: 35
Down payment: $0
Miles per year: 12,000

Take a long, hard look at these lease terms. It's the last time you'll see them in this story. Though it falls short of a three-year lease by a month, this 35-month, 36,000-mile deal is only sweetened by an Eco Assist engine that gets a combined 32 miles per gallon. It's a throwback lease for a compact that's more timely as ever.

9. 2012 Ford (F) Explorer XLT
MSRP: $34,920
Monthly lease payment: $329
Months: 24
Down payment: $3,748
Miles per year: 10,500

Now those terms are more like it. Two years and 21,000 miles? That doesn't leave a whole lot of time for listening to the standard Sirius XM ( SIRI) satellite radio or a whole lot of miles for lugging stuff in the Explorer's 80 cubic feet of cargo space. Even with that relatively hefty down payment, this lease is still the best way of getting that much space for this little money.

8. 2012 Ford Focus SE Automatic with Sport Package and SYNC
MSRP: $20,520
Monthly lease payment: $169
Months: 24
Down payment: $2,398
Miles per year: 10,500

That nearly $2,400 down payment is still one of the heftiest on this list -- especially compared with the $0 payment for the competing Civic -- but the Focus packs a lot of perks into that price tag. The car's Microsoft SYNC system bundles an MP3 player, Bluetooth phone connection, turn-by-turn directions and traffic alerts into one voice-activated system. Its 32 miles per gallon aren't bad, either.

7. 2012 Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTEC
MSRP: $52,565
Monthly lease payment: $579
Months: 24
Down payment: $3,873
Miles per year: 10,000

What does the E350 have that warrants a nearly $600-a-month payment for only two years and 20,000 miles of use? A 3.0-liter, 210-horsepower diesel engine, wood trim, leather steering wheel, LED lighting and plenty of tech toys. We could go on about its relatively efficient 26 miles per gallon, but getting a $50,000 E-Class for a fraction of the price is this lease's biggest perk. For a certain demographic, the hood ornament in front and the "E350" stamp in back are the only features required.

6. 2012 Chevrolet (GM) Cruze
MSRP: $17,595
Monthly lease payment: $159
Months: 24
Down payment: $1,879
Miles per year: 12,000

The term is only two years, but those 24,000 miles are downright generous for a car that gets 30.5 miles per gallon. Throw in standard satellite radio and OnStar emergency services and navigation and lessees get off cheap with this coveted compact.

5. 2012 Buick Verano
MSRP: $23,470
Monthly lease payment: $299
Months: 24
Down payment: $0
Miles per year: 15,000

The monthly payment is a monster, but this luxury sedan's other lease terms are fairly generous for a car this loaded. The 30,000-mile lease lets drivers enjoy a whole lot of road in their heated leather seats and pindrop-quiet cabin. Its touchscreen entertainment and communications center, leather steering wheel and combined 26 miles per gallon are also fine throw-ins.

4. 2012 Ford Fusion SE I4
MSRP: $23,770
Monthly lease payment: $159
Months: 24
Down payment: $2,658
Miles per year: 10,500

Ford's midsize offering is every bit as middle-of-the-road as its category suggests, but that's not such a bad thing at this price. With the exception of standard satellite radio, the Fusion has no other flashy standard perks. Its combined 28 miles per gallon and capless fuel tank are lovely, but two years of low payments and high reliability are the main draw here.

3. 2012 Chevrolet Malibu w/ 1LS
MSRP: $22,870
Monthly lease payment: $179
Months: 24
Down payment: $1,589
Miles per year: 12,000

Chevy couldn't get the Malibu's monthly price as low as the Fusion's, but it edges by ford with a lower down payment and a few more available miles. Chevy throws in six months of OnStar emergency and navigation service to sweeten the pot, but the 27.5 combined miles per gallon and decent interior fabric and two-tone color are usually enough to satisfy drivers of this utilitarianmobile.

2. 2012 Buick Enclave
MSRP: $37,175
Monthly lease payment: $299
Months: 24
Down payment: $2,199
Miles per year: 15,000

An SUV for the monthly cost of a sedan? Yes, please. Buick boosts the down payment from the $0 it offered on the Verano, but lessees get 115 cubic feet of cargo space, three-row seating for seven, three-zone climate control, a power liftgate in back and a touchscreen entertainment and communications package including satellite radio, Bluetooth and OnStar. The 288-horsepower V6 engine under the hood comes in pretty handy, too.

1. 2012 Ford Escape Limited
MSRP: $27,195
Monthly lease payment: $159
Months: 24
Down payment: $2,868
Miles per year: 10,500

From the outside, a lessee sees a cute little crossover that can seat five and fit a whole lot of stuff into its 68 cubic feet of storage. Under the hood, however, that $159 a month is paying for a 1.6-liter Eco Boost engine that gets a combined 28 miles per gallon while kicking out 178 horsepower. The whole package at that price is making some family of soccer players and grocery getters out there very happy for the next two years.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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