10 Best 2012 Leftovers For Bargain Car Buyers

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ah, fall: that lovely time of year when automakers trim their ugly or underperforming models like so many dead leaves.

It's a terrible time of year if you run a dealership and have to figure out what to do with undesirable misfit vehicles rolling to the end of their last model year when you have a lot's worth of new stock driving in. It's a far better season for bargain seekers looking to cash in on some poor car line's demise.

"If you're the pragmatic type whose decisions aren't driven by fashion, this is your chance to score a new set of wheels at a low price," says Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for the auto website Edmunds.com.

The alchemy behind the savings is simple: When carmakers introduce a model redesign, the prior model depreciates more quickly and reselling it might be more difficult. That takes folks who turn over their car every two to three years out of the equation, but if you plan on running a vehicle into the ground, resale value really isn't going to matter.

We took a spin around the fall dealer sales and, with help from Edmunds, came up with 10 models that won't make it out of 2012 in their current form, but will make it easy on this year's car buyers:

2012 Mazda CX-7
MSRP: $22,190

Is it a minivan? Is it a crossover? Buyers never quite knew, but now won't have to answer that question as Mazda puts this in-betweener out to pasture to make room for its more beloved CX-5.

Mazda doesn't even advertise the CX-7 anymore and the 2012 has been scrubbed from the automaker's U.S. website. Buyers lucky enough to find one get a standard 2.5-liter, 161-horsepower engine, a center storage compartment big enough for a laptop or purse and about 30 cubic feet of cargo capacity or 58.6 cubic feet with the rear seats down. The CX-7's acceleration isn't great and its mileage is nothing worth noting either, but its space and versatility is worth a lot more than a buyer will likely pay for it this fall.

2012 Hyundai Santa Fe
MSRP: $23,225

Crossovers are starting to evolve at this stage in their existence, and Hyundai's quickly learning that the crossover crowd will sacrifice engine size for interior space and efficiency every time.

The Santa Fe was always big for a midsized crossover, but Hyundai is lengthening the wheel base a bit for some of its 2013 models and adding an extra row of seats that increases rider capacity to six or seven. They're also doing away with an available V6 engine to go with a strictly four-cylinder lineup. The 2012 still has all its room, higher-output engines and tech toys such as satellite radio and Bluetooth and is still a bargain for buyers who aren't seeking extra space or additional cornering control.

2013 Chevrolet (GM) Avalanche
MSRP: $35,980

The current auto market doesn't favor indecision, which made Chevy's not-a-pickup, not-an-SUV Avalanche an easy target.

Billed by Chevy itself as both a pickup and a truck, the versatile vehicle was never quite enough for lovers of either in the post-recession car world. Sales declined 2.6% to little more than 20,000 last year, collapsing from a peak of nearly 93,500 in 2003. The Avalanche couldn't overcome climbing gas prices and increasing numbers of crew-cab trucks, which makes the lame-duck 2013 nearly dead on arrival.

2012 Toyota (TM) Avalon
MSRP: $33,195

It has luxury car size and luxury car mileage at a combined 24 miles per gallon, but the Avalon has just a few too many plastic parts and rough fabric to ever be considered a luxury.

Toyota's trying to correct that by upgrading the 2013 to a Lexus ES frame and trimming fuel economy to roughly 35 miles per gallon. That leaves a hulking dinosaur of a 2012 model that hearkens back to big Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Chryslers of yesteryear. It's perhaps the last remnant of a time simple luxuries came in middle-class makes and models and weren't relegated to a high-end marque out of most americans' price range.

2012 Mitsubishi Eclipse
MSRP: $19,499

One of the last leftovers of Chrysler's partnership with Mitsubishi that also produced the Plymouth Laser and Eagle Talon in 1990, the Eclipse is a fading star in a dying constellation.

The last Eclipse rolled off the line at the old Diamond Star Motors plant in Normal, Ill., in August 2011, leaving the Mitsubishi Galant as the only Mitsubishi vehicle still made in the U.S. America's hunger for a sporty family coupe has died down significantly since the Eclipse's heyday, but buyers who still have an urge to cruise their suburban strip of choice can get this sexy sub-300 horsepower beast for a song.

2012 Nissan (NSANY) Pathfinder
MSRP: $29,290

Of all the once-great SUVs on America's roads, the Pathfinder had perhaps the hardest time letting its '90s glory days go.

Here we sit in 2012 A.D. And the Pathfinder is still being built to compete with the Chevy Blazer and Ford Bronco. It's still getting a paltry 18 miles per gallon and it still thinks a 4.0-liter V6 is something anyone wants in a family vehicle. Next year, the Pathfinder joins the rest of us in the 2010s by switching to a car-platform crossover, trimming to a 3.5-liter V6 and cutting fuel economy to a combined 21 miles per gallon. Folks who still enjoy their memories of listening to old Boyz II Men or Soundgarden tapes in their Pathfinder might like the discount on the 2012 model, but carbuyers who marvel at what they were paying for gas in the '90s may want to look into the 2013 upgrade.

2012 Lexus HS 250h
MSRP: $36,330

To anyone who thought the financial crisis scared automakers into not just slapping a luxury badge and some leather on a low-end vehicle and calling it "premium," meet the HS 250h.

The HS 250h was one of the few hybrid sedans available when it was introduced in 2009, but buyers immediately sniffed it out as a Prius in better clothing. U.S. sales of the HS 250h dropped from nearly 11,000 in 2010 to fewer than 2,200 last year. This year, only 231 models have sold, including a whopping eight in September. Its replacement ES 300h has fared far better, so a Lexus dealer may be open to suggestion if you want to take an HS 250h of his or her hands.

2012 Ford (F) Mustang
MSRP: $22,310

There are a bunch of reasons to pass on the 2012 Mustang, but fans needed only two.

The first is the 2013 Mustang, which comes as a Shelby GT500 with a 5.8-liter supercharged V8 that produces 662-horsepower and is capable of speeds upward of 200 mph or a GT or V6 cut to look like the 2010-11 GT500 model. On the interior, an updated instrument cluster features a 4.2-inch LCD screen positioned between the speedometer and the tachometer with TrackApps that include a 0-60 acceleration timer, quarter-mile timer, 60-0 braking timer and a G-force monitor.

The second reason is the 2015 Mustang, which is less than two years away and slated to be a radical redesign of the current model. If you really can't wait or want a Mustang on the cheap, the 2012 GT's 5.0 liter V8 still gets 412 horsepower, while the V6 clocks an impressive 305-horsepower while getting 30 miles to the gallon on the highway.

2013 Dodge Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country
MSRP: $19,995

There is absolutely no noticeable difference between these minivans. None.

That's the biggest reason Chrysler's new Italian masters say only one will remain by the model year's end. Chrysler drove itself into bankruptcy thinking buyers wouldn't notice that two identical cars with different names and minor cosmetic changes weren't distinct vehicles. CEO Sergio Marchionne says those days are over and there's only room in his stable for one minivan with more than 83 cubic feet of cargo space with the third-row seats down, a Blu-ray/DVD system with second- and third-row screens and Available Web that turns it into a rolling hotspot.

2012 Honda (HMC) Accord
MSRP: $21,480

Even the most utilitarian midsize cars on the market need a makeover every so often.

Honda's goal was to make the Accord less of a Point A-to-Point B snooze fest by adding standard 8-inch LCD displays, single angle backup cameras, dual zone climate controls and alloy wheels to its 2013 model. Snazzy new options include a three-angle backup cam, enhanced safety sensors, LED running lights and adaptive cruise control.

That makes the leftover 2012s seem somewhat bland by comparison, but adequate space for a family of four and combined fuel economy of nearly 30 miles per gallon doesn't require many bells and whistles to sell.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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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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