5 Best Presidents Day Auto Deals Are in 'Midcycle' Models

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Last month's "Polar Vortex" sent auto sales plunging along with the mercury across much of America, but Edmunds.com predicts that automakers will offer plenty of hot deals this Presidents Day weekend to make up for lost ground.

"I think Presidents Day 2014 is going to be a good one [for car shoppers]," says market analyst Jeremy Acevedo of Edmunds, a top car-information site. "January wasn't the strongest of starts for manufacturers, so they're going to be looking for a rebound."

The expert says that should mean consumers will find lots of rebates and other special offers over the long weekend, which traditionally marks the beginning of the spring auto-buying season.

Acevedo says shoppers can expect the best deals on "midcycle" vehicles, or those in the middle of the roughly five-year period most cars go through in between complete redesigns.

"Cars [with the biggest incentives] are those that are often behind the curve for their segments," he says. "It doesn't necessarily mean that they're bad vehicles, just that they're a little bit further along in their life cycles."

Consider the Ram 1500 pickup truck, which hasn't seen a complete revamp since 2011. Chrysler is offering $1,500 cash back or low-interest loans on the vehicle in some markets to keep the truck competitive with the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, which General Motors has just overhauled.

Read on to check out five models Acevedo expects will offer some of this Presidents Day weekend's best deals, listed in order of how much each carried in incentives during January relative to manufacturers' suggested retail price.

All price figures below reflect MSRPs for typically equipped versions of each vehicle, while discounts refer to the estimated value of all rebates, lease deals and special loans automakers offered on a given model last month.

That doesn't necessarily translate into what you can expect a dealer to knock off a car's price, as models don't always carry all incentives at once. For instance, a vehicle with $5,000 of incentives might only offer a $2,000 rebate, with the difference reflecting the automaker's costs for special leases or low-interest loans.

Lexus CT200h
Incentives as a percentage of MSRP:

This luxury hybrid hatchback lists for $39,702 as typically equipped, but Toyota has added some $5,533 of incentives to the model.

Much of that reflects generous lease deals that the Japanese automaker is offering on the CT200h, which gets an impressive 43 mpg/city and 40 mpg/highway. For instance, well-qualified drivers can lease leftover 2013 models for a relatively modest $309 a month or less in many states -- with the first month's lease payment thrown in for free.

Toyota has knocked down the CT200h's lease price partly to attract less-well-heeled buyers to the entry-level vehicle, Acevedo says.

He adds that the CT200h has also faced weak demand due to a combination of moderate gas prices and the car's unusual mix of luxury trim, a rear hatch and a hybrid power plant. "The CT200h has its fans, but some consumers prefer a more-traditional car," the analyst says.

Ford Focus
Incentives as a percentage of MSRP:

Ford is offering select Focus buyers in many locales their choice of $2,000 or more in rebates, zero-percent five-year financing or 1.9% six-year loans.

Acevedo calls the small Focus "a fantastic car," but says the competing Toyota Corolla and Civic from Honda have undergone major redesigns since Ford last reworked the Focus two years ago.

"There's a new Corolla and a new-ish Civic out there, so Ford is trying to maintain Focus sales and make sure the car stays on compact-car buyers' short lists," he says.

A typically equipped Focus lists for $20,212, but Acevedo says Ford put $3,043 of incentives on the model during January even though the vehicle boasts good looks, impressive performance and solid fuel efficiency.

The Focus features a 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine rated at a respectable 27 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg/highway when outfitted with automatic transmission. For those who want even better fuel efficiency, Ford also offers a "Super Fuel Economy" Focus and a rechargeable electric version.

Chrysler 300 sedan
Incentives as a percentage of MSRP:

This upscale full-sized sedan carries a $38,107 MSRP when typically equipped, but Chrysler added $5,227 of incentives to the vehicle during January.

Consumers who lease a 300 sedan in many markets this month can expect $2,500 in "bonus cash" from Chrysler to sweeten the deal.

Acevedo says the automaker is offering big incentives to keep the model -- which hasn't had full rework since 2011 -- viable against the redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Impala and a Toyota Avalon completely revamped in 2013. "Chrysler is doing its part to keep 300 sales going until the model has a redesign of its own," he says.

But Acevedo adds that despite the three years since an upgrade, the 300 is "right up there with the best of the segment in terms of what you're getting for styling and space."

A popular Chrysler line in the 1950s but eliminated after the 1970s, the 300 name returned to the automaker's lineup in 2005 as a large, Mercedes-like sedan -- not surprising considering Daimler-Benz owned the company at the time.

Fiat 500
Incentives as a percentage of MSRP:

After a nearly 30-year absence from America, Italian automaker Fiat bought bankrupt Chrysler from Uncle Sam and returned to the U.S. market in the 2012 model year with the quirky 500 subcompact.

Fiat lists a typically equipped 500 at $20,582, but the automaker offered $3,157 of incentives on the vehicle last month to boost sales.

Buyers in many markets can get their choice of $1,000 cash back, zero-percent three-year loans or below-market interest rates on longer-term financing. Fiat is also offering low-cost leases on the car.

Acevedo says the 500 has grown "a bit long in tooth" since its 2012 introduction as competitors rolled out such rivals as the Chevrolet Spark and the Versa Note from Nissan. "The 500 is sitting on dealers' lots a little longer than it should, so Fiat is putting some 'cash on the hood' to move it along," the analyst says.

A base 500 coupe features a 101-horsepower engine rated at 31 mpg/city and 40 mpg/highway. Fiat also offers convertible, turbo and high-performance versions of the car.

Ram 1500 Incentives as a percentage of MSRP: 16.9%

As noted above, Chrysler has added generous incentives to the Ram 1500 pickup to keep it competitive with the revamped 2014 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra.

The automaker is offering some buyers $1,000 or more in rebates depending on their location, model chosen and other factors. Or, you can get your choice of special leases or discount financing that ranges from 1.9% annual interest on three-year loans to 5.9% for five-year deals.

All told, Chrysler put $4,233 of incentives on a typically equipped $38,863 Ram 1500 in January even though Acevedo calls the vehicle "a great model -- one of the best trucks you can buy."

Chrysler offers the full-sized pickup with your choice of two- or four-wheel drive, regular or crew/quad cabs and cargo beds as big as eight feet long. Base Ram 1500s come with 305-horsepower V-6 engines, but 395-horsepower V-8s and 240-horsepower turbocharged diesel V-6s are also available.

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