Most savvy car shoppers know that September — the traditional end of the model year — means great bargains on car lots. But the truly advanced shopper knows that even better deals are available for those who are willing to buy a model that is about to be discontinued or redesigned.
Why are these vehicles so cheap? Well, if you buy a model that will be redesigned or dropped for the next model year, you will be driving a car that's visibly outdated. It's like buying a dress or suit that was hot last year, but has been eclipsed by newer styles. But even 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.
Besides good, old-fashioned discounts, the cars featured in the list below are likely to carry hefty incentives and rebates to sweeten the deal. Check to see what is available in your area — many such offers are regional. To correctly apply incentives, remember to negotiate your lowest price first and then deduct any rebate. And if there is a choice between low-interest financing and cash back, run the numbers to see which will save you the most.
One note of caution for bargain hunters, though. When carmakers introduce a model redesign, the prior model depreciates more quickly and reselling it might be more difficult. However, if you're going to keep the car for a long time, depreciation will have little effect on you.
Below are our top 10 picks and a bonus three-pack. These are vehicles that are just about to be replaced by new-generation models, yet represent excellent value and performance:
2012 Chevrolet Impala
The Chevrolet Impala is spacious and reliable but it's been six years since it had a significant update, and a complete redesign will arrive with the 2014 model year, set to debut early in 2013. The discounts and rebates on the Impala will certainly reflect its somewhat outdated platform.
2012 Chevrolet Malibu
With an all-new 2013 version arriving in the fall, the still-popular 2012 Chevy Malibu will see significant discounts and incentives. This makes it a good choice for budget-minded shoppers who stress low purchase price and high reliability.
2012 Ford Fusion
An all-new, fully redesigned and slightly bigger Ford Fusion will arrive for the 2013 model year. This will put pressure on dealers to sell the popular 2012 Fusions and bring healthy incentives and discounts.
2012 Ford Mustang
The always popular Mustang gets refreshed with minor styling and equipment changes for 2013, making the 2012 model a great candidate for pony car lovers on a budget. Check for incentives and push for discounts.
2012 GMC Acadia
A refresh is coming for the 2013 Acadia, so the 2012 will quickly be considered outdated. However, it is still a solid choice in the SUV category. Incentives will likely increase as the new models hit the lot in the fall.
2012 Honda Accord
The venerable Accord has been redesigned for the 2013 model year, but because the car has so many loyalists, the incentives are likely to be modest for the 2012s. Still, discounts will be available for those willing to negotiate.
2012 Lexus ES 350
The Lexus ES 350 is getting a full redesign for 2013 that will give it a more dramatic exterior look and some additional interior room. This positions the 2012 ES 350 for deep discounts and incentives and rebates.
2012 Nissan Altima
Nissan is rolling out the first redesign of its Altima sedan in six years for 2013, making the still-attractive 2012 a sweet deal. Check incentives, particularly leasing specials.
2012 Nissan Pathfinder
The Pathfinder has long been a hit for Nissan, but the 2013 model year brings the introduction of an all-new generation with better mileage. Anyone willing to buy the 2012 can leverage incentives such as rebates, low-interest financing and lease specials on all trim levels.
2012 Toyota Avalon
Although it received a minor refresh for 2011, a full redesign of the Toyota Avalon is arriving for the 2013 model year. This will bring discounts and incentives on 2012 models of this under-the-radar Toyota.
2012 Chevrolet Traverse
With a refresh coming in 2013, Chevrolet will put some serious incentives on the hood of this popular SUV.
2012 Ford Escape
The all-new 2013 Ford Escape is the first complete redesign since the SUV came on the market in 2000. Ford wants the still-capable 2012 models off the lot and is offering incentives and discount to spark sales.