Apparently consumers know a good deal with they see one. Driven largely by high residual values, rock-bottom interest rates, loosening credit and aggressive marketing, new-car leasing is at record high rates, according to Experian Automotive in Schaumburg, Ill. Leasing now accounts for 27.5 percent of all new-vehicle transactions, which represents a sturdy 12.5 percent increase over 2012 levels.
“Consumers tend to shop for vehicles based within the limits of their budget, and leasing is often seen as a viable path to a lower monthly payment,” says Melinda Zabritski, senior director of Automotive Credit. “Lenders have seen overall stability come back to the market since the recession, and leasing has gradually returned as a larger part of many lender strategies.”
Not surprisingly, Experian says average lease payments are likewise dropping, from $462 a year ago down to $459 in the first quarter of 2013. If that number still seems high, consider that a large majority of costly luxury cars are leased, rather than purchased outright. Still, automakers in all market segments are now pushing cut-rate leases aggressively on a wider range of models to attract bargain hunters – including those on some of the smallest and least expensive cars on the lot. They love leasing as it brings new customers back to dealerships with clocklike regularity and helps dealers maintain an inventory of recent-model used cars.
We scoured the Internet and found some incredible deals on 12 of the most desirable makes and models, including iconic cars like the BMW 3 Series and the Mini Cooper – all leasing for less than $300 a month. We even came across one car that’s leasing for as little as $99 a month, which is less than the cost of a daily grande latte at Starbucks.
Be aware that we’re identifying the lowest promoted monthly payments available for each make and model; lease terms can vary widely according to a number of factors and the numbers can be juggled according to a lessee’s preference to reflect a lower monthly payment or down payment, longer or shorter lease period and/or more or fewer miles allowed.
While the cost of a new-car lease is based largely on the available interest rate and a given model’s residual value, automakers and leasing companies can manipulate other provisions of the agreement to help sweeten the deal on a given model. Called “subventing” a lease, this often involves subsidizing a below-market interest rate, artificially inflating a vehicle’s residual value or offering bonus cash to lower a car’s transaction price.
Another way automakers can lower a lease’s monthly payment is to reduce the number of annual miles allowed. This is typically 12,000 miles per year, though some leases might include as few as 7,500 annual miles. Be sure not to enter a lease that unduly limits your mileage – particularly if you have a distant daily commute or like to take long road trips – as it may cost you dearly down the road. Depending on the lease terms you could be assessed as much as an extra 15 to 30 cents a mile for exceeding the limit, which means you’d have to come up with $150 to $300 per 1,000 extra miles on the odometer at the end of the lease. However, those who worry they might exceed the stated annual mileage can often purchase additional miles up front at a discounted rate.
Be aware that if you tend to be hard on your car or truck, think twice before leasing one. Leased vehicles must be returned in excellent condition, without dents, deep scratches, window cracks or torn upholstery and with all accessories in good working order; otherwise you’ll be assessed costly “excessive wear and tear” fees.
Finally, keep in mind that the lowest advertised lease rates are typically available only to so-called “well qualified lessees” with top credit scores who represent the lowest risk. Those with less than stellar credit will typically pay a higher financing charge that will, in turn, result in a costlier monthly payment.
The fine print: Monthly payments quoted for vehicles in our list of top lease deals are 2013 models and trim levels specified and do not include additional options, taxes or registration fees. All offers are good through July 1, 2013. Keep in mind that you may be able to garner an even better deal by negotiating a lower transaction price with the dealership. Typically the down payment and first month’s lease payment are due at signing. None of the deals listed here require a security deposit. Dealer participation may vary and the rates and provisions quoted may vary according to region. Check the automakers’ websites and local dealerships for additional deals and details.
Monthly payment: $299; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $3,774; Annual mileage: 10,000. This is without doubt one of the best deals we’ve ever seen on what is without quarrel one of the most desirable sport sedans in the industry. This deal includes the base 320i model with the Premium Package and is subject to $1,125 dealer contribution and a $750 lease cash incentive.
Monthly payment: $239; Term: 24 months; Due at signing: $2,009; Annual mileage: 10,000. Pound-for-pound this deal on the midsize LaCrosse delivers the “most” car for the money, with a quiet and comfortable five-passenger interior residing under a sleek and stylish exterior. This deal is for the base “eAssist” mild hybrid four-cylinder model and includes two complimentary years of OnStar Directions & Connections, SiriusXM Radio and two years or 24,000 miles (whichever comes first) of free vehicle maintenance; it’s subject to a $2,000 lease cash incentive.
Monthly payment: $149; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $2,469; Annual mileage: 12,000. This price gets you a Cruze LS with automatic transmission, and represents a terrific deal on this nicely styled, accommodating and solid-performing compact sedan.
Monthly payment: $199; Term: 39 months; Due at signing: $3,069; Annual mileage: 12,000. This rugged-looking smallish midsize five-passenger crossover SUV is family friendly and a real bargain at this price; it’s for a SLE-1 model with front-wheel drive. A similar deal is offered on its near twin, the suburban-chic Chevrolet Equinox.
Monthly payment: $169; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $2,299; Annual mileage: 10,000. One of the industry’s best-selling compact sedans received assorted improvements for 2013, with a low lease rate being the icing on the proverbial cake. This deal is for a Civic LX Sedan (including PZEV models) with automatic transmission.
Monthly payment: $219; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $3,399; Annual mileage: 10,000. Arguably one of the most amenable compact crossovers currently in production, it’s difficult to find fault with the peppy and perky CR-V, especially at this low monthly payment. It’s for a base EX model with front-wheel drive and is subject to a $500 lease cash incentive.
Monthly payment: $199; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $2,215; Annual mileage: 10,000. It may be too small for some, but the venerable Mini Cooper is among the most enjoyable little cars on the road with pleasing go-kart-like handling and an eccentric nature. This deal is for the base Cooper hatchback with automatic transmission and is subject to a $500 dealer contribution.
Monthly payment: $299; Term: 39 months; Due at signing: $2,999; Annual mileage: 12,000. With 332 horses under the hood the 370Z costs less to lease than a buck per month per horsepower. Talk about fast money. This deal is for the base coupe with manual transmission equipped with floor mats and splash guards, and is subject to dealer contribution.
Monthly payment: $199; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $1,999; Annual mileage: 12,000. Think you can’t afford to drive an electric car? Think again. Assuming your daily drive is within the Leaf’s range (about 75 miles give or take on a charge), this can be a terrific deal, especially with the EPA rating the Leaf at the electric equivalent of 129/102-mpg city/highway. This deal is for the Leaf S and is subject to a $7,500 lease cash incentive and dealer contribution.
Monthly payment: $299; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $1,999; Annual mileage: 12,000. Arguably one of the hottest new models for 2013, the FR-S is a stylish and thoroughly entertaining rear-drive sports car that’s being offered at an attractive price. This deal is for a base model with automatic transmission.
Monthly payment: $99; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $1,393; Annual mileage: 10,000. Granted, this is a small car that’s small even by small car terms, but it’s basic transportation for two passengers and can be had for just over three bucks a day. Deal is for the base Pure Coupe model and is subject to dealer contribution.
Monthly payment: $249; Term: 39 months; due at signing $0; Annual mileage: 10,000. Not only is the incredibly spacious midsize Passat sedan being offered for a low monthly lease rate, you can drive one off the lot for zero down, which makes this an even better bargain. Deal is for a Passat S with Appearance Package and automatic transmission and is subject to dealer contribution.