Five to Drive for Under $425 Per Month
Car dealers love payment buyers. A payment buyer is someone who knows what they can afford in terms of a monthly car payment, but who has no idea how that car payment translates in terms of the total price of the car, the interest rate charged for the loan, or the length of the loan. You’re in deep trouble if you walk into a dealership and say: “I’ve got $425 per month to spend on a new car. Whaddaya got?” Better to know exactly what you can get for that $425 per month before stepping into a showroom.
Today is your lucky day, because Speedy Daddy has done some of the research for you.
We’ve identified five fun-to-drive, safe, and dependable family cars that you can easily purchase for $425 per month or less.
To develop this list of recommendations, we started by checking average interest rates for a 60-month car loan through two of the largest financial institutions in America: Bank of America and Chase. As of January 22, 2012, these banks were offering this type of loan for a few points either side of 3%. Of course, it takes top-tier credit to get this rate, so your actual interest rate might be higher.
Next we assumed that buyers would put 10% down and would pay a 5% state sales tax. With this data applied, each of our five recommended vehicles came in with a monthly payment of less than $425 per month for 60 months.
Then we reviewed all of the 2012 Top Safety Picks as determined by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), checked prices for the most fun-to-drive family cars on that list, and then eliminated models predicted to return below average reliability by Consumer Reports.
The resulting list of recommendations, then, contains five models that are expected to be relatively dependable, are likely to prove entertaining to drive, and are available to purchase for less than $425 per month. We list them here in alphabetical order.
2012 Honda Civic Si Sedan
Priced at $23,375 with the optional Michelin Pilot Exalto PE2 performance tires, the 2012 Honda Civic Si Sedan will cost $399.01 per month with $2,338 down. It’s equipped with a high-revving, 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox that delivers power to the front wheels through a helical limited-slip differential. Sport seats are standard, along with 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and the usual go-fast styling cues. Consumer Reports expects reliability to be better than average. We offer just one caveat: Honda is expected to improve the quality of the Civic’s cabin for the 2013 model year, so you might want to wait until that running change is made.
2012 Kia Forte SX Sedan
The Kia Forte SX Sedan starts at $19,850, but thanks to rebates and dealer incentives, it’s easy to chop thousands off the price. A 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine drives the front wheels, but you can’t get a manual gearbox on this model. Instead, Kia’s Sportmatic automatic transmission with a manual shift gate is standard. The Forte SX might not be particularly fast, but it has more power than other Forte models, and is equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport suspension, and bigger front brakes. Besides, this car has a killer warranty, which adds confidence given the average reliability rating from Consumer Reports. Your payment? Just $338.84 with $1,985 down, the lowest of this quintet.
2012 Mazdaspeed 3
Honestly, if we at Speedy Daddy are spending our own cash, this is the one we’re buying. At $24,795, it’s the most expensive of the bunch, requiring a monthly payment of $423.25 with $2,480 down. But with its direct injected, turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine making 263 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm, this car is a legitimate rocket. In fact, so much torque is flowing through the six-speed manual transmission to the front wheels that a Mazda Advanced Torque Management System is required to spoon-feed the twist to the tires in an effort to keep them from painting the pavement black with every launch. Consumer Reports provides no rating for this specific model, but the Mazda 3 family gets CR’s best possible rating of much better than average.
2012 Toyota Camry SE
We know. You think we’re crazy. But the Toyota Camry SE, even with the 178-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder that keeps the starting price down to $23,760, is actually fun to drive. That’s because it comes with more than just a body kit, special trim, a spoiler, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Under the bodywork there’s a sport suspension, a strut tower brace, and structural braces in the trunk. The transmission even includes paddle shifters. The result is a car that is fun to toss into a turn, and which is expected to provide the same bulletproof reliability that it has for the past decade. Plus, you get free maintenance for the first two years, and there’s plenty of room for the kids combined with a big trunk. With $2,376 down, your payment is $405.59 per month for a genuinely entertaining midsize family sedan.
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Equipped with a turbocharged, 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes a bunch of torque across a wide rev range, the sporty 2012 Jetta GLI rolls out the door for $24,515 when equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission. A Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) is optional, making the VW the only car on this list available with or without a clutch pedal, and there’s even more value to be had in the fact that this Jetta is equipped with better interior materials and a more sophisticated rear suspension than other Jetta models. Add the Vee-Dub’s free maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles, and the monthly payment of $418.57 with $2,452 down starts to look like a real bargain. Better yet, Consumer Reports says reliability ought to be average, a rating that reflects a step up for Volkswagen.
– Christian Wardlaw