10 best end-of-summer new car deals

As summer winds down, dealerships are eager to clear out the remaining 2014 models to make room for the 2015 cars that will soon arrive. Already, advertisements are promoting deep discounts and near-zero interest rates on the leftover cars, but not all offers are created equal. Often, the largest discounts are available only for the least-desirable cars.

To help make sense of the offers, Consumer Reports’ analysts have combed through hundreds of incentives to identify 10 great deals on good cars. Each highlighted model meets Consumer Reports’ stringent criteria to be recommended, meaning they scored well in our testing, have average or better reliability in our latest subscriber survey, and performed well in government or insurance-industry safety tests, if evaluated.

All models here offer potential savings of at least 10 percent below MSRP, with half showing that even 15 percent or more can be saved, based on customer rebates and direct-to-dealer incentives. That translates to over $5,000 off for the Chrysler 300 V6, Ford Expedition EL, and Nissan Maxima, and nearly as much for the Nissan Murano. Specific savings for each model, including other trim variations, can be found via the Consumer Reports car model pages. (Before taking a test drive, read: “Should I Buy an End-of-Summer New Car?”)

Each vehicle featured below is a 2014 model, and all incentives expire on September 2nd.

More From Consumer Reports

Remember: Research is the key to getting a great deal. Sure, the advertised offers may look good, but you can often negotiate further if armed with all the pricing information.

See all current Best New Car Deals, or use our New Car Selector to create your own list of vehicles by sorting and filtering by the factors that matter most to you.

Cadillac ATS

Cadillac has long chased BMW, and the ATS luxury sedan is as close as an American sedan has ever come to the 3 Series. The ATS is an absolute blast to drive. Its sharp handling and eager performance give up nothing compared with the best European sports sedans. We actually prefer the lively steering in the Cadillac over the latest BMW 328i we tested. The ride is taut and controlled without being punishing or harsh. Braking performance is outstanding. Interior fit and finish is impressive, and the front seats are very comfortable. But the CUE infotainment system, with its flush buttons, is very convoluted and frustrating to use. Try before you buy.

Make/model MSRP Invoice Potential savings
Cadillac ATS 3.6L RWD Luxury $42,020 $40,376 10%+

Chevrolet Malibu

The Malibu stands out for offering an attractive discount on an already affordable, and appealing, midsized sedan. Refined for 2014 with suspension tweaks and incrementally increased rear-seat space, the Malibu is a comfortable, very quiet sedan. A new 2.5-liter four-cylinder with a start/stop system is the base engine. A smooth-shifting six-speed automatic is standard. Compared to competing models, the Malibu ride is cushier but handling remains sound, although our testers feel it gets soggy at its limits. Controls are simple and straightforward. Reliability has been average for all versions.

Make/model MSRP Invoice Potential savings
Chevrolet Malibu 1LT
$24,435 $23,845 10%+

Chrysler 300

A large, American-style sedan, the Chrysler 300 is big on style, luxury, and power. The cabin is plush, with numerous padded surfaces, well-finished leather, and believable fake-wood trim. Front- and rear-seat space is generous, with truly adult-scale accommodations. The 5.7-liter V8 is punchy, but fuel economy is only 18 mpg overall with the five-speed automatic. Instead, the 3.6-liter V6, with its smooth eight-speed automatic, stately ride, and responsive handling, is a bargain luxury sedan and our preferred choice, as highlighted here. The V6 model averaged a good 22 mpg overall in our tests. The Uconnect touch-screen infotainment system is one of the best in the industry. Reliability of the V6 has been average; the V8 has improved to above average.

Make/model MSRP Invoice Potential savings
Chrysler 300 $31,990 $30,776 15%+

Ford Expedition EL

A full-sized SUV with a full-sized discount, the Ford Expedition is the right tool for big jobs. It is offered in standard and EL, for extra length, configurations. The EL is capable of seating eight, toting a huge amount of cargo, and has generous towing capacity. The roomy third-row seat folds flat into the floor or seats three adults with ease. The coarse-sounding V8 produces 310 hp, and it is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Our tested EL felt sluggish and returned just 13 mpg overall. Handling is relatively responsive for such a large vehicle, but braking distances are long. An updated 2015 Expedition arrives in the fall. Consequently, the outgoing model has huge savings.

Make/model MSRP Invoice Potential savings
Ford Expedition EL XLT 4WD $48,780 $46,641 15%+

Ford Fusion

In a class generally known for bland styling and a lack of driving excitement, the Ford Fusion is a fresh, charismatic newcomer. The Fusion looks upscale and stylish, and it handles like a really good European sports sedan. We bought three Fusions: top-trim Titanium, a midtrim SE, and the SE Hybrid. All versions provide a composed, civilized ride that's as good as that of cars costing twice as much. The cabin is blessedly quiet. The Titanium version is the best-handling midsized sedan we've tested. But, at 22 mpg overall, our 2.0-liter Titanium gets 4 mpg less than the larger 3.5-liter V6s in the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The fuel economy trade-off for the looks and agility may be worth it for a driving enthusiast. Reliability has been mixed: the 2.0 EcoBoost and 2.5-liter versions are average; others below average.

Make/model MSRP Invoice Potential savings
Ford Fusion Titanium $31,425 29,719 10%+

Ford Mustang

The smart Mustang money is on the V6 coupe. With a low base price and 305 horsepower on tap, it delivers a lot of bang for the buck—especially with the generous discounts available. With the next-generation Mustang just weeks away, Ford is already putting a bundle of cash on the hood. The refined and punchy V6 attained an impressive 24 mpg overall in our tests, including 35 mpg on the highway. Despite its old-school, solid-axle rear suspension, the Mustang feels agile and athletic and maintains an even keel winding through twisty turns. Quick, well-weighted steering conveys a decent amount of road feel. A rolling piece of Americana, the Mustang boldly waves the flag and boasts big-time incentives on all variations.

Make/model MSRP Invoice Potential savings
Ford Mustang V6 Premium $27,435 $25,990 15%+

Hyundai Elantra

Stylish and well-discounted, the Elantra sedan is a well-rounded competitor that ranks near the top of our small-sedan Ratings and even out-points strong competitors such as the Ford Focus and Honda Civic. Easy to live with, the Elantra combines nimble handling with a comfortable, well-controlled ride and a neatly laid out, well-equipped interior. Coupelike styling, with a beltline that swoops up toward the rear, can impede the view to the rear quarters. The 148-hp, four-cylinder engine delivers solid performance and very good fuel economy. The cabin is well finished and the rear seat is relatively roomy. The 2014 model brings updates to the engine, dashboard, and suspension. The Elantra provides a compelling combination of style, features, and practicality—all for a bargain price.

Make/model MSRP Invoice Potential savings
Hyundai Elantra SE (auto) $19,010 $18,582 10%+

Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

A stylish and well-equipped two-row SUV, the Santa Fe Sport comes with lots of features for the money. It's also roomy, comfortable, fuel-efficient, and stylish. The ride is composed, and the cabin is relatively quiet. The base 190-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine provides ample motivation. Combining this with the very smooth and responsive six-speed automatic transmission returned a very good 23 mpg overall. A 264-hp turbo engine is also available. The interior has a high-quality look and feel; it's not exactly luxurious but well made and nicely finished. Our major gripes center on the steering feel and the obstructed view out toward the back—things you can readily check out yourself on a test drive.

Make/model MSRP Invoice Potential savings
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD
$33,275 $31,914 10%+

Nissan Maxima

Late in its model run, the Nissan Maxima is a quick car, motivated by a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine. Zero to 60 mph sprints end in just 6.2 seconds. Expected 22 mpg overall on premium fuel. The ride is comfortable, particularly on the highway, though a little firm at low speeds. Controls are simple to use, and the front seats are very comfortable and provide good support, but interior materials and rear-seat room aren't impressive. The cabin is quiet, with hushed wind and road noise. Weaknesses may be overshadowed by the more than 20-percent potential savings, putting this sporty, upscale sedan on par with the more practical Altima.

Make/model MSRP Invoice Potential savings
Nissan Maxima SV $35,190 $32,973 20%+

Nissan Murano

The Nissan Murano is a comfortable SUV with high interior quality and refinement. When comparably equipped, it is a reasonable alternative to a Lexus RX 350 for far less—especially now. The big discount comes as Nissan dealerships are making way for a redesigned Murano coming later in the year. The 3.5-liter V6 is powerful and refined and delivers strong performance with a respectable 19 mpg overall. The CVT transmission is one of the best on the market. Handling is responsive and secure. Roomy, comfortable rear seats and easy access are pluses. The interior is stylish and functional, with fairly straightforward controls. Limited rear visibility is the only notable drawback.

Make/model MSRP Invoice Potential savings
Nissan Murano AWD SL $37,940 $35,741 15%+

Jeff Bartlett

Copyright © 2005-2014 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.