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What's the Best New-Car Deal in March 2018?

CARS.COM — For bargain hunters mulling the prospect of a new car, February's muted deals might stew a different sort of March madness. Autodata Corp. reports incentives edged up just 2.8 percent last month versus the year-ago period, which marks the second-lowest percentage gain in 35 months. Unsurprisingly, new-car sales slipped 2.4 percent, per Automotive News.

Related: How to Use New-Car Incentives, Rebates and Finance Deals

Recent history suggests March shoppers will have a dicey go of it. In terms of average incentives per new vehicle sold, March ranks in the bottom half of months for every year since 2014, per Autodata. There are better seasons to shop for a new car, but those with little choice can still find a deal or two. Which new car deals are the best? Read on.

2018 Chrysler 300

Chrysler 300

How much can I save? A trunk-load. Sales for the manufacturer's full-size sedan tumbled 17.4 percent in February as the 2018 model-year 300 averaged 70 days on dealer lots — well past the 47-day weighted average for all 2018s. Now through April 2, Chrysler is offering $6,000 in customer rebates off all trim levels of the 2018 model-year 300. That's some 12 to 20 percent off the list price, depending on trim level and options.

What about discount financing? Qualified buyers can get zero percent financing for 36 months, with 3.9 percent for up to 72 months on some trim levels in certain regions.

This is the 300's eighth model year since a full redesign. Isn't it uncompetitive? That depends on what you shop it against. Amid shopping fervor for SUVs, full-size sedans aren't exactly brimming with new products. We compared the group four and a half years ago, and four of our seven original contenders have yet to be redesigned. Chrysler refreshed the 300 in for 2015, and it still drives well enough, but spotty crash-test scores and poor reliability for the current generation are both reasons for concern. Still, the deals are big.

2018 Jeep Cherokee

Jeep Cherokee

How much can I save? Generally a lot, but it depends on specifics. Cherokee vehicle sales slipped 10.2 percent in February as the 2018 model-year examples averaged 73 days on dealer lots. Now Jeep offers $3,000 to $4,750 off the 2018 Cherokee, depending on region and trim level. Shoppers who finance through Chrysler Capital (the lending arm of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, whose brands include Jeep) get another $500. Jeep is also giving $1,250 to shoppers whose FICO scores are lower than 620 — whether or not they finance with Chrysler Capital — as part of an ongoing national program.

What about discount financing? Shoppers with high credit can get zero percent for anywhere from 36 to 60 months with $500 to $1,500 in cash rebates, depending on trim level and region. These deals and the cash offers expire from March 28 to April 2, depending on region.

Any discounts on the updated 2019 Cherokee? Yes, but considerably less. Jeep offers $1,000 in cash rebates plus another $500 for shoppers who finance through Chrysler Capital. Alternately, credit-qualified shoppers can get zero percent financing for 36 months plus $500 off. The 2019 Cherokee has undeniable off-road chops, but — like with the Chrysler 300 — the current generation has poor reliability history. What's more, it remains to be seen whether Jeep addressed the SUV's spotty crash tests with the refresh.

2018 Ford Focus

Ford Focus

How much can I save? On a percentage basis: tons. Sales slipped 3.1 percent in February as both the 2018 Focus sedan and hatchback averaged 53 days on dealer lots. Through April 2, Ford is offering $4,000 off both body styles in most regions we checked, excluding high-performance or electric variants. In Chicago, the cash discount is only $2,000 if you don't finance through Ford's credit arm; Ford posted no such stipulation in other areas we checked. Chicagoans who finance through Ford Credit can get the full $4,000.

What about those variants? Ford offers $2,500 off the Focus Electric or $3,500 off the Focus ST, though Chicago-area shoppers have to finance through Ford to get the full discount on the ST. The Focus RS has no cash discounts.

What about discount financing? Qualified buyers can get 2.9 percent financing for up to 84 months.

I heard the next Focus might come from China. That's correct. Once Ford ends production on the current Focus in Michigan this year, it will import the compact vehicles to U.S. shoppers mostly from China. Ford promises more technology and room in the next generation — factors that would address complaints on the current car, which drives well but suffers a cramped interior and still lacks automatic emergency braking. Still, current incentives could amount to more than 20 percent off a lightly optioned example.

2018 Kia Optima

Editor's Choice: Kia Optima

How much can I save? Enough to knock a sizable chunk off its price and get a really great deal. Optima sales slumped 28 percent in February as non-hybrid versions of the 2018 model averaged 71 days on dealer lots. Now through April 30, Kia is offering $2,500 to $3,250 in cash rebates on the non-hybrid Optima, depending on region. That's on a car that placed second out of nine in our most recent mid-size sedan comparison, with excellent crash-test ratings and an exemplary warranty to boot. We'd like to see greater availability for the Optima's optional automatic braking, but the brand's staple mid-size sedan is an otherwise solid choice.

What about the hybrids? Deals are lower. Cash discounts amount to $2,000 off the Optima Hybrid but no money on the Optima Plug-In Hybrid.

What about discount financing? Qualified shoppers can get zero percent financing on the Optima and Optima Hybrid or 0.9 percent on the Optima Plug-In Hybrid. Maximum loan terms for those rates range from 60 months to 75 months, depending on the car.

The Returnees

We focus on cars new to the list or ones we haven't highlighted in the past few months. But many cars from recent months still have deep discounts in March:

How We Look for Deals

To look for March deals, we considered sales in February among the top 100 best-selling cars, specifically eyeing models whose sales underperformed the market. We also looked at days-to-turn data from February, which measures how long it takes on average for dealers to sell a given car. Both factors illustrate February's slow sellers, cars on which dealers could be more willing to cut a deal.

Finally, we looked at factory cash discounts and low-interest-rate financing offers that are especially high for the price of the car. After all, $2,000 is a lot more on a Ford Focus than a Ford Explorer.

Sales and incentives data come from Automotive News and automakers' websites, while days-to-turn data come from J.D. Power and Associates. Remember, our numbers are current as of publication for the markets we survey (generally Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and New York). They reflect advertised customer discounts, not unadvertised factory-to-dealer cash. Discount financing typically requires qualifying credit, too, and incentives may vary by region and trim level; automakers may also change them later in the month. In sum: Your discounts may vary, so check with your local dealer for specifics.

Cars.com's Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com's long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don't accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com's advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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