The average monthly payment for a new car is hovering around $530, according to the most recent Experian auto finance report. The average lease payment is $430. While these payments will fit some budgets, they're painfully steep for others.
Edmunds thinks you can do better than average, and here's the proof: four vehicles that Edmunds editors rank highly and that cost about $399 a month to purchase or lease.
For buyers, we assumed a 72-month loan with a 6 percent interest rate (the current average). Using these parameters, the loan financed to match the $399 per-month payment is $24,000. Factor in a 12 percent down payment (the current average), and you should aim for a car with an MSRP of around $27,000. Of course, you can use websites such as Edmunds to get an even lower price.
Monthly leases will be lower than loan payments, but you might have to go for a trim level or model year that has a special deal. We've listed current representative lease deals for each vehicle; exact prices and availability vary, depending on the region. Deals also tend to change monthly.
Expert tip: If you decide to lease, you don't have to come up with the full advertised down payment amount. Dealers will often let you roll it into the monthly payments.
2019 HONDA CIVIC
The Honda Civic is Edmunds' favorite small car by a wide margin. Available as a sedan, coupe or hatchback, the Civic sets a high bar. We have a hard time deciding which we like best: the high-quality cabin materials, roomy interior, or punchy yet fuel-efficient optional turbocharged engine. The MSRP for the 2019 Civic EX-L sedan is $25,495, including destination fee. You can get a well-equipped model within the $399 budget.
Current lease deal: We step back a model year and to a specific trim level for this one: Honda is offering the base 2018 Civic LX sedan for less than $200 a month for 36 months with about $2,000 due at signing. With the full down payment rolled into the monthly payments, expect to pay between $225 and $250 per month.
2019 JEEP CHEROKEE
The Jeep Cherokee doesn't get as much attention as some rival crossover SUVs, but its array of strong engines, smooth ride and unrivaled off-road ability make it one of the better picks on the market. Our recommended trim is the Latitude Plus, which has an MSRP of $27,690, including destination fee, and gets you plenty of appealing convenience features.
Current lease deal: Jeep is offering a front-wheel-drive 2019 Jeep Cherokee Limited, one step above the Latitude Plus trim, for roughly $200 a month for 24 months with about $4,000 down. If you apply the entire down payment to the monthly payments, this Cherokee will cost between $350 and $375 per month.
2018 CHEVROLET COLORADO
Getting a decently equipped pickup truck for under $400 a month is tricky. However, you should be able to get great deals if you're willing to go with a 2018 version. For example, the Chevrolet Colorado offers robust towing capacities, a relatively smooth ride and easy-to-use controls. The LT trim will get you most of the latest convenience features you'll likely want. The MSRP for the Extended Cab LT trim level is $28,095, but Chevrolet's current employee pricing discount brings it down to $25,595.
Current lease deal: There's a 36-month lease on a rear-wheel-drive crew-cab LT available for about $230 a month, with around $4,400 due at signing. If you roll the down payment into the monthly payments, you'll pay between $325 and $350 per month.
2019 FORD FUSION HYBRID
It's not the newest hybrid on the road. But the Ford Fusion Hybrid is still appealing thanks to its 42 mpg combined fuel economy rating, spacious cabin, comfortable seats and easy-to-use infotainment system. The SE trim level has an MSRP of $28,450, including destination fee, but during Ford's holiday sale, the price comes down to $25,450.
Current lease deal: Ford is offering the top-trim Titanium model for about $260 a month for 36 months, with about $4,500 down. With the down payment baked in, the monthly payment comes in at just under $400 a month.
EDMUNDS SAYS: Just because you're on a tight budget doesn't mean you have to settle for less on the road. There are plenty of good vehicles that you can buy or lease for less than $400 a month.
Author bio: This story was provided to The Associated Press by the automotive website Edmunds . Cameron Rogers is a reviews editor at Edmunds: Twitter @_crogers
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