Incentives Diet: Buy This, Not That

Buy This, Not That - pickups

If you're about to spend the weekend shopping for a new car, we have a couple of choices that might be unexpectedly better deals than others.

In this latest round of "Buy This, Not That," we decided to focus on full-size pickups, midsize coupes and two new compact sedans.

All the trim levels picked for these comparisons needed to include an automatic transmission; air conditioning; power locks, windows and side mirrors; keyless entry; cruise control; Bluetooth connectivity; and a USB port. MSRPs include destination charges.

2012 Ram 1500 Express Crew Cab vs. 2012 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew

Due to the special nature of configuring a truck, we came up with a few more prerequisites for this comparison. Each model had to be configured as a 4x2 crew cab with a V-8 engine.

The 12th-generation Ford F-150 has undergone a few extensive engineering changes since the model was first seen four years ago. It got a whole new lineup of fuel-efficient engines, including the new 360-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8. The F-Series lineup remains the best-selling in America, and there are healthy incentives to be had.

The most recent Ram came out a year after the F-150, in 2009, and it features a more civilized driving experience, but it scarifies extreme payload and towing capacities with its coil spring rear suspension. Ram recently changed its trims, offering more lifestyle-specific options for the model year. The Express trim is a new value-oriented sport model that offers monochromatic paint schemes and plenty of standard equipment, according to

Because of Ram's liberal roster of standard features, we were able to configure a Ram with the appropriate requirements for thousands of dollars less compared with the F-150. The Ram Express crew cab with Uconnect and the ST Popular Package had all the appropriate features, plus 20-inch aluminum wheels, dual exhausts and body-colored ground effects. A similarly equipped F-150 XLT SuperCrew costs $2,915 more.

The Ram's 0% financing and $1,000 cash back, compared with the Ford's cash-back-only offer, make the ultimate pricing difference between the two trucks quite stark, with more than $7,000 being saved when opting for the Ram.

2012 Ford Focus Sedan vs. 2012 Honda Civic Sedan

Buy This, Not That - coupes

The last time we did an incentive series like this, we included the Ford Focus sedan, which at the time was in high demand with few incentives. More than half a year later, the Focus has relatively robust incentive offerings for a new design in this segment.

The more recently redesigned 2012 Honda Civic has suffered from a string of bad publicity, from a no-recommendation snub from Consumer Reports to crippling supply issues after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last year. Now that the Civic is on better footing, Honda is trying to rebuild the model's image, and yes, it's offering attractive financing options on the car — something a younger, more bright-eyed Honda would never have done this early in the Civic's product cycle.

Both of the sedans we chose had similar pricing, though the Civic EX we opted for cost about $700 more than the Focus.

This is where things get interesting. The Civic has an attractive 0.9% financing option, while the Ford Focus has $2,000 cash on the hood, but has to be financed normally at the average rate of 5.24%, according to

While opting for the Civic will save you more than $2,000 in financing charges, the more affordable ($2,500-plus more affordable) Focus is still the better deal by about $650.

2012 Nissan Altima Coupe vs. 2012 Honda Accord Coupe

Buy This, Not That - coupes

There aren't many midsize coupes to choose from these days, but the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima coupes are still competent players despite being long in the tooth. The Accord coupe will be redesigned for 2013 and go on sale this fall, and a new Altima sedan is expected to debut this year.

These two models were the most similarly priced among the group we researched for this incentive rundown; the Nissan cost just $330 more. Ultimately, Nissan's 0% financing can't be beat by the Honda's still-attractive 0.9% financing rate.

The Honda will cost you some $600 more in financing, but only a mere $274 more in total costs. These two are essentially a tossup for buyers when it comes to pure value. That makes the research process that much more important here.



But there's more to the cost of a car than what you pay to purchase the car.

Are the vehicles that are selected here going to be less expensive to own in terms of maintenance per mile driven, as well as fuel costs?

The numbers are so close with the cars that the cost of ownership makes the difference.

Dave P

This comparison is very weak as no one pays sticker for a car. You did not take into account the margin built into these vehicles which in the Altima Coupe vs. Accord Coupe comparison makes a big difference. There is 10% mark up in the Accord and only 7% in the Altima. If you buy both at invoice then the Accord turns out to be a better deal. People are making decision based on your facts, and you need to at least disclose this fact in the article! Thanks!


Over the life of the loan, the Civic would be a much better value considering all other things equal (reliability, dependability, maintenance costs, etc.... but we do know this is not so). Focus buyers end up paying more at the end of the loan.


oops, made a mistake in my calculations. you end up about $500 ahead with the Focus. This amounts to about a monthly savings of $8.


The Ram looks way better than the F-150 anyways. I can't figure out why the F-150 outsells the Ram besides having a lower base price. The F-150 needs a re-design.

Yes, this feature just goes off the bottom line price and how confusing various incentives can be.

As for Focus vs Civic, many folks have spoken against the Civic. We don't really see it being a lesser pick for value buyers but if you're shopping on price alone the Focus wins.

Amanda Reust

This article is extremely short-sighted and should not be used by anyone for determining the best value for their money. To many people, comparing a Ford to a Honda just because they share the same features is ridiculous, because you might pay a few hundred more for the Honda up front but three years from now you'll have lost more than half the value of your Ford whereas you'll have lost less than half that in the Honda. Overall return on investment is equally as important as original purchase price - just ask the makers of compact flourescent light bulbs.

More importantly, why even choose these models if they aren't the best choice in the category? Why show favoritism to certain manufacturers in your articles? It's quite unprofessional as you're supposed to be an independent source. If you were really looking out for the customer, you would have chosen a 2012 Toyota Corolla LE model, which comes standard with all of your required features, has an MSRP of only $18,670, and has a special APR of 1.9% available for up to 60 months. Using the same math you used for this article, the Corolla (the best-selling vehicle in the world) will offer payments $26 lower than the Ford, giving the Corolla a $1,496 cost advantage over the Ford. Oh, and the Corolla comes with 2yrs/25k complimentary routine maintenance and the best resale value in the business, for those interested in overall cost-of-ownership.

Similarly, a new 2012 Toyota Tundra Double Cab (4 full doors comparable to Ford and Dodge Crew Cab models) 4x2 4.6L V8 truck with the audio upgrade package will come with all of the required features for your comparison. MSRP $29,250 (also including the Convenience Package) with 0% financing plus $400 cash back. Total cost according to your calculations is $28,850, which is $2,845 lower cost and $48 lower payments than Ram. The Tundra also comes with 2yrs/25k complimentary routine maintenance plus roadside assistance, and it's a 2012 IIHS Top Safety Pick, and IT RANKS HIGHER THAN ANY OTHER TRUCK ON CARS.COM'S 2011 AMERICAN-MADE INDEX, not to mention that it'll boast double the resale value of the Ford and Dodge after a few years of ownership.


Amanda, its funny how you are talking about them playing favorites. Do you work for Toyota? Jeesh. Both the Corolla and Tundra and are old, out dated models that one may believe are 10 year old cars.


Better yet, buy a three year old pre-owned version of the selections in this article, not a new one.


I don't care who she works for and what difference does it make anyway if she makes very valid and eye opening points. I agree Corolla is very dated and needs a makeover but it is popular for many of the reasons she mentioned. The Tundra is fine and is just as modern looking as any of the others.

David Thomas said in his comment post.."if you're shopping on price alone". That means that if all you care about is initial price and not style or technology. If that is the case then Amanda is right and the Corolla blows away the competition.

Now, I would purport that very few people, if any, spend $20 grand of their hard earned money and base it absolutely on initial price. Especially if there is only a few hundred dollars difference. There may be a few Versa buyers out there that absolutely look only at initial cash outlay as the determining factor but I find even that iffy.


Try opt for the moonroof for the focus and then compare again?


A 2012 Focus SEL (like the one pictured) with the optional moonroof retails for $21,840.


My point exactly.

They are not really comparing the vehicles with the same feature.

TRX4 Tommy

Amanda, now build it this time comparing the crew max to the Dodge and Ford crew cabs. Or build your double cab and compare to the Dodge quad cab or Ford supercab. Apples to apples. Don't forget the DESTINATION CHARGE of $995. Conveinance package gives you what? Sirius? You can get a years worth with that? Really? The Ram they built has 20" wheels and a Hemi. Try to build the same. Since you put in your Toyota incentives, how about the others?


Neither are worthwhile choices. Look at Hyundai.

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