With the price of regular gas having topped $1.40 a litre in parts of Canada, any car that saves fuel is a deal unto itself.
The standard for fuel efficiency among cars in Canada today is the Toyota Prius hybrid ($27,800). Toyota Canada once was offering discounts on the Prius, but with supplies tight in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami crisis in Japan, forget about finding a deal now. The best you can do is 3.9 per cent financing for five years and that's nothing.
It is worth calculating Prius fuel costs on efficient runabouts as a way of comparing operating (fuel) costs and factoring them into the bigger "deal" equation. So we did.
Natural Resources Canada in its latest fuel consumption guide says the Prius on average will use 760 litres a year (3.7 litres/100 km city/4.0 highway). At a $1.40 a litre, your annual fuel cost would be $1,064.
Let's compare some Prius numbers with the similarly-sized 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. The base model starts at $14,995 and gets 7.8 city/5.4 highway. General Motors of Canada has slapped on factory deals of up to $2,500 for certain buyers - plus whatever you can squeeze out in a dealer discount.
Now the fuel economy piece: A regular Cruze will use 1,360 litres of fuel a year, or nearly twice as much as the Prius, says the fuel guide - for an annual cost of $1,904 at $1.40 a litre. Over eight years, which is how long the average Canadian keeps a new car, the Prius will save you $8,512 in fuel versus the Cruze.
Sounds like a lot until you see that the Prius today will cost you $12,805 more than the base model Cruze. If you can nail down a couple of thousand in sales sweeteners, the Prius might come in $15,000-plus higher than the Cruze.
But if we just stick with non-discounted pricing, the Prius hybrid will cost $4,293 more than a base Cruze. Gas needs to hit about $1.70 a litre to wipe out that hybrid premium.
(Yes, this is a bit of apples to oranges comparison given the cars are equipped differently and the Prius is a hatchback and the Cruze is a sedan. It's fun and instructive nonetheless.)
The numbers suggest that if fuel economy is your first and only consideration, the Prius is not the best bargain - even with pricey gas. Not yet, at least.
Now another discounted fuel sipper worth testing is the 2011 Nissan Sentra. There is nothing sexy or cool about the Sentra, but at a base price of $15,398 and nearly $2,000 or more on the table in rebates, the car is a deal. (For the record, with annual fuel use of 1,520 litres, this Sentra's yearly pump expense is $2,128 at $1.40/litre.)
Now let's go to the other extreme.
Land Rover's LR4 SUV ($59,990 plus a $2,000 Green Levy) comes with at least $5,000 in factory discounts in play, perhaps more from the dealer. It will use 2,920 of premium fuel a year, for an annual fuel bill of $4,292.40 at $1.47/litre.
Finally, the four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport ($26,695), fuel swilling SUV, though a very capable one off-roader - just like the LR4.
The fuel guide says the Wrangler Unlimited Sport with four-speed automatic transmission will use 2,440 of regular a year - for an annual fuel cost of $3,416. But this one does come with at least $3,200 in factory discounts for the hard-driving buyer.
As usual, Deals of the Week obtained pricing information from www.carcostcanada.com. Here are the numbers.
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LS
Freight, dealer prep, air conditioning tax: $1,450
Dealer discount (estimated): $500
Taxable subtotal: $15,945
Factory discount: $500 (Stackable Cash factory-to-dealer rebate)
Factory discount: $500 (Welcome Cash factory-to-dealer rebate)
Total price with 13% HST: $16,887.85
Factory discount: $1,000 (Cash for Lease factory-to-customer)
Factory discount: $500 (Student Bonus factory-to-customer)
Final price: $15,387.85
2011 Land Rover LR4
MSRP: $61,990 (includes $2,000 Green Levy)
Freight, dealer prep: $1,370
Dealer discount: $2,000
Taxable subtotal: $61,360
Total price with 13% HST: $69,336.80
Factory discount: $4,000 (Loyalty Cash factory-to-customer)
Factory discount: $1,000 (Green Levy Credit factory-to-customer)
Final price: $64,336.80
Note: Offers can be combined with 0.0 per cent financing for up to four years.
2011 Nissan Sentra 2.0
Freight, dealer prep and air conditioning tax: $1,567
Dealer discount (estimated): $0
Factory discount: $1,950 (Stackable Trading Dollars factory-to-dealer rebate)
Total price with 13% HST: $16,966.95
Note: Finance rates of 0.0 per cent for four years.
2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport
Freight, dealer prep and air conditioning tax: $1,500
Dealer discount (estimated): $900
Factory discount: $2,250 (Consumer Cash factory-to-dealer rebate)
Taxable subtotal: $24,045
Total price with 13% HST: $28,300.85
Factory rebate: $1,000 (Bonus Cash factory-to-customer rebate)
Note: Finance rates of 1.99 per cent financing for three years
Pricing information source: www.carcostcanada.com. Calculations based on Ontario customers. Please note that while the information above is accurate at the time of publication, incentives are given at the discretion of individual dealers, and may be changed or discontinued at any time. Dealer discounts are negotiated with the customer on a case-by-case basis.