The recession is over, they tell us. It's time to start spending again.
Yet somehow, we aren't. Frugal trends that set in when the bad news was bearing down on us like a speeding semi in our rear-view mirror are still with us -- and nowhere is this more visible than in the automotive market. Americans have pulled back from buying some of the most extravagant cars on the market -- so much so that prices are dropping.
Our pricing partners at TrueCar.com track the average transaction price for more than 300 models of car, truck, and SUV nationwide -- and they let us know when they're dropping. This month, there's an unusual pattern showing up -- the five cars that saw the biggest price drop from August to September are all luxury cars.
2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
30-day price drop: $1,921
The flagship of the world's largest automaker isn't slipping for lack of quality. It's every bit as sumptuous as you'd imagine, and built to exacting standards. It's available with a variety of powertrains, from a hybrid featuring the first functioing lithium-ion battery on the road to the asphalt-rippling V12 in the S63. And while we can't say it fits into any budget, it's quite customizable considering the ultra-luxury company it keeps, with a price tag ranging from about $80,000 to near $200,000. Yet the S-Class saw the biggest average transaction price drop of any car last month -- buyers paid nearly $2k less than they had just a month before.
2010 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
30-day price drop: $1,406
Mercedes-Benz dealers can't be happy with the way this list is turning out so far. Their most expensive sedan came in first, and their least expensive (in the U.S., at least, where the B- and A-Class cars are still just a rumor) places as well. The C-Class has bever quite been the performance equal of the BMW 3-Series or Audi A4, but it can hold its own in track testing with nearly any entry-level sport sedan. Some of us think it outshines them in the parking lot, thanks to its aggressive character lines and huge, sharp grille. And the interior is all Mercedes, with some of the most comfortable seats in the busines. Yet the final price of the average C-Class sold dropped by over $1,400 last month -- and a $1,400 price change on the C-Class matters a lot more than a $2,000 price drop on its S-Class big brother.
2011 Infiniti QX56
30-day price drop: $1,163
Infiniti's largest vehicle has a little bit of everything. An all-new design for 2011, it offers V8 powertrain with a lot of thrust, one of the best interiors of any luxury SUV (get the Theater Package, believe us), and some actual off-road chops -- a rarity in a class that's usually all Neiman Marcus hat and no Holsteins. Its dramatic new sheetmetal -- well, you might love it or you might hate it, but you have to admit it's got style. Perhaps Infiniti just picked the wrong time to debut a huge, high-class sport 'ute? Whatever the reason, the price of the QX56 just keeps falling, and it has only been available for a few short months.
2010 Land Rover Range Rover
30-day price drop: $576
If Infiniti built a luxurious SUV with actual off-road capability, what can we say about the Range Rover? The Rover is one of the most capable off-road vehicles available today, and the only one of the serious off-road set available with Alcantara trim and heated rear seats. The Range Rover doesn't have the greatest mechanical reputation, but it does have a long heritage no Japanese rival could claim, and nearly everyone appreciates its modern classic styling. But that isn't enough to keep it off this list -- prices have dropped over $500 in just the last 30 days.
2010 Lexus HS 250h
30-day price drop: $459
The Lexus HS 250h just never made much sense. It's not as though there is much wrong with it. It promises to offer a pure hybrid powertrain coupled with Lexus quality and luxurious materials, and it does what it promises. But somehow it just never quite added up. It gets just 35 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway -- not great numbers for a car from the company that brought you the Prius. And you don't get a better driving experience in exchange for the less-impressive gas mileage. It's nice enough, but maybe not nice enough to justify the premium over a top-of-the-line Prius. That may be why it isn't selling well, and cracks the list of the five vehicles that suffered the most severe price drops last month.