THE consistently strong Australian dollar and turbulent economic conditions overseas have conspired to create some of the sharpest new-car deals since the global financial crisis of 2008.
The situation is so desperate, most car companies no longer bother being coy about discounts. Indeed, most major brands have a ''special offers'' tab on their websites.
That's where we went to research the best deals - but even these prices can often be sharpened further if you twist an arm. Of course, there are still some in-demand cars that money can't buy, with long waiting lists, such as the Ford Ranger (supply shortage from Thailand), Honda CR-V (supply shortage from Thailand), Volkswagen Polo GTI (12-month waiting list), Hyundai Veloster (four-month waiting list) and Mazda CX-5 (new model, fewer discounts).
But there are plenty of good alternatives, and a vehicle to suit almost any taste or need.
The deal that struck us most was the Honda Accord Euro midsize sedan at $29,990 drive-away - a saving of $8000 compared with its original list price. The Accord Euro is a multiple award winner and, although it is to be replaced in 12 months or so, it still drives better than a lot of newer competition.
Also from the Honda showroom is one of the classiest and best-made seven-seat people movers on the market: the Odyssey. Its $39,990 drive-away sticker is about $5000 off full list price. Once again, it's due for replacement in a year or so, but is still one of the best of the breed and a Drive Car of the Year category winner.
If you need an eight-seater, Kia has finally dropped the price of its top-selling Grand Carnival to a more realistic level. It gave the Grand Carnival an update last year but jacked up the price $3000. It is now $38,990 drive-away for the base model V6 petrol, a saving of about $2000 but, importantly, closer to the price it was.
As with many car companies, Kia charges extra for metallic paint ($450). But we got at least one dealer to throw this in without much haggling. This is a timely reminder that promotional prices are still negotiable.
In the small-car class, Toyota is doing such a sharp deal on the Corolla hatch that we had to triple-check. It is selling the base model hatch - auto, with seven airbags - for $21,990 drive-away. This is about $4500 off full freight, and it's for 2012-build models. The Corolla also comes with $130 capped-price servicing while the car is under its three-year warranty.
Australia's top-selling car, the Mazda3, meanwhile, charges an extra $2000 for auto at $23,990 drive-away. You might get a 2011-built car for less than that but Mazda dealers we spoke to said most of those were sold.
That said, dealers we spoke to were still willing to negotiate. Two weeks ago, Drive got quotes from seven outlets prepared to sell a black Mazda3 auto hatch for about $22,000, on average.
Another great Mazda buy is the CX-7 soft-roader (it's being replaced by the CX-5) at $32,990 drive-away. It's a runout model but still one of the best in its class.
Speaking of runout models, the just-superseded Camry Hybrid is a bargain - at $29,990 drive-away, you save about $6000 off the original RRP. The superseded Aurion V6 sedan is the same price.
Ford is even taking the knife to its new Territory: the base-model petrol rear-wheel-drive five-seater can be purchased for $38,990 drive-away, a saving of about $4000. And the diesel RWD five-seat model can be had for just $40,990 drive-away - a $7000 saving off the full RRP at launch.
Holden is offering post-GFC deals: a V8 SS Ute is now $37,990 drive-away and the sedan can be had for $41,990. Both these prices are about $7000 to $8000 better than their respective list prices.
Holden also has sharp deals on the Captiva 5 ($27,990 drive-away, add $2000 for auto then try to haggle $1000 off) and Captiva 7 ($33,990 drive-away with auto).
Many of these deals supposedly expire at the end of April but rest assured bargains will be had next month, too.