Leases gain popularity across market

Once used mostly to move luxury cars, leasing has reached record levels, helped by easing credit restrictions and a move downmarket.

Leases on Jaguars and BMWs remain plentiful, but the most-leased cars in America are now the Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata, according to Experian Automotive, an arm of the consumer credit-rating company.

Consumers gravitate to leases — essentially long-term car rentals — mostly because they offer lower payments. Last year, the median lease payment was $361, about 20 percent lower than the median $434 loan payment on a purchase, according to auto information company

Automakers are doing their best to coax customers into leasing. Honda has pushed especially hard, even with budget cars.

“I can’t believe some of the lease deals that I see,” said Philip Reed, consumer advice editor at Edmunds. “They are really good.”

Leasing of such practical stalwarts as the Civic sedan has taken off with attractive offers, said Brad Mugg, general manager of Norm Reeves Honda in Cerritos, Calif., the nation’s highest-volume Honda dealership. The dealer now leases 32 percent of all its cars.

The Civic leases for $169 a month, with no down payment. But a deal such as this is only a cheaper option in the short term, Reed cautioned.

At the end of the contract, usually 36 months, most consumers return the car and pay for a new lease or purchase. You walk away, regardless of how much money you put into monthly payments and any upkeep.

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