Discounts abound on cars and trucks in March

Thanks to absolutely dismal auto sales in the first two months this year, there are some almost ridiculous deals available in March.

Thanks to absolutely dismal auto sales in the first two months this year, there are some almost ridiculous deals available in March.

The best offers are on 2008 models that remain on dealer lots because there just haven't been enough buyers to scoop them up.

(Don't worry about buying an '08 model in the spring of 2009. The depreciation on an '08 you buy right now really is no different than for '08s people bought when they first hit dealer lots.)

We've included the deals on '09 models, too.

Small Cars

The Subaru Impreza isn't expensive, starting at less than $17,000. All-wheel-drive is standard equipment and the Impreza's 5-door hatchback body style is one of the more enticing small-car designs out there. So this double deal is a real money-saver: $1,000 off plus 0% financing (2.9-percent financing for '09s).

The Ford Focus, to our eye, isn't the best-looking compact car roaming the roads (that would be the Honda Civic), but the Focus represents straightforward economy-car basics done pretty well, and includes a lot of cool features and equipment for the money, which happens to be a whopping $3,000 off at the moment ($2,500 to $3,000 for '09s).

The Hyundai Elantra has smooth and contemporary looks, controlled handling and is packed with all the safety features you expect at its $14,120 starting price -- now minus a considerable $2,000 rebate. The hatchback Touring model, starting at $17,800, is particularly useful and includes vital electronic stability control as standard ('09 models: $1,000 off).

Midsize/large cars

Remember when Chrysler's 300 was the hottest sedan around?

This roomy and aggressive car still looks magnificent and its exterior is all but unchanged since it was introduced, so nobody will know you nabbed a $3,000 to $4,500 rebate. But it's way better than that, because in most cases you'll get a lower "employee" price for the particular car you choose, plus cut-rate financing (2009s: $1,000 to $2,500 plus the same employee pricing and financing.).

A new 2010 Fusion is coming in a couple of months with only relative minor changes, so we'd happily take the $2,500 to $5,000 Ford's offering for '08 versions of this attractive and athletic midsize sedan ($3,500 cash back for '09s).

Chevrolet's Malibu is a class act all around, and $2,750 cash back for an '08 model is a fine discount for one of our top midsize-car choices. Forget the overpowered and overpriced 6-cylinder models though: the best Malibu is the 4-cylinder 2LT with the efficient 6-speed automatic transmission ('09s: $1,500 cash back).

Hey, $3,000 cash back ought to get your attention when it's knocked off the already reasonable ($17,670) starting price of the smooth-riding and crisply-styled Hyundai Sonata. Like the Malibu, stick with the 4-cylinder versions of this underappreciated alternative to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord ($2,000 cash back for '09s).

Even mighty Toyota isn't immune to the lousy economy, giving $1,500 cash back on 2009 versions of the segment's gold standard, the Camry. Serious discounting on the Camry doesn't happen every day, you know.

Offbeat But Interesting Big-Dollar Discounts

Ford's Edge is a roomy, firm-handling and yes, "edgy"-looking crossover available with all-wheel drive and Ford's Sync integration system for your personal electronics. Expect a hefty $3,500 off in most markets ($2,000 cash for '09 models).

If a sporty but still sort-of-practical car is on your consideration list, who could resist the chesty Ford Mustang with $4,000 right off the top (or $4,500 for the V8-engine GT models)? The nostalgic Mustang isn't exactly a family car, but it's usable for families with one or two small children -- or for less-committed adults, of course ($2,000 cash back for 2009 models).

Same goes for Mazda's RX-8, a slick coupe with the exotic rotary engine and enough practicality-in-a-pinch for a small family. The RX-8 is not overly expensive and Mazda's offering $4,000 cash back -- though we hear you can get a lot more. Be prepared to satisfy its outsized thirst for premium gas, though.

This time last year, people were paying premiums for any hybrid they could get their hands on. With gas prices now half the price of last summer, not so much.

It's inevitable gas prices are going to rise again, so you'd beat the herd by snagging the current money-back offers on these fuel-stingy 2008/2009 hybrids: