Edmunds.com reports that the average automobile finance rate dropped to 4.4 percent in March, the lowest since 2002 when Edmunds.com began to track finance records. In March 2009, the average interest rate for the industry was 5.8 percent.

Of all brands, Toyota had the lowest average finance rate at 1.9 percent. Mazda's average finance rate was next lowest at 2.5 percent and Mercury was third at 3.3 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Kia had the highest average interest rate in March at 7.1 percent.

"Low interest financing is compelling for consumers because those who qualify often enjoy greater savings than they would get from a cash-back offer," said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst for Edmunds.com. "Low APR offers are also better for automakers, because they are less damaging to brand image and residual values."

"Consumers can easily check whether they should take the cash back incentive or a low interest rate offer by plugging the numbers into the Low APR vs. Cash Back calculator," notes Edmunds.com Senior Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed.

Other finance trends for March include:

  • Of all luxury brands, BMW had the highest average down payment, $13,614, and the shortest average loan term, 52.4 months. Luxury automakers took the top eight spots in March for shortest average loan length.
  • Of all non-luxury brands, Subaru had the shortest average loan term, 60.9 months, and highest average down payment, $3,911.
  • Dodge had the industry's longest average loan term, 67.0 months, followed by Chevrolet at 66.6 months and Hyundai and Kia at 66.1 months.
  • Scion buyers financed the lowest average dollar amount, $18,978, and the lowest average monthly payment, $348.
  • Mercedes-Benz buyers financed the highest average dollar amount, $40,737, and had the industry's highest average monthly payment, $827.