Smart shoppers need to look beyond a car’s sticker price to get the best long-term deal.
While most new car shoppers tend to focus on the out-the-door transaction price or perhaps even a vehicle’s monthly payment, consumers with an eye on the bottom line should consider the full range of ownership costs to save the most money over time.
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The most important costs to track include a model’s depreciation, fuel costs, and insurance premiums, and to a lesser degree the cost of financing, projected maintenance and repair expenses, and state and local registration and fees.
That’s a lot of numbers to run down, but fortunately the experts at the auto-industry research firm Vincentric have already done the legwork, identifying the cars and trucks that can be expected to deliver the lowest five-year ownership costs in their respective vehicle segments. We’re featuring the cheapest-to-own cars here, with pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans, and hybrid and electric cars featured in separate posts. Vincentric’s breakdowns of ownership costs for all makes and models are included with the full range of new-vehicle pricing data posted online at NADAguides.com.
The biggest variable here is a car or truck’s depreciation, which is the difference between its original sticker price and what it can be expected to be worth down the road. All of the models cited here for low ownership costs have among the lowest rates of depreciation in their respective classes. And be aware that this factor becomes increasingly important among higher-cost models, simply because there’s more money at stake. For example, a five percent difference in depreciation after five years on a $30,000 car amounts to $1,500, while the same spread with a $70,000 model is $3,500.
Though fuel remains reasonably affordable, even nominal savings at the pump can still add up to a significant chunk of cash over time. For example, the difference in fuel costs between a vehicle that’s rated at a combined city/highway 25 mpg and another at 35 mpg, with both driven 15,000 miles annually, adds up to $2,031 over five years with gas at $2.37 a gallon.
Always check in advance what you’ll pay for insurance on all models you’re considering, and shop around among major carriers to find the lowest rates. While premiums are based largely on a policyholder's age, marital status, address, and driving record, some vehicles, particularly family-minded minivans and SUVs, are inherently cheaper to insure than others – often by several hundred dollars or more per year – based on their claims histories. As it stands the difference between the least- and most-expensive new vehicles to insure is close to $3,000 per year.
Here are the 15 cheapest-to-own cars for 2017, based on Vincentric’s annual Lowest Cost To Own In America awards:
1. Subcompact Hatchback: Mitsubishi Mirage
Five-year operating costs: $27,511. The Mirage may not be the roomiest, quickest, or most enjoyable car sold in the U.S., but Vincentric says it’s the cheapest-to-own model on the market, amounting to around just $15 a day.
2. Subcompact Car: Toyota Yaris iA
Five-year operating costs: $29,868. This is the small sedan that was formerly called the Scion iA before Toyota closed its youth-oriented division. It's also sold elsewhere in the world as the Mazda2. It's surprisingly peppy and lively, and treats its occupants to a well finished interior that looks and feels like it belongs in a much costlier car.
3. Compact Hatchback: Toyota Corolla iM
Five-year operating costs: $28,760. Essentially the hatchback version of Toyota’s popular Corolla sedan, the iM adds a healthy dose of practicality for less than the cost of a small crossover SUV.
4. Compact Car: Hyundai Elantra
Five-year operating costs: $29,868. Redesigned foe 2017, the Elantra is among the most stylish small cars on the road, with good overall driving dynamics and a nicely designed interior. A generous warranty helps seal the deal.
5. Midsize Car: Subaru Legacy
Five-year operating costs: $35,007. Low depreciation costs help make the roomy and capable Legacy sedan a solid deal, especially with all-wheel-drive standard for added foul-weather prowess.
6. Large Car: Ford Taurus
Five-year operating costs: $37,788. Sedate and dated, the Taurus sedan nonetheless delivers big bang for the buck with lower long-term costs than its few full-size competitors, especially with the base V6 engine.
7. Sports Car: Fiat 124 Spider
Five-year operating costs: $36,313. Frugal fuel economy helps keep ownership costs low on Fiat’s Italian-Asian fusion version of the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
8. Luxury Compact Car: Acura ILX
Five-year operating costs: $42,170. The ILX is one of the few small luxury-branded models that isn’t built to take on the BMW 3 Series; it’s easy to drive, is comfortable, and enjoys the lowest operating costs among all upscale cars.
9. Luxury Coupe: Lexus RC 200t
Five-year operating costs: $44,387. While the base 200t version of Lexus' expressive coupe is the least sporty in the line with its 2.0-liter turbo-four engine, it's a lot less expensive to own than the speedier RC F. The F car, and its lusty V8 engine, compare poorly at around $66,500 over a half decade.
10. Luxury Midsize Sedan: Lexus IS 200t
Five-year operating costs: $49,769. Lexus’ rear-drive luxury sedan – powered here by a turbo-four engine – may be a bit less sporty than the European competition, but it delivers more-affordable long-term ownership costs.
11. Premium Luxury Midsize Sedan: Jaguar XE 20d
Five-year operating costs: $47,926. Jaguar’s BMW 3 Series fighter is sufficiently quick and lively and its four-cylinder turbodiesel powerplant affords surprisingly good fuel economy at 32/42 mpg city/highway.
12. Luxury Convertible: Audi A3
Five-year operating costs: $48,614. Convertibles are usually not considered the best values on the market, but the small A3 shines with good fuel economy and otherwise relatively low ownership costs.
13. Premium Luxury Midsize Coupe: Audi A5
Five-year operating costs: $54,149. The two-door alternative to the A4 is sportier in nature and remains a well-designed and comfortable smallish car, packing a choice of turbocharged I4 or supercharged V6 engine, and either a manual or automated manual gearbox.
14. Luxury Sports Car: Audi TT
Five-year operating costs: $53,274. There are quicker and more aggressive upscale sporty cars on the market, but the curvy TT beats them all in terms of keeping cash in an owner's pocket over time.
15. Premium Luxury Large Sedan: Volvo S90
Five-year operating costs: $58,076. The S90 is richly styled inside and out and offers with a full array of the latest safety features; a choice of four-cylinder engines, one turbocharged and the other both turbo- and supercharged, deliver surprisingly quick acceleration with good fuel economy.