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Slide Show | March 2012

10 Cheapest Cars to Own

The price you negotiate for a car and the interest you pay on the car loan are only part of the cost equation. Insurance, depreciation, taxes and fees, what you pay over the years for fuel, service and repairs are all important ingredients in the cost of ownership. Even the opportunity cost of your out-of-pocket costs (what you’d make if you invested the money elsewhere), is part of the overall tally.

All the vehicles on our list are small -- either compacts or subcompacts -- because they tend to have the lowest market price, the best fuel economy and reasonable insurance rates (premiums tend to rise with horsepower).

With lower-price cars, you may have to pay extra for an automatic transmission (all of the vehicles listed here have manual transmissions, unless otherwise noted), air conditioning and sometimes even a radio. But thanks to federal mandates that went into effect for the 2012 model year, stability control is now standard for all vehicles. All of these cars have at least six airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control.

The market price is the average transaction cost and reflects rebates. Fuel costs are based on $3.36 a gallon for regular gasoline and 15,000 miles a year of mixed city and highway driving. The ownership cost assumes you are paying 4.04% interest on a five-year loan but that you can recoup the cost of the car, minus depreciation, when you sell the vehicle after five years.

Data provided by .


10 Cheapest Cars to Own

Nissan Versa S 4dr

5-Year fuel cost: $9,048

5-Year insurance cost: $5,134

Total 5-Year ownership cost: $27,135

The Nissan Versa gets a redesign for 2012, and the added amenities bump the bargain-basement feel out of the base model -- without a big boost in price. An AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input is now standard (only audio wiring was included in 2011), as is air conditioning. The Versa gets better mileage, too (27 miles per gallon city, 36 highway). An automatic transmission costs $2,130 extra. It's also been chosen as a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for 2012.

Other costs: Financing 5-year loan at 4.04%, based on a market price of $11,853 and a 15% down payment: $1,000; Depreciation: $7,361; Fees & taxes: $959; Opportunity cost of down payment and other out-of-pocket costs: $335; Maintenance: $1,892; Repairs: $1,406

Nissan Versa S 4dr

Hyundai Accent GLS 4dr

5-Year fuel cost: $8,143

5-Year insurance cost: $5,145

Total 5-Year ownership cost: $27,895

Riding a strong wave of redesigns, Hyundai has given the all-new Accent styling cues from the Sonata and Elantra. The Accent exhibits the brand’s commitment to quality, even at the lower end of the price spectrum. A six-speed manual transmission and direct-injection technology help it get 30 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. One caveat: The base model doesn’t come equipped with a radio or air conditioning, and adding those costs $1,750 more. An automatic transmission costs $2,750 extra.

Other costs: Financing 5-year loan at 4.04%, based on a market price of $13,088 and a 15% down payment: $1,112; Depreciation: $8,629; Fees & taxes: $1,040; Opportunity cost of down payment and other out-of-pocket costs: $324; Maintenance: $2,001; Repairs: $1,500

Hyundai Accent GLS 4dr

Ford Fiesta S 4dr

5-Year fuel cost: $8,568

5-Year insurance cost: $5,623

Total 5-Year ownership cost: $28,524

Introduced last year, Ford’s Fiesta adds a dollop of style to the sensible subcompact class. Dramatically raked headlamps and sharp creasing along the side give the Fiesta an aggressive look. Inside, the cockpit is sporty yet functional. On its menu of safety features is a driver’s knee airbag, and it’s been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick. It gets 28 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway. An automatic transmission is $1,095 extra.

Other costs: Financing 5-year loan at 4.04%, based on a market price of $13,329 and a 15% down payment: $1,130; Depreciation: $8,721; Fees & taxes: $1,062; Opportunity cost of down payment and other out-of-pocket costs: $341; Maintenance: $1,580; Repairs: $1,500

Ford Fiesta S 4dr

Toyota Yaris L 2dr hatch

5-Year fuel cost: $8,306

5-Year insurance cost: $5,451

Total 5-Year ownership cost: $29,153

The Yaris sports a whopping nine airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag and dual front seat-cushion airbags, which inflate under your knees and thighs to hold you in your seat during an accident. A USB input with iPod connectivity comes standard, so you can control music choices through the screen in the dashboard. It’s fuel-efficient, too -- 30 mpg city, 38 highway. An automatic transmission costs $725.

Other costs: Financing 5-year loan at 4.04%, based on a market price of $14,653 and a 15% down payment: $1,253; Depreciation: $9,872; Fees & taxes: $1,143; Opportunity cost of down payment and other out-of-pocket costs: $338; Maintenance: $1,385; Repairs: $1,406

Toyota Yaris L 2dr hatch

Kia Soul 4dr hatch

5-Year fuel cost: $9,146

5-Year insurance cost: $4,402

Total 5-Year ownership cost: $29,190

The Kia Soul makes boxy cool again. Along with its funky looks, it has 19 cubic feet of cargo space, a USB input and Sirius satellite radio standard (a subscription costs extra after three months of free service). It gets 27 miles per gallon in the city and 35 on the highway, and it’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick. An automatic transmission is $1,800 extra.

Other costs: Financing 5-year loan at 4.04%, based on a market price of $14,534 and a 15% down payment: $1,243; Depreciation: $9,427; Fees & taxes: $1,141; Opportunity cost of down payment and other out-of-pocket costs: $338; Maintenance: $1,993; Repairs: $1,500

Kia Soul 4dr hatch

Kia Rio LX 4dr

5-Year fuel cost: $8,143

5-Year insurance cost: $5,445

Total 5-Year ownership cost: $29,345

Redesigned for 2012, Kia’s Rio gets a new 1.6-liter direct-injection engine that puts out a class-leading 138 horsepower, while managing 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on the highway. USB and satellite radio come standard (service is free for three months). An automatic transmission costs $1,100.

Other costs: Financing 5-year loan at 4.04%, based on a market price of $14,204 and a 15% down payment: $1,213; Depreciation: $9,737; Fees & taxes: $1,114; Opportunity cost of down payment and other out-of-pocket costs: $335; Maintenance: $1,859; Repairs: $1,500

Kia Rio LX 4dr

Scion iQ 2dr hatch

5-Year fuel cost: $7,553 (automatic)

5-Year insurance cost: $5,461

Total 5-Year ownership cost: $29,594

Measuring ten feet from bumper to bumper, the iQ is only about a foot longer than the Smart fortwo two-seater. But Scion packs its microcompact with not only a backseat but also 11 airbags (including the world’s first rear-window airbag), standard Bluetooth and HD radio technology. The 1.3-liter engine puts out 94 horsepower and gets 36 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on the highway. An automatic transmission comes standard.

Other costs: Financing 5-year loan at 4.04%, based on a market price of $15,995 and a 15% down payment: $1,376; Depreciation: $10,574; Fees & taxes: $1,233; Opportunity cost of down payment and other out-of-pocket costs: $339; Maintenance: $1,636; Repairs: $1,422

Scion iQ 2dr hatch

Honda Insight 4dr hatch

5-Year fuel cost: $6,508 (automatic)

5-Year insurance cost: $5,487

Total 5-Year ownership cost: $29,786

Proving that hybrids don’t have to break the bank, Honda’s Insight boasts estimated service costs (maintenance plus repairs) of just $3,326 for five years -- in the middle of this pack. Low fuel costs are a given, with 41 miles per gallon in the city and 44 on the highway. The car comes with an automatic transmission standard. It’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick, too.

Other costs: Financing 5-year loan at 4.04%, based on a market price of $18,840 and a 15% down payment: $1,629; Depreciation: $11,059; Fees & taxes: $1,426; Opportunity cost of down payment and other out-of-pocket costs: $351; Maintenance: $1,904; Repairs: $1,422

Honda Insight 4dr hatch

Mazda2 Sport 4dr hatch

5-Year fuel cost: $8,759

5-Year insurance cost: $5,633

Total 5-Year ownership cost: $30,173

Although it's built on the same platform as the Ford Fiesta, the Mazda2 has a style all its own, down to the characteristic Mazda "smile" in the front grille. An auxiliary input for music comes standard, and the 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine gets 29 miles per gallon in the city and 35 on the highway. An automatic transmission costs $840 extra.

Other costs: Financing 5-year loan at 4.04%, based on a market price of $14,883 and a 15% down payment: $1,270; Depreciation: $9,718; Fees & taxes: $1,157; Opportunity cost of down payment and other out-of-pocket costs: $357; Maintenance: $1,652; Repairs: $1,627

Mazda2 Sport 4dr hatch

Honda Fit 4dr hatch

5-Year fuel cost: $9,361

5-Year insurance cost: $4,997

Total 5-Year ownership cost: $30,411

Named Kiplinger’s Best New Car when it was redesigned for 2009, the Fit remains a stellar value. It has 21 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row, ten cup holders and standard cruise control. A Maintenance Minder system reminds you when to change your oil and perform other scheduled service. The Fit gets 27 miles per gallon in the city and 33 on the highway. Plus, IIHS named it a Top Safety Pick. An automatic transmission costs $800.

Other costs: Financing 5-year loan at 4.04%, based on a market price of $15,859 and a 15% down payment: $1,360; Depreciation: $9,719; Fees & taxes: $1,223; Opportunity cost of down payment and other out-of-pocket costs: $365; Maintenance: $1,978; Repairs: $1,406

Honda Fit 4dr hatch

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