Buying & Leasing a Car

Cheapest Cars to Own, 2013

The price you negotiate for a car and the interest on your car loan are only part of the cost of owning a new vehicle.

Negotiating your way to a great deal on a new car is a good start toward saving money. But if you don’t consider the long-term ownership costs, over time you may spend a lot more than you think you will. Kiplinger’s asked Vincentric, an automotive-data firm, for the 2013 models in four categories with the lowest five-year ownership costs. The numbers include fuel (assuming 15,000 miles a year), insurance, maintenance and repairs, and taxes. They also include financing the vehicle with a five-year loan, the opportunity cost of not investing your out-of-pocket expenses elsewhere, and depreciation. (The calculations assume you will sell the vehicle after five years.) In each category, we note the cheapest vehicle overall as well as the one that we think represents the best value, based on our annual rankings. Each vehicle named is a Top Safety Pick of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

See Our Slide Show: 10 Cheapest Cars to Own, 2013

Compact cars. The Nissan Versa S (with a sticker price of $12,780) is the cheapest car sold in the U.S. That goes a long way toward lowering the overall ownership costs because you’ll pay less in interest and taxes. Plus, it gets 36 miles per gallon on the highway. Total ownership cost over five years: $27,405.

But we think the Kia Forte LX ($16,175) is a better value. Its 2.0-liter engine puts out 156 horsepower (compared with 109 hp for the Versa’s engine) and delivers 34 mpg on the highway. Its interior and cargo space are competitive with larger cars, and the Forte’s standard features include USB and Bluetooth. Five-year cost: $29,769.

Family sedans. The midsize car with the lowest ownership costs is Nissan’s Altima Base ($22,550). It beats compact-car fuel economy, getting 38 mpg on the highway, and it received a Top Safety Pick + award for passing the new test that simulates a crash into a tree or telephone pole. Over five years, the Altima’s ownership costs total $34,404.

The redesigned Ford Fusion S ($22,495) is our midsize value pick. It has killer new style, offers generous passenger and cargo space, and is great to drive. That helped the Fusion garner our Best New Car award in our $20,000-to-$25,000 category. It gets a Top Safety Pick + designation and features eight airbags (versus six for the Altima). Ford’s voice-activated SYNC infotainment system comes standard. The standard 2.5-liter engine delivers 170 hp and 34 mpg on the highway. Over five years, ownership costs for the Fusion S are $37,005.

Luxury sedans. The Buick Regal 2.4L ($29,910) slides into the cheapest slot for luxury sedans. Standard eAssist technology (think hybrid lite) helps keep fuel economy up (31 mpg highway) and costs down. We rated it Worth a Look in our rankings. Its five-year cost is $43,493.

Our value pick, the all-new Lexus ES 300h ($39,745), is $10,000 more than the Regal but costs only about $3,500 more to own for five years ($46,976). Combined city and highway fuel economy is 40 mpg, and maintenance costs are reasonable. The 300h puts out 200 hp and has ten airbags.

Family crossovers. Once again, the Dodge Journey SE ($19,990) is the cheapest midsize crossover. But you’ll pay extra for options other brands include as standard equipment, such as Bluetooth and a power driver’s seat. Total five-year cost without options: $37,849.

The better-equipped Toyota Highlander Plus ($31,170) is our value pick, despite its $11,000 higher sticker price. In addition to a comfortable ride for seven, the Highlander’s standard features include a backup camera, Bluetooth, a power driver’s seat, seven airbags (same as the Journey), and one-touch, fold-flat levers for the second row. Over five years, you’ll pay $42,232.

Ask Jessica a question at janderson@kiplinger.com, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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