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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Miriam Cross, Associate Editor
| February 6, 2015
As part of Kiplinger's annual Best Car Values feature, the vehicles we spotlight here are the least thirsty in their price categories, based on annual fuel costs. The fuel cost assumes 15,000 miles of combined city and highway driving each year and forecasts average prices over the coming year of $3.00 a gallon for regular gasoline, $3.35 for premium gasoline and $3.75 for diesel. Annual fuel costs for EVs and plug-ins come from the EPA’s FuelEconomy.gov, based on 12 cents per kWh for electricity.
Many of the winners sport an alternative powertrain, either gas-electric hybrid or all electric. All-electric vehicles qualify for up to a $7,500 federal tax credit.
To win the Most Fuel-Efficient Award, a model must first be selected as one of the top 25 vehicles in its category. Kiplinger ranks sedans within price categories. Crossovers, minivans, wagons and trucks are sorted by segment and size and then ranked. No vehicle can win if another trim level of that model has won in a lower-price category.
SOURCES: Kelley Blue Book (new-vehicle data, ownership costs); Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (Top Safety Picks); FuelEconomy.gov (plug-in vehicle annual fuel costs)
KELLEY BLUE BOOK FAIR PURCHASE PRICE: The Kelley Blue Book® Fair Purchase Price for new cars is generally the midpoint of the Fair Market Range. It is Kelley Blue Book\'s estimate of what a consumer could reasonably expect to pay in during the period between December 19, 2014 through January 15, 2015 for a new vehicle with standard options, excluding taxes, title and fees. It\'s based on actual new-car transactions, plus data from other reliable third-party sources as well as market conditions.
MSRP: The MSRP, or Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, is the price set by the manufacturer and does not necessarily reflect the price actually paid by consumers in your area. The MSRP shown here includes destination and freight charges but excludes services and handling fees and state and local tax, title and license fees.
INVOICE PRICE: Dealer invoice represents the dealer’s cost for the vehicle only and doesn’t include any of the dealer’s costs for advertising, selling, preparing, displaying or financing the vehicle.
MPG: City: 33; Hwy: 41
Sticker price: $17,270 (LX)
Invoice price: $16,836
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: $16,800
Resale value: 3-year: 67%; 5-year: 49%
Our pick for Best New Car is also the cheapest to fill up in its price category, at $1,244 a year. The revamped 1.5-liter engine also delivers more horsepower (130) and torque (114 pound feet) than its predecessor. You’ll save money on safety equipment, too: Each trim comes with a standard rearview camera, and the Fit receives a Top Safety Pick accolade from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
MPG: City: 53; Hwy: 46
Sticker price: $20,365 (One)
Invoice price: $19,388
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: NA
Resale value: 3-year: NA; 5-year: NA
The urban-minded Prius c is the smallest and most affordable model in the Prius family, and it lives up to its family’s green reputation with 50 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. The Prius c won Kiplinger’s Most Fuel-Efficient Award for the past two years in the under-$20,000 category; it jumped to the pricier category this year. But the hybrid still costs less than a grand a year to fuel, and it packs in nine standard airbags to boot.
MPGe: City: 128; Hwy: 109
Sticker price: $27,645 (with 1LT)
Invoice price: $26,572
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: $26,561
Resale value: 3-year: 31%; 5-year: 18%
The all-electric version of Chevy’s subcompact is wallet-friendly: Charging for a year adds just $500 to your electric bill. It’s a blast to drive, too, with 327 lb-ft of instant torque. Technology includes Chevy MyLink and apps for Pandora and Stitcher radio, plus, starting this year, built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi for staying connected on the road. The Spark EV features 10 airbags, and it made the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick list. As with all EVs, the Spark qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit.
MPGe: City: 126; Hwy: 105
Sticker price: $36,265 (SEL Premium)
Invoice price: $34,847
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: $36,265
Volkswagen’s first electric vehicle for the U.S. market shares the same sleek design as the regular Golf hatchback. Thanks to smart packaging, it doesn’t lose any space to the battery pack, but it does get 116 combined miles per gallon in city and highway driving, with annual charging costs of only $550. You can choose between three driving modes (Normal, Eco and Eco+). The Eco modes preserve energy by limiting horsepower and torque.
MPGe: City: 137; Hwy: 111
Sticker price: $43,350 (base)
Invoice price: $40,460
Crafted with carbon fiber on the outside and recycled materials on the inside, the i3 costs just $500 a year to charge. It embeds green touches throughout the vehicle: Brake-energy regeneration creates extra electricity, which is fed back into the battery, and the navigation system figures out whether there is enough juice left for the driver’s chosen route. A full charge takes less than three hours and enables up to 100 miles of driving. If you’re worried that’s not enough, opt for the Range Extender generator, which roughly doubles the car’s range.
MPGe: City: 94; Hwy: 97
Sticker price: $73,070 (60 kWh)
Invoice price: NA
The Tesla’s high price tag is less daunting when you compare the upscale EV’s “fuel economy” with that of the gas-guzzling luxury competition. The EPA gives the base trim, with a 60kWh battery pack, a 208-mile range; expect an annual charging cost of just $650. The $7,500 tax credit trims the sticker price, too. And this year, Tesla ups the ante by offering an all-wheel-drive system for the first time.
MPG: City: 44; Hwy: 40
Sticker price: $27,500 (Two)
Invoice price: $25,659
The wagon version of the Prius bests its category with combined city/highway fuel economy of 42 mpg, cargo space on par with a small crossover and seven airbags, including a knee airbag for the driver. Regenerative braking, which recaptures energy and recharges the battery as the car slows, and an automatic stop-start system, which turns off the engine when the car stops, help reduce fuel consumption and keep gasoline costs to just over $1,000 per year. The standard-equipment 6-inch screen displays information about the car’s energy usage and fuel consumption and doubles as a rearview camera.
MPG: City: 20; Hwy: 27
Sticker price: $27,415 (S)
Invoice price: $25,886
The Quest minivan posts improved city and highway fuel economy numbers for 2015 (the annual fuel cost is less than $2,000), and it’s made with family comfort in mind: A low step-in height makes climbing inside a cinch, third-row seats fold flat with the pull of a strap, and both the second and third rows recline. Higher trim levels include a conversation mirror, to keep an eye on children in the rear, and Nissan's Around View monitor, which gives better views for navigating in and out of tight parking spots.
MPG: City: 27; Hwy: 34
Sticker price: $24,200 (LX 2WD)
Invoice price: $22,785
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: $23,222
Resale value: 3-year: 62%; 5-year: 48%
A perennial Kiplinger's Best in Class and Best Used pick, the Honda CR-V boosts fuel economy for 2015; expect to pay about $1,500 at the pump each year. Its gas mileage is on par with that of a midsize sedan, but it has more than twice the cargo capacity -- 35 cubic feet behind the rear seats. Also new for 2015: a suite of optional safety equipment that includes forward-collision warning with automatic braking and lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, which will steer you back into your lane if you start to drift. Stellar resale values and a Top Safety Pick + award from IIHS are icing on the cake.
MPG: City: 21; Hwy: 28
Sticker price: $30,445 (S)
Invoice price: $28,427
The third-generation Murano keeps annual fuel costs under $2,000 with a combined city/highway rate of 24 miles per gallon. It also offers such perks as a more user-friendly display (audio and navigation switches have been reduced to 10, from 25) and technologies such as blind-spot warning and forward-collision warning. Comfort and versatility are also priorities: Heated and cooled seats are available up front (along with heated seats in the back), and release levers in the cargo area allow you to fold the second row at the touch of a button to increase cargo space to 70 cubic feet.
Sticker price: $30,395 (S)
Invoice price: $28,103
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: $28,464
Resale value: 3-year: 55%; 5-year: 39%
The Pathfinder was redesigned two years ago using unibody construction, which took 500 pounds off the overall weight and enhanced fuel economy (23 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, for an annual fuel cost of $1,988). Copious amounts of legroom complement a slate of fun upgrades, including a dual-screen entertainment system for rear passengers, a 13-speaker audio system and two moonroofs.
MPG: City: 25; Hwy: 34
Sticker price: $26,770 (base)
Invoice price: $25,470
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: $26,770
Resale value: 3-year: 51%; 5-year: 37%
Scion entered the enthusiast market two years ago with its new halo car, the FR-S. The rear-wheel-drive coupe sports a 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower engine that was a joint effort with Subaru. (The FR-S shares the engine and its platform with the Subaru BRZ; see the next slide.) Annual fuel cost is $1,771.
Sticker price: $29,590 (Limited)
Invoice price: $28,102
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: $27,983
Resale value: 3-year: 49%; 5-year: 36%
Subaru’s BRZ is downright sexy: Its lithe body will surprise those used to Subaru's staid designs. Navigation, among other higher-end features, is standard. Because it shares its 200-hp engine and rear-drive platform with the Scion FR-S, it also shares fuel-economy plaudits and an annual fuel cost of $1,771.
MPG: City: 17; Hwy: 22
Sticker price: $32,895 (SR5, 2WD)
Invoice price: $30,384
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: $30,941
Resale value: 3-year: 65%; 5-year: 55%
The versatile 4Runner readily switches between carrying people (up to seven passengers with an optional third row) and lugging cargo -- the space behind the second seats alone offers 47.2 cubic feet, and you get almost 90 cubic feet with the second row tucked away. When you venture off the beaten path, the 4Runner’s standard Hill-Start Assist Control and Downhill Assist Control will let you focus on steering by regulating your speed as you go up or down steep inclines. The annual fuel cost is $2,376.
Sticker price: $25,205 (Colorado Crew Cab Work Truck Short Box 2WD)
Invoice price: $23,989
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: $25,129
Resale value: 3-year: 72%; 5-year: 61%
Reviving the midsize-pickup category for 2015, the Colorado (along with its twin the GMC Canyon) leads the segment in power and fuel economy. The annual fuel cost is $1,988 for the four-cylinder model--you can also choose a six-cylinder engine. It tows up to 7,000 pounds, too. A rearview camera comes standard, and forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning are options. The Colorado also wins Best in Class and Best New awards.
MPG: City: 19; Hwy: 26
Sticker price: $31,785 (Super Cab XL 8 Foot Box 2WD)
Invoice price: $29,567
Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price: $31,562
Resale value: 3-year: 59%; 5-year: 50%
America’s best-selling pickup gets a cutting-edge redesign for 2015, including a military-grade aluminum body that cuts weight by nearly 700 pounds compared with last year’s model. That helps the F-150 win Most Fuel-Efficient in its class when equipped with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6, with an annual fuel cost of $2,081. A 3.5-liter EcoBoost and normally aspirated V6 and V8 engines are also available.