It’s tempting to assume only the smallest, cheapest cars offer the most value.
To an extent that’s true, but owning a car costs money in a lot of ways. Less obvious costs like depreciation, interest on a loan, repair and maintenance costs can outweigh the savings from a low sticker price, a big customer rebate and high gas mileage.
That’s where Vincentric LLC comes in. Vincentric, based in Bingham Farms, Mich., analyzes ownership costs for automotive fleets and other users. Based on historical data, they forecast ownership costs including transaction prices, depreciation, fuel costs, repairs, interest, fees and taxes, insurance, maintenance — even an “opportunity cost” for how much you could make if you invested your money in something else.
“It’s important to look at how much it costs, not just to own, but to own and operate,” said Vincentric President David Wurster.
Taking all those factors into account, and the fact that since the recession owners are keeping their cars longer, Vincentric recently estimated total costs for a five-year ownership period.
Forbes asked Vincentric to sort the results, to identify cars with both the lowest possible costs and an overall “Excellent” rating from Vincentric. The resulting list includes pint-sized cars like the Honda Fit, but it also turned up a couple of gasoline-electric hybrids from Toyota, a diesel sedan from Volkswagen, a Toyota pickup truck, and even a small delivery van from Ford.
That’s surprising because the knock on hybrids – and diesels — is that depending on how long you hang onto them, they’re too expensive upfront to justify the fuel savings over time. Vincentric shows that view may be outdated.
The Vincentric results also show that gasoline-powered internal combustion engines can deliver much higher fuel economy than we’re used to seeing, using high-tech measures like modern four-cylinder engines with gasoline direct injection, six-speed automatic transmissions that get better mileage than manuals, and even low rolling-resistance tires.
There’s more than one way for owners to get the best bang for the buck.
More from Forbes.com
- The best cars for the buck
- Safest small cars for under $20,000
- Cars that can run for over 200,000 miles
- The best used cars for the money
- The best-selling cars of 2011
© 2012 Forbes.com