Image: Hyundai Tucson
Hyundai
The Hyundai Tucson includes a trip computer with an “Eco Indicator” function that can help the driver get around 15 percent better fuel economy by keeping the indicator in the “green.”
By
updated 1/13/2012 8:23:57 AM ET 2012-01-13T13:23:57

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.

Forbes.com slideshow: See which vehicles made the list

“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 Vincentric shows that view may be outdated.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


© 2012 Forbes.com

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 4.36%
$30K home equity loan FICO 5.08%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.51%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 10.96%
10.86%
Cash Back Cards 16.48%
16.41%
Rewards Cards 15.99%
15.95%
Source: Bankrate.com