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The most expensive luxury cars to own

After depreciation, finance interest, insurance, fuel costs and maintenance over five years, the Mercedes SLS AMG's true cost of ownership during those years is nearly a quarter million dollars.
After depreciation, finance interest, insurance, fuel costs and maintenance over five years, the Mercedes SLS AMG's true cost of ownership during those years is nearly a quarter million dollars.Lintao Zhang / Getty Images file

The cost of a luxury automobile does not end with its purchase price — it begins there. The true ownership costs are often much greater than what customers perceive, after repairs, insurance, interest and other expenses are taken into account. For example, an Audi R8 has a price tag of slightly more than $170,000. After five years, the costs of ownership of the R8 are an additional $193,500 on average. 24/7 Wall St. has examined the true cost of ownership, based on Edmunds.com calculations, for 2012 models sold in the United States, identifying the 10 cars that cost the most to own.

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According to the Census Bureau, the median American home costs $221,800, and the median household income is slightly more than $50,000. These should provide some perspective to the cost of buying and maintaining the vehicles on our list. The purchase prices of these cars range from $91,000 to more than $210,000. And the true costs of owning the cars for five years range from $117,000 to more than $245,000 — on top of the purchase price.

A large component of these extreme true costs of ownership is the luxury vehicles’ steep depreciation in the first five years. These 10 models are projected to lose anywhere between 27 percent and 47 percent of their value in their first half-decade on the road, leading owners to lose between $56,000 and $153,000 in depreciation alone.

While depreciation is a big part of these expenses, it is far from the only major expense. Several direct costs, including repairs, maintenance, insurance and fuel charges, can cost a driver more than $10,000 for each expense category during the first five years.

As gas prices approach $4 per gallon, fuel costs are increasingly becoming an issue — even for some of the wealthiest drivers. Each of these cars, because of their status as high-end vehicles with high-end engines, has terrible gas mileage. The most fuel-efficient car on our list gets 20 mpg. Six of the 10 get 17 mpg or less. Over a five-year period, the owners of these cars will have each paid at least $15,000 in fuel costs.

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This list is based on True Cost to Own figures, which were provided by Edmunds.com. 24/7 Wall St. also included fuel economy data from the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. registration totals from Edmunds.com, and quality and design ratings from JD Power and Associates.

These are the cars that cost the most to own.

1. SLS AMG

  •  Make: Mercedes-Benz
  •  Style: 2-door coupe (6.2L 8cyl 7AM)
  •  True cost of ownership: $245,469
  •  Purchase price: $210,875
  •  Combined (city and highway) mpg: 16

The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, a luxury grand tourer, has been in production since 2010. Since that time, it has been the most expensive vehicle on the market. The automobile’s purchase price is more than $210,000, and is approximately $40,000 more expensive than the R8’s base price. After depreciation, finance interest, insurance, fuel costs and maintenance over five years, the car’s true cost of ownership during those years is nearly a quarter million dollars. This cost has not prevented the SLS AMG from being popular; total registrations of the automobile increased from 470 in 2010 to 707 in 2011.

2. R8

  •  Make: Audi
  •  Style: 5.2 quattro 2-door coupe AWD (5.2L 10cyl 6M)
  •  True cost of ownership: $193,429
  •  Purchase price: $170,175
  •  Combined (city and highway) mpg: 15

The Audi R8’s purchase price of $170,175 is more than the third-most expensive vehicle’s true cost of ownership. The two-door sports car also has the second-most expensive maintenance costs, reaching $7,370 over five years. It also has particularly high fuel costs, thanks to its 13 mpg fuel efficiency in the city. The R8 does relatively poorly by JD Powers’ standards, scoring a three out of five for both overall quality and design. Despite this, there were 1,173 registrations for the car in 2011 — the most of any year.

3. ALPINA B7

  •  Make: BMW
  •  Style: SWB 4-door sedan (4.4L 8cyl Turbo 6A)
  •  True cost of ownership: $153,150
  •  Purchase price: $133,445
  •  Combined (city and highway) mpg: 17

The number of registrations of the Alpina B7 has been significantly lower than that of other cars on this list. This is more the result of a limited number of cars being imported to North America than of customers shying away from its high cost. The car’s purchase price alone exceeds $133,000. It also has among the most costly interest rates on financing and insurance. When it comes to overall quality and design, the car received scores of just three out of five in both categories from JD Power.

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4. CL-Class

  •  Make: Mercedes-Benz
  •  Style: CL550 4MATIC 2-door coupe AWD (4.7L 8cyl Turbo 7A)
  •  True cost of ownership: $142,558
  •  Purchase price: $121,671
  •  Combined (city and highway) mpg: 18

Mercedes spun off the CL-Class from its S-Class in 1998 to emphasize the line’s exclusivity. This is certainly reflected in the vehicle’s cost. The CL550 has the fourth-highest purchase price and finance interest. It also has the third-highest cost of maintenance. Sales of the car have steadily decreased over the years. There were more than 3,200 total registrations in 2007. In 2011, there were 980. 

5. SL-Class

  •  Make: Mercedes-Benz
  •  Style: SL550 2-door convertible (5.5L 8cyl 7A)
  •  True cost of ownership: $129,588
  •  Purchase price: $106,718
  •  Combined (city and highway) mpg: 17

Mercedes-Benz has been producing its grand tourer SL-Class since 1954. It was not until 2007 that the company debuted the SL550 convertible. Although it is the seventh-most expensive when ranked by purchasing price alone, it ranks the fifth-most expensive model for overall cost of ownership because of its particularly costly financing interest and insurance. Total registrations of the car have dropped dramatically from more than 5,600 in 2007 to fewer than 1,500 in 2011.

Click here to read the rest of 24/7 Wall St.'s most expensive cars to own