Attention, Cheapskates: Here Are the Most Affordable Cars to Own in Every Segment

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
attention cheapskates here are the most affordable cars to own in every segment

There are few things sweeter in life than bragging to your friends and family about the good deal you just negotiated on a new car. They certainly won’t care, but the amount of self-satisfaction received from reminding yourself that you are a force to be reckoned with at the dealership is immeasurable.

Of course, the bargain in the driveway can turn into a money pit once you calculate all the costs associated with vehicle ownership. Fuel costs, financing, insurance, and depreciation can all add up — especially if you purchased the wrong model. So what’s a thrift-obsessed shopper to do, calculate the total cost of ownership on every model in every segment over a five-year period to determine which is the best value overall?

Don’t be ridiculous, someone has already done that.

This week, Kelly Blue Book released the seventh edition of its 5-Year Cost To Own Awards. The list encompasses practically every segment in existence, taking into count all aspects of the cost of ownership: MSRP, depreciation, financing, insurance, state fees, plus the estimated costs of fuel, routine maintenance, and repairs.

Out of all the manufacturers, Hyundai fared the best for the second year running. In addition to providing a highly competitive point of entry into most mainstream segments, it’s also a manufacturer that includes quite a bit of kit as standard on most 2018 models and provides that super-dope warranty. On the luxury side of things, KBB crowned Acura for similar reasons.

As for the individual models, the absolute cheapest to own was the 2018 Chevrolet Spark. Starting at less than $14,000, the Spark it greasy with affordability right off the bat. However, it also boats decent resale for the subcompact segment and stellar fuel economy for a model without electrification. Its five-year cost to own was roughly $600 lower than both the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent, which took second and third in affordability. All three came in just under a $30,000 after five years of ownership.

For compact cars, the 2018 Toyota Corolla iM took top honors as the cheapskate special with a $30,856 five-year cost. While only marginally higher than the winners in the subcompact segment, the Corolla iM still managed to be over a grand cheaper to keep than the Kia Soul (the third-place finisher) and about a hundred bucks less than the Hyundai Elantra. But would you really rather own the Toyota just because it’s a little less overall?

Jumping up in price a bit for the midsize segment, showed the 2018 Hyundai Sonata as the bargain-hunter’s dream. It was followed closely by the Kia Optima and Toyota Camry.

The most affordable full-size sedans included the Chevrolet Impala, Toyota Avalon, and Dodge Charger — all of which incurred a ten grand premium against their 2018 midsize counterparts.

For enthusiasts on a budget, the Honda Civic Si was the top choice. Its $33,484 five-year cost to own put it way out in front of the second and third place finishers: Ford’s Focus ST and Mini’s John Cooper Works hardtop.

Chevrolet’s Camaro managed to be the most affordable sports car money could by at an average of $43,629 over five years. It was followed by Dodge Challenger and, interestingly enough, not the Ford Mustang. Instead, KBB chose the Audi S3 with it’s comparatively colossal five-year fee of $56,836. How in the hell can that be right?

The Mustang did appear in the high-performance category in the Shelby GT350 trim. However, it’s $71,918 five-year cost of ownership put it far behind Dodge’s SRT versions of the Charger and Challenger — which came in at $59,324 and $53,656, respectively.

In entry-level luxury, Acura ILX was only slightly more expensive than a mainstream midsize sedan. Significantly more expensive to own, yet still affordable within the segment were the Buick Regal Sportback and Mercedes-Benz CLA.

Were making an assumption here that luxury shoppers even care about cost of ownership but, if they do, the 2018 Lexus GS. At roughly $60,000 to run over five years, it was the cheapest option. The GS was pursued by the Cadillac XTS and Audi A6. Meanwhile, Porsche’s Panamera was the best-value for high-end luxury — followed by the Lexus LC and Audi A8.

Getting back to reality, the 2018 Toyota Prius C wound up being the cheapest hybrid to run at $33,454 over a five-year span. Right behind it was the Kia Niro and standard Toyota Prius. Slightly more expensive to own were the full-electric vehicles, with the Nissan Leaf being far-and-away the most affordable at $38,258 over half a decade. Chevrolet’s Bolt finished second at a significant premium while the BMW’s i3 took third with an almost ludicrous $55,690 five-year cost of ownership. Tax credit or no, that’s way too much money for an economy focused vehicle.

While somewhat more expensive to own than traditional cars, crossovers and SUVs ran a much tighter race against each other. In the subcompact category, the Honda HR-V took first (averaging $32,874 over five years) with the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR in semi-hot pursuit.

Interestingly the slightly larger compact SUV/Crossover segment turned out to cost roughly the same to own as their smaller brethren — if not cheaper in some cases. Subaru’s Crosstrek was the most affordable, followed very closely by the Jeep Wrangler (thanks to its ultra-high resale value) and Kia Sportage.

Midsize SUVs were, again, only slightly more expensive to live with over five years than their compact counterparts with Jeep Wrangler Unlimited being the best bargain. The Mitsubishi Outlander and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, which took second and third, were noticeably more expensive however.

Onward and upward we have the full-sized big boys. Large SUVs represented a substantial price increase. While all of the smaller winners ranged between $32,000 and $38,000 over five-years, the 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe came in at a whopping $62,167. It was followed closely by the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Suburban.

Things were a little more incremental in the luxury SUV segment. For the smallest examples the Buick Encore ($38,607 over five years), Infiniti QX30, and Lexus NX were the best values. A midsize analysis showed the Infiniti QX60 as the most affordable ($38,607 over five years) with the Acura MDX and Lexus RX right behind it. The Infiniti QX80 ended up being the cheapest huge luxury SUV at $78,170 and it kept its distance from both the Lincoln Navigator and Toyota Land Cruiser.

Among trucks, Toyota’s Tacoma ended up being the best value for 2018. Its $37,083 five-year price was about a grand less than both the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Full-sized trucks were even closer with the Ford F-150’s $48,362 average five-year fee being just a few hundred bucks away from the Chevrolet Silverado. The 2018 Toyota Tundra came in a slightly more distant third place.

Last, but never least, we have the minivan segment — which beat the piss out of the full-size SUV category in terms of value. Honda’s Odyssey ended up being the best bargain at $45,279 over five years. It was followed by the Toyota Sienna and Kia Sedona.

[Image: General Motors]

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  • Arach Arach on Feb 12, 2018

    I know this is late to the party, but I take issue with the suggestion that luxury buyers don't care about cost of ownership/value On the contrary, my experience is this group cares the MOST which seems like somewhat of an oxymoron, but rather their reference points are different. I for example hang out with a group of exotic owners- Ferrari, Lambo, R8s, etc. and this is the CHEAPEST GROUP OF PEOPLE I EVER MET. A guy blows a shock in his R8 and he's sending texts saying "I need to find a shadetree mechanic to fix my shock because I'm not going to the dealer" and "I bought a 430 because the 355 and sooner requires engine out service which is too expensive". Now yes this group could go even CHEAPER by buying like a 1988 honda civic, but my point is they really do care and notice- their value proposition is just different. Like paying $100k for a ferrari is worth it, but paying $500 for an oil change is not. Ironically I actually did a presentation at a conference on "Why my ferrari is cheaper than your honda civic" where I actually did lay out how owning a ferrari for 5 years was cheaper than a new honda civic for 5 years. Cheapskates and highline buyers are not mutually exclusive.

  • Mchan1 Mchan1 on Feb 26, 2018

    Could've added some information on which hybrid vehicle is a 'better' buy especially a SUV or CUV. To save money, pick a vehicle you like and plan on keeping it for 10+ years or more but remember to maintain it yearly. The cost of the vehicle will be amortized over the life of the vehicle so the longer you keep it, the better it'll be. Had an old 2005 Nissan Altima that I could've kept longer as it was over 10+years but it was starting to get more expensive maintaining it, considering it was a New England car and the salt/salt solution did corrode the underside. Now a newer 2014 vehicle to last another 10+ years. Anyone know if hybrids can last 10+ years without much repairs? Will the battery need replacing within 10 years time?

  • Lou_BC "They are the worst kind of partisan - the kind that loves their team more than they want to know the truth."Ummm...yeah....Kinda like birtherism, 2020 election stolen, vast voter fraud, he can have top secret documents at Mar-lago, he's a savvy business man, and hundreds more.
  • FreedMike This article fails to mention that Toyota is also investing heavily in solid state battery tech - which would solve a lot of inherent EV problems - and plans to deploy it soon. course, Toyota being Toyota, it will use the tech in hybrids first, which is smart - that will give them the chance to iron out the wrinkles, so to speak. But having said that, I’m with Toyota here - I’m not sold on an all EV future happening anytime soon. But clearly the market share for these vehicles has nowhere to go but up; how far up depends mainly on charging availability. And whether Toyota’s competitors are all in is debatable. Plenty of bet-hedging is going on among makers in the North American market.
  • Jeff S I am not against EVs but I completely understand Toyota's position. As for Greenpeace putting Toyota at the bottom of their environmental list is more drama. A good hybrid uses less gas, is cleaner than most other ICE, and is more affordable than most EVs. Prius has proven longevity and low maintenance cost. Having had a hybrid Maverick since April and averaging 40 to 50 mpg in city driving it has been smooth driving and very economical. Ford also has very good hybrids and some of the earlier Escapes are still going strong at 300k miles. The only thing I would have liked in my hybrid Maverick would be a plug in but it didn't come with it. If Toyota made a plug in hybrid compact pickup like the Maverick it would sell well. I would consider an EV in the future but price, battery technology, and infrastructure has to advance and improve. I don't buy a vehicle based on the recommendation of Greenpeace, as a status symbol, or peer pressure. I buy a vehicle on what best needs my needs and that I actually like.
  • Mobes Kind of a weird thing that probably only bothers me, but when you see someone driving a car with ball joints clearly about to fail. I really don't want to be around a car with massive negative camber that's not intentional.
  • Jeff S How reliable are Audi? Seems the Mazda, CRV, and Rav4 in the higher trim would not only be a better value but would be more reliable in the long term. Interior wise and the overall package the Mazda would be the best choice.