5 Great New Cars for Cheapskates

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Cheapskates of the car world unite -- you have nothing to lose but the price of an oil change!

If recent gas-price spikes have got you down, consider buying one of the cars that market watcher Kelley Blue Book recently found offer the lowest five-year operating costs of any mainstream 2013 model available in the U.S. market.

"These cars are great choices for anyone who's looking for a good vehicle that won't really hurt their wallet," KBB senior market analyst Alex Gutierrez says. "They're excellent vehicles for anyone who spends a lot of time commuting -- or even for a teenager or college kid who's looking for cheap, reliable transportation."

KBB identified cars with the lowest five-year ownership costs by analyzing dozens of 2013s for projected depreciation, fuel costs, financing charges, insurance premiums, maintenance, repairs and state licensing fees.

"It's not just about having the lowest sticker price," Gutierrez says. "It's really about offering consumers the best package -- a low upfront price, good fuel economy and modest maintenance and repair costs."

All of the models on KBB's list of the cheapest 2013s are either subcompacts or "mini cars" that cost little to buy, finance, gas up, insure, maintain or pay taxes on.

But Gutierrez admits they're not for everyone.

"Families that have more than one child will find these cars just don't have the kind of room that they need," he says. "And if you're a Realtor or someone else who has to drive around clients, you're not going to want to cram four or five adults into one."

The expert also notes that automakers offer subcompacts with moon roofs, fancy electronics and pretty much any other option larger vehicles come with these days, though -- meaning cheapskate cars needn't be "budget buggies."

"Consumers no longer have to sacrifice quality or amenities when they buy a subcompact," Gutierrez says. "These cars can be great options for even young families with one child."

Here's a look at the 2013 models that Kelley Blue Book found have the lowest total costs to operate over five years, based on all new-car specifications available publicly as of early February.

Depreciation estimates refer to the difference between a car's projected five-year resale value and its "fair purchase price," the average of what KBB found recent U.S. buyers paid for a given model.

Financing costs assume buyers use five-year car loans that charge 3.29% interest rates and require 10% down, while fuel-expense estimates refer to buyers who drive their vehicles 15,000 miles per year.

Fifth-best 2013 for cheapskates: Nissan Versa
Five-year cost of ownership: $30,147
Fair purchase price: $15,233

This subcompact sedan from Nissan ( NSANY) has a generous trunk and plenty of room for four adults, but still gets a thrifty 31 mpg/city and 40 mpg/highway when outfitted with an available continuously variable automatic transmission. That means you'll pay just $9,551 over five years for gas vs. $14,184 for the average 2013 model, according to KBB estimates.

The firm also predicts the Versa will depreciate by only $9,313 over five years -- way below 2013's $24,672 average.

Low five-year costs for financing ($1,076 vs. 2013's $2,775 average), taxes/title ($1,371 compared with a $3,519 average), maintenance ($2,331 against a $2,601 average) and repairs ($1,814 vs. $2,478) only add to the car's affordability.

In fact, the Versa's only real drawback is its relatively high insurance costs: an estimated $4,691 over five years. That's below 2013's $5,046 five-year average for all vehicles, but above the $3,997 premium that this year's typical subcompact carries.

Gutierrez says the Versa has elevated insurance costs because the model has been around for six years, giving underwriters more time than they've had with newer subcompacts to estimate accident rates accurately.

Nonetheless, KBB estimates owning Versa will cost you a shade above $30,000 over five years -- 45.5% less than the $55,274 average for all 2013s.

Fourth-best 2013 for cheapskates: Hyundai Accent
Five-year cost of ownership: $29,929
Fair purchase price: $15,595

Hyundai gave the Accent a complete redesign for the 2012 model year, and Gutierrez says the makeover made the model "a world-class subcompact."

Available as a sedan or hatchback, the Accent seats four adults comfortably but gets 28 mpg/city and 37 mpg/highway. That gives the model a low estimated five-year fuel cost of $9,544.

Couple that with low five-year expenses for depreciation ($9,619), financing ($1,102), taxes/title ($1,403), maintenance ($2,148) and repairs ($1,837) and owning an Accent will cost you less than $30,000 over five years.

The model does have a fairly high $4,276 estimated five-year insurance cost. But Gutierrez says that's because the Accent -- like the Versa -- has been around long enough for insurers to predict its accident rates precisely.

He says the higher premiums mean the Accent isn't "the absolutely least expensive 2013 to operate, but it's definitely one of the best in the subcompact segment by far."

Third-best car for cheapskates: Chevrolet Spark
Five-year cost of ownership: $28,588
Fair purchase price: $14,439

A new model for 2013, the Spark represents Chevrolet's first U.S. foray into the so-called "mini-car" segment, which includes such tiny cars as the Smart Fortwo and the BMW-produced Mini.

Not to be confused with the electric-powered Chevy Volt, the Spark runs on gas -- although the car doesn't need much of it.

That's because the Spark gets 32 mpg/city and 38 mpg/highway with a manual transmission or 28 mpg/city and 37 mpg/highway as an automatic. On average, KBB estimates you'll pay just $9,252 to fuel up your Spark over five years.

Factor in a low $9,556 estimated depreciation and modest projected costs for financing, insurance, maintenance and other expenses and the Spark's five-year operating costs are roughly half of the average 2013's.

The youth-oriented car also offers very hip styling. "It definitely looks different from a plain Jane subcompact," Gutierrez says.

And if you're really into energy efficiency, Chevy plans to roll out an electric-powered Spark later this year.

Second-best car for cheapskates: Mazda2
Five-year cost of ownership: $28,566
Fair purchase price: $16,075

If the Chevy Spark's hipster looks aren't your thing, the Mazda2 offers a more-conservative design -- and costs $22 less over five years to operate.

Based on the Fiesta from Ford, ( F) the two-door Mazda2 gets 29 mpg/city and 35 mpg/highway with a manual transmission or 28 mpg/city and 34 mpg/highway with an automatic. That means Mazda2 buyers can expect to pay just $9,514 at the gas pump over the next five years.

KBB also estimates the Mazda2 will depreciate just $9,002 in five years -- the lowest amount for any of the top 2013s for tightwads. Tiny estimated five-year expenses for financing ($1,135), insurance ($3,564), taxes/title ($1,447), maintenance ($1,997) and repairs ($1,907) only add to the car's low operating costs.

"The Mazda2 is made to deliver," Gutierrez says. "It has excellent fuel economy and maintenance and repair costs, and it isn't going to give you many headaches, because it's built on the proven Ford Fiesta platform."

No. 1 car for cheapskates: Scion iQ
Five-year cost of ownership: $27,006
Fair purchase price: $16,140

Scion iQ offers quirky looks, parking-friendly dimensions -- and the lowest five-year ownership costs of any mainstream 2013 sold in America.

Designed by Scion parent Toyota ( TM) to compete with the ultra-tiny Smart Fortwo, the super-small iQ looks something like a subcompact that got its rear section torn off. "It makes the Mini look like a Honda Accord," Gutierrez quips.

Although technically designed to seat four, the iQ probably works best for two people. It weights just 2,127 pounds and measures a hair over 10 feet long.

Such small dimensions not only make the iQ a snap to maneuver or park, but help the car achieve an estimated 36 mpg/city and 37 mpg/highway fuel efficiency.

KBB predicts you'll spend a rock-bottom $8,297 fueling your iQ over five years, while the model also offers the lowest five-year cost among top cheapskate cars for insurance ($2,900) and maintenance ($1,826).

Add in low costs for depreciation ($9,523), financing ($1,141), taxes/title ($1,453) and repairs ($1,866) and the iQ is easily America's least expensive 2013 to own over five years.

"It's a great vehicle for someone who commutes long distances to work or lives in a major metropolitan area, because you can park the iQ just about anywhere," Gutierrez says.

He admits the tiny model "does have a quirky design, but it works for someone who wants to stand out in the crowd -- and who wants a car that's far and away the most affordable 2013 you can own."

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