BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Finding a great deal on wheels involves looking at not just cars' sticker prices, but also at their expected fuel use and other costs -- and here are some 2014s that offer the best combinations of that.
"If Car X costs $4,000 or $5,000 more to operate over a five-year period than Car Y does, the fact that you can buy Car X for $2,000 cheaper suddenly doesn't seem like such a good deal," says Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book, which recently unveiled its 2014 Best 5-year Cost to Own Awards.
The annual awards honor vehicles that KBB estimates will cost the least to operate over five years after factoring in everything from insurance to financing.
Brauer says depreciation -- the difference between what you'll pay for a new vehicle and what you'll sell it for later in the used-car market -- represents the biggest factor in five-year ownership expenses.
He says models with below-average depreciation not only cost less over the long haul, but are usually good vehicles because used-car buyers wouldn't want them otherwise.
"There's no way that you can buy a car with low depreciation and not get a winner," the senior analyst says.
Read on to see which models won this year's awards in the five highest-volume classes of cars (as opposed to sport utility vehicles, minivans or pickup trucks).
KBB chose winners by analyzing expected five-year costs for depreciation, financing, fuel, insurance, maintenance, repairs and state fees such as excise taxes for all mainstream 2014 models sold in America. (The study excluded "exotic" models such as super-expensive sports cars, while KBB ranked hybrid or electric versions of the vehicles below separately.)
All pricing figures refer to KBB's Fair Purchase Price, an estimate of how much consumers are paying for a given model based on actual U.S. sales.
Best subcompact car: Chevrolet Spark
Five-year ownership cost: $26,551
The Chevy Spark offers shockingly low five-year ownership costs, thanks to a Fair Purchase Price that's about as tiny as the car itself.
KBB estimates you'll pay just $14,637 to buy a gas-powered Spark, and the small initial cost means the vehicle will depreciate a projected 9.4% less over five years than what's average for 2014 subcompacts.
The Spark's pint-sized price also means you'll spend an estimated 11.3% less than average financing your car, as well as 10.5% below average on insurance, 6.8% less on maintenance and 5.1% less on repairs.
The vehicle's impressive fuel efficiency -- 31 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg/highway when outfitted with a continuously variable automatic transmission -- should also translate into 6.6% below-average fuel costs, according to KBB.
Best compact car: Toyota Corolla
Five-year ownership cost: $30,571
Toyota has completely redesigned the Corolla for 2014, which Brauer says should keep the model's five-year operating costs low by minimizing depreciation.
"When the next generation of a car comes out, the previous generation takes a hit in the used-car market because there's a newer one available," he says. "But if you buy the first year of a new generation, you're not likely to [face that] because it's unlikely that the car will get another redesign within five years."
Brauer adds that used Corollas traditionally attract high prices anyway due to the model's longstanding popularity and good reputation.
All told, KBB estimates the $18,702 Corolla will depreciate 8.9% less over five years than what's typical for 2014 compacts, while impressive fuel efficiency (30 mpg/city and 42 mpg/highway for some versions) should translate into 10.5% below-average fuel costs.
At the same time, KBB predicts Corolla buyers will save 5.5% on repairs, 4.3% on maintenance and 4.2% on financing vs. what's average for compact rides. That should offset insurance costs that the firm estimates will be 2.4% higher than average.