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If you're trying to get the most for your money when buying a new family car, you might think that a $20,870 four-cylinder Chrysler Sebring would be a better buy than a $24,803 Toyota Prius Touring. But according to a new Consumer Reports analysis, the Prius is one of the best values you can buy, while the Sebring ranks near the bottom of its class.
For the first time, we've created a way to identify models that do the best job combining good performance and reliability with a low owner cost over the first five years. In other words, the most bang for your buck.
Rounding out the top five models in overall value are the Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Rabbit, Honda Civic EX and Honda Fit. Overall, our study highlights the best values in nine vehicle categories, from small cars to pickup trucks. Among SUVs, for instance, the Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Santa Fe earned the top spots among small and midsized SUVs, respectively. The Toyota Avalon proved to be the best value for upscale cars. And Honda's Odyssey and Ridgeline give you the most for your money among minivans and pickups.
A low price doesn't necessarily make a car a good value. Of the more than 30 small cars that we've recently tested, for example, the budget-priced $15,355 Smart ForTwo and the $16,470 Chevrolet Aveo5 were at the bottom of the value list, primarily because their low test scores mean they aren't very good cars. Even the $15,543 Toyota Yaris sedan, which has one of the lowest five-year owner costs, did not make the grade in value because of its mediocre road-test score.
Stretching Your Dollars
To determine the best car values, we looked at our overall road-test scores, five-year owner-cost estimates and predicted reliability ratings for each of the more than 300 vehicles we've recently tested. We divided each vehicle's five-year owner cost by its overall road-test score to get the cost of each test-score point, or what we call "bucks per bang." The lower the cost, the better.
Then to ensure that our top values are also models that hold up well over time, we limited our choices to vehicles with above-average predicted reliability ratings based on our latest Annual Auto Survey, which details subscribers' experiences with more than 1.4 million vehicles.
Our owner-cost estimates include six major elements: depreciation, fuel economy, insurance, interest on financing, maintenance and repair, and sales tax. They provide an estimate of how much a vehicle will likely cost you to own over the first five years, a typical ownership period. Depreciation is the largest cost factor by far, accounting for 51 percent of the overall owner cost in the first five years. Fuel cost is second, at 14 percent, based on $2 per gallon for regular and $2.20 for premium. Because we factor in depreciation, we assume that the cars are traded in at the end of five years. For details on how we calculate owner-cost estimates see our most & least expensive to own report.
Our road-test scores are the result of more than 50 individual tests, including braking, handling, fuel economy, comfort and convenience, interior quality, cargo room and more. So they reflect whether a vehicle is a good overall package.
Cost vs. Performance
The Prius Touring came in with the best bucks-per-bang cost of $325, thanks to one of the lower owner-cost estimates in the list—$26,250 over five years—and a relatively high road-test score of 80 points out of 100. With its hybrid premium, the Prius doesn't have the least expensive sticker price in its class, but its excellent fuel economy of 42 mpg overall and solid resale value help give it a low owner cost.
The Prius is followed closely in our list by the Mini Cooper and VW Rabbit hatchbacks, with a bucks-per-bang figure of $330. Five small cars, the Mazda Miata sports car, and the Toyota Camry Hybrid family sedan follow with results ranging from $340 to $365. One of those small cars, the redesigned Honda Fit, has the best owner cost in the list, only $24,000 over five years.