Comparing Real Costs of Most Popular Compact Cars

With public demand for small fuel-sippers at an all-time high, carmakers have devoted extra attention to compact cars, delivering improvements to every aspects of the driving experience for value shoppers.

The best modern compacts deliver superior fuel economy thanks to their light weight, slippery aerodynamics and small, efficient engines. Fuel economy is a major factor for long-terms cost of ownership, but it isn’t the only item to consider. Over a five-year period, nearly half of the average car’s cost of ownership comes from depreciation—which is the loss of resale value over time.) Other important considerations include reliability, maintenance costs, and obviously sticker price. Let’s take a look at the five most popular compact sedans on the market today and compare how much they really cost the average driver to own and drive.

Toyota Corolla
The Toyota Corolla (shown above) is the most popular compact vehicle in the United States for good reason. Its starting price of $16,800 may not be as low as competitors like the Nissan Sentra ($15,990) or Kia Forte ($15,900), but the true value of a Corolla doesn’t really begin to reveal itself until after you drive it off the lot. Kelly Blue Book ranks the Corolla as the least expensive compact sedan to own over a five-year period, with a total cost of ownership of $29,478.

The Corolla gets top marks for retaining its resale value better than most other compacts—a factor that is frequently overlooked by buyers more interested in factors like starting price, horsepower and fuel economy.

Honda Civic
The Honda Civic is second best-selling compact on the American market and among the lowest total cost of ownership cars in the segment. Edmunds gave the 2014 Civic its “Best Retained Value” award.

Known for its reliability, safety and strong resale value, the Civic comes with a wealth of standard features. Optional on the Civic is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that boosts fuel economy to 30 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway—among the best numbers you’ll find in a non-hybrid.

Chevy Cruze
The Chevy Cruze has been one of the most popular compacts in the U.S. since its release in 2008 thanks to its low starting price and superior highway fuel economy. But what many consumers probably don’t know is that the Cruze is projected to have a much higher cost of ownership than most of its competitors.  Kelly Blue Book places the five-year cost to own of a 2014 Cruze LS with manual transmission at $32,737—more than $3,200 higher than a Corolla. Most of that difference comes from depreciation. The Cruze is projected to lose $2,400 more of its value than a Corolla over five years.  Another sizeable disadvantage is in efficiency, where the Cruze performs well on the highway but lags behind others in city fuel economy.

Hyundai Elantra
Despite retailing for nearly $500 less than a Honda Civic, the Hyundai Elantra costs nearly $2,000 more to own over a five-year period, according to Edmunds’ True Cost to Own metric. Most of the Elantra’s relatively high ownership cost comes from depreciation and maintenance costs.

Ford Focus
Sometimes, cost of ownership projections can be subjective. In the case of the Ford Focus, Kelly Blue Book and AOL Autos disagree strongly with Edmunds TCO due to a large discrepancy in estimated depreciation. Edmunds projects the Focus to lose just $8,507 in value over five years, while AOL and KBB put that number closer to the $11,500 range. All reviewers agree that the Focus scores well in other areas though, including fuel economy (26 city, 36 highway), maintenance, and repairs.

Article by Brad Berman, appearing courtesy ebay Green Driving.

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