In last year’s April issue we introduced our owner-cost estimates, which tell you approximately how much a car will cost you to own during the first five years. The data, which took several years to develop, is based on: depreciation, fuel cost, insurance, interest on financing, maintenance and repairs, and sales tax.
This allows us to predict which models are the least expensive to own (subscribers to ConsumerReports.org can see owner-cost estimates based on three, five, and eight years of ownership).
This is good information, but it is just a piece of the overall puzzle. After all, some of the cars that are the least expensive to own aren’t ones that we would recommend you buy. For instance, the five least expensive small cars in last year’s issue were the Toyota Yaris (manual), Chevrolet Aveo (manual), Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris (auto), and Chevrolet Aveo (auto). Of those, only the Honda Fit meets our requirements for being recommended. The Aveo, for instance, is one of the lowest rated cars in its class.
So, in this year’s Consumer Reports annual auto issue, we took the next logical step. We wanted to show which models are the best values; in other words, which give you the most bang for your buck. And for that, owner costs are only part of the picture. In fact, we found that some of the models that are least expensive to own are not good values.
To determine the best values, we looked at three factors:
- Our five-year owner cost estimates
- The overall road-test scores from our comprehensive test program
- Our predicted-reliability ratings.
Our road-test scores, which are based on more than 50 individual tests and evaluations, reflect whether a car is works well in daily life. And our reliability ratings are based on the problems reported to us on more than 1.4 million vehicles in our latest Annual Auto Survey.
Here’s the formula that we applied to more than 300 vehicles. First, we divided each car’s owner-cost estimate by its overall road-test score to get, what we call, its “bucks per bang” cost; or the cost of each point in its test score. Then, we filtered out any models that don’t have better than an average reliability rating.
Using this formula, the vehicles that rise to the top are good all-around packages that did well in our road tests, have relatively low owner costs, and have very good or excellent reliability records. In other words, they give you the most for your money.
Here are top models in several popular categories:
Best Overall: The Prius Touring came in with the best bucks-per-bang cost 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. (The base Prius earned 68 points.) The Prius Touring 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 that nearly matches the less expensive Honda Civic EX. With a higher overall test score than the Civic, the Prius stands out as the Best Value.
Best Value Small Cars: Honda Civic EX, Honda Fit (base), Hyundai Elantra SE, Toyota Corolla LE, and the Honda Civic Hybrid
Best Value Family Cars: Toyota Prius Touring, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Toyota Prius (base), Hyundai Sonata (4-cyl.), and the Honda Accord (4-cyl.)
Best Value Small SUVs: Toyota RAV4 (4-cyl.), Toyota RAV4 (V6), Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander (4-cyl.), and the Nissan Rogue
Best Value Midsized SUVs: Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Nissan Murano, and the Honda Pilot
See the complete list with costs in “Most bang for the buck.”
Not all values are valuable
We have seen Web sites present their own take on value, using different data and criteria. It is clear, that not all values are created equal.
For example, in a recent value-focused press release, Edmunds cites “industry leaders” with the “lowest five-year owner costs” that include several models that frankly are not good cars and do not meet our criteria for being Recommended. For instance, the Chevrolet Aveo. Like Edmunds, we find the Aveo5 to have much better than average owner costs. But it scored just 31 points out of 100 in our exhaustive testing. (See our Aveo sedan video road test.) We found the engine to be rough, the handling clumsy, and the ride jumpy. Further, it returns worse fuel economy than several, more capable cars. And, its predicted reliability is also below average. In total, we don’t think the Aveo5 is a good car, and therefore don’t recommend it as a good value, let alone a Best Value. (Learn how Consumer Reports tests cars.)
Edmunds also cites the Jeep Patriot in their release, a vehicle we likewise consider to have better than average owner costs. And again, cannot Recommend it because of its middling 55 out of 100 point score. The featured Chevrolet HHR also scores a 55, and it too has less than stellar fuel economy for its class and only average reliability.
There are many ways to rank vehicles, including by owner costs. We believe our comprehensive approach with Best Values, which takes into account the merit of the car, provides an enlightening view of today’s standout models.
You can create your own list filtered and sorted by the factors that matter most to you by using the Consumer Reports New Car Selector. When you look at someone else’s lists, make sure you understand the criteria. And remember, we present our unbiased findings without fear or favor, as Consumer Reports does not accept advertising and works solely for the consumer.