With gas prices 40 cents a gallon higher than at this time last year and possibly headed for record highs, car shoppers will be focused on gas mileage. That MPG rating is an important -- but not the only -- cost factor to consider.
Kelley Blue Book has run the numbers over a projected five-year period and picked total-cost winners among 2012 models. The formula includes purchase price; depreciation; insurance costs; and, of course, outlays for gas.
Senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan at GasBuddy notes that the average rise in gas prices from New Year's Day to the year's peak, usually in early summer, has been 93 cents. If that pattern holds, the national average, $3.32 at New Year's and now $3.51, would top the 2008 record peak of $4.11 per gallon as recorded in by the AAA fuel gauge. Tensions with Iran and its threats to close oil-shipping lanes increase that prospect.
But most people will keep a new car for several years. "Car shoppers should take the time to compare vehicles for total cost of ownership," says Juan Flores, director of vehicle valuation for Kelley Blue Book. "While a vehicle might be less expensive up front, the cost of fuel for that model, insurance and other expenditures might make it the less appealing choice."
Among overall brands, Kia ranked as the lowest-cost mainstream brand, and Audi topped luxury brands. The Kia Soul, Optima and Sportage are all low-cost, although only the Soul won its category. Audi scored with low depreciation and relatively strong gas mileage among luxury competitors.
Here is the full list of lowest-cost vehicles from Kelley:
Hyundai Santa Fe
Lexus RX 350
MID-SIZE SPORT UTILITY:
ENTRY-LEVEL LUXURY CAR:
FULL-SIZE SPORT UTILITY:
LUXURY SPORT UTILITY:
HIGH-END LUXURY CAR:
Lexus LS 460
Mazda MX-5 Miata
MID-SIZE PICKUP TRUCK:
Toyota Tacoma Regular Cab
Lexus IS F
FULL-SIZE PICKUP TRUCK:
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Regular Cab