A cheap new car?
Back in February, Kiplinger did a story on the 10 cheapest cars to own in 2013 that I recently stumbled upon and found interesting.
They seem to arrive at a fairly accurate conclusion on the expenses of owning a car.
"The price you negotiate for a car and the interest on your car loan are only part of the cost of owning a new vehicle. Depreciation, taxes and fees, and what you pay over the years for insurance, fuel, maintenance and repairs are all important ingredients in the long-term cost of ownership. Even the opportunity cost of out-of-pocket expenses (what you'd make by investing the money elsewhere) is part of the overall tally."
"The market price is the average transaction cost and reflects consumer rebates. Fuel costs are based on $3.23 a gallon for regular gasoline and 15,000 miles a year of mixed city and highway driving. The ownership cost assumes you are paying 2.76% interest on a five-year loan but that you can recoup the cost of the car, minus depreciation, when you sell the vehicle after five years."
They selected vehicles with manual transmissions (unless noted otherwise) due to fuel economy for operations costs. The cars were largely without options, though most had CD players (they're still putting them in cars?!?) and AUX input for audio options. All cars have stability control, at least 6 airbags, traction control and anti-lock brakes.
The cars they came up with were (with total 5-year ownership costs):
10 - Toyota Corolla L 4dr ($30,435)
9 - Kia Forte LX 4dr ($29,769)
8 - For Fiesta S 4dr ($29,727)
7 - Scion iQ 2dr hatch ($29,490)
6 - Hyundai Accent GLS 4dr ($29,474)
5 - Kia Soul Base 4dr hatch ($29,338)
4 - Toyota Yaris 2dr hatch ($28,685)
3 - Kia Rio 4dr hatch ($28,516)
2 - Chevrolet Spark LS 4dr hatch ($27,871)
1 - Nissan Versa S 4dr ($27,405)
Southeast Asian companies (obviously) crushed the competition, though it might come a surprise to find a Chevy sitting at #2 but nary a Honda to be found.
I've been near or in a handful of these cars and of the 10 they came up with I'd be willing to own/drive/be found dead in the Versa, Soul, Accent(just barely), Fiesta (maybe), Forte and Corolla.
The $3000+ spread between the cars is a 10% difference from the bottom to the top of the list. Basically a $600 a year difference, or $50 a month in operating costs. All that to say the Versa is a remarkable value.
The article's focus was clearly on new cars, but I wouldn't hesitate to suggest that you can find a better deal and a better car than any of the above. There are a LOT of great cars just coming off of leases at the next level of quality above these cars. These cars generally don't have a lot of miles, have had consistent maintenance, had a complete inspection upon turn in, and most still have a fair bit of warranty left. My own family has been looking at Honda Accords from this very pool, and we are likely to move that direction (Camry is an option too) in the not too distant future.
If in good condition, or you are skilled, the car you already own is a better option that all of these most likely though. And in true Car Lust fashion, you could just spend $6000 a year on interesting older cars and just get a new one every year and not be too much worse off and likely had a more interesting (though less reliable) fleet to sample.