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Posted Friday, January 6, 2012
Analysis of performance, reliability, and owner cost finds small cars and family sedans deliver the most bang for the buck
Yonkers, NY—Despite the influx of new vehicles into the small- and budget-car marketplace, the Honda Fit remains on top in Consumer Reports list of best value small cars. The Fit also reemerged as the best overall value among some 200 different vehicles that were analyzed.
“A low price doesn’t necessarily make a car a good value,” said Rik Paul, automotive editor at Consumer Reports. “A cheap vehicle can wind up costing you more money over time or can be disappointing down the road. We think real value is what you get for your money.”
Consumer Reports mined its performance, reliability, and ownership cost data to calculate value scores for some 200 different vehicles ranging from small cars like the Honda Fit to luxury sedans such as the Jaguar XJL.
Scores were calculated based on the five-year owner cost for each vehicle along with Consumer Reports road-test score and the organization’s own predicted-reliability. Five-year owner cost estimates factor in depreciation, fuel costs, insurance premiums, interest on financing, maintenance and repairs, and sales tax. Depreciation is by far the largest owner-cost factor. In short, the better a car performs in Consumer Reports road tests and reliability ratings, and the less it costs to own over time, the better its value.
Overwhelmingly, the best values come from Japanese automakers, including most of the top models in each category. Of the 48 best values in Consumer Reports lists, 34 are from Japanese brands. Six models come from European brands (mostly Volkswagen), five come from American ones (mostly Ford), and three are from South Korean automakers.
In all, 11 different categories of vehicles were evaluated including small cars, family sedans, upscale and luxury sedans, sporty cars, wagons, minivans, small SUVs, midsized SUVs, large and luxury SUVs, compact pickups, and full-sized pickups. Within categories models are ranked by value score, above or below the average.
Overall the report finds that small cars and family sedans provide the best value. In addition to the Honda Fit, the Toyota Prius hybrid, diesel-powered Golf TDI (with manual transmission), Scion xD, and Toyota Corolla also made Consumer Reports list of best values in the small car category. Most scored at least twice as high as the average model and higher than any other model in Consumer Reports’ analysis. Even the lowest-scoring small car, the Chevrolet Cruze, is close to average in overall value.
Best Value Small Car: Honda Fit
Worst Value Small Car: Chevrolet Cruze 1LT
The family-sedans category is led by the four-cylinder Nissan Altima, which scored 75 percent higher than average. That’s followed by the four-cylinder Kia Optima, the Subaru Legacy, the Ford Fusion Hybrid, and the four-cylinder Honda Accord. Again, even the lowest-rated family sedans have value scores that are slightly better than average.
Larger and luxury vehicles are among the worst values overall. The best large and midsized SUVs, for example, tend to earn about the same value score as the lowest-ranked family sedans. Large or luxury sedans and SUVs also usually score at only about 70 percent of the average.
There are exceptions. The top-scoring upscale sedan, the Lexus ES 350, earned a value score that’s almost one and a half times the average, for example. The ES is comfortable, quiet, roomy, and reliable, and it’s a nicer overall car to drive than the four-cylinder Altima family sedan. But its cost per mile is a relatively high 77 cents, and its five-year owner cost is $11,000 more than the Altima’s. That drops its value score slightly below the Nissan.
Best Value Upscale & Luxury Sedan: Lexus ES 350
Worst Value Upscale & Luxury Sedan: Jaguar XJL
The analysis also revealed wagons and small SUVs tend to provide better value than larger SUVs or minivans. Among wagons, the diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta TDI with manual transmission is the top scorer, offering almost 70 percent more value than the average car. Other good choices are the Mazda5 microvan and Subaru Outback, with almost one and a half times that of the average value.
Best Value Small SUV: Toyota RAV4 (base, 4-cyl.)
Worst Value Small SUV: Jeep Liberty Sport
The top small SUVs are even better values than wagons. Leading that class are the four-cylinder Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Forester, with scores that are 84- and 70-percent better than average. Midsized SUVs represent less of a bargain because of their higher purchase prices and fuel costs. Even the best midsized SUVs in the chart scored only a little better than average. Among luxury SUVs, only the BMW X3, Acura RDX and MDX, Infiniti EX, and gas and hybrid versions of the Lexus RX had above-average value scores.
Best Value Midsized SUV: Toyota Highlander Limited (V6)
Worst Value Midsized SUV: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara
Minivans generally get better fuel economy than most midsized or larger SUVs, have more space than all but the largest SUVs, and usually cost less. But as a class, subpar reliability drags them down. Even the most reliable minivan, the front-wheel drive versions of the Toyota Sienna, have only average reliability, which allows us to recommend them. As a result, they are also the only minivans that earned a better-than-average value score.
Consumer Reports analysis also showed that hybrids can be relatively good values because of a combination of good fuel economy, low depreciation, and above-average reliability. As a class, hybrids have an overall value that’s at least one and a half times that of the average model, and on average they cost about 65 cents per mile to drive over the first five years.
The complete best and worst lists for all 11 best car values categories are available in the February Issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org starting January 3.
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