With all the emphasis on the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), many car shoppers end up thinking that the cheapest cars also provide the best overall value. But it's actually not that simple. To figure out the real value of a car, you need to take into account not only the MSRP but also other costs, such as financing, fuel, insurance, maintenance and depreciation.
That's why Kiplinger's joined forces with Vincentric, an automotive research firm, to project all of those numbers over five years of ownership. In a recent article, Kiplinger's used this methodology to identify the best values in four hot car segments for 2013. We'll run through the results in each segment below -- and we'll give you our take, too.
First place here went to the 2013 Kia Forte LX, which starts at $16,175. Although the Nissan Versa S retails for thousands less, the Forte LX offers appealing standard features, such as Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Also, the Forte's 156-horsepower engine outguns the Versa's by a wide margin, yet it still delivers 34 highway miles per gallon with the standard manual transmission.
AutoTrader says: We like the Forte, but the 2013 model is at the end of its run -- there's a new one for 2014 -- so we would suggest looking at the newer, more fuel-efficient and similarly value-packed 2013 Hyundai Elantra.
Kiplinger's crowned the 2013 Ford Fusion S as the best value in this popular segment. The rival Nissan Altima should cost about $2,600 less over five years, but the Fusion S delivers great looks, copious interior space, cutting-edge tech and excellent driving dynamics.
Interestingly, a hybrid was picked as the best value among luxury sedans: the new Lexus ES 300h. Hybrids aren't typically associated with value, but the article points out that the ES 300h should only cost roughly $3,500 more over five years than the far cheaper base Buick Regal. Part of that is down to the hybrid's superior fuel economy, of course, but high resale value and low expected maintenance costs are part of the Lexus model's winning recipe, as well.
AutoTrader says: There are so many appealing choices in this segment that it's hard to pick a clear winner, but the ES 300h is certainly a solid choice on the comfort-oriented end of the spectrum. Also, look at the similar Toyota Avalon Hybrid, which can be an even better value.
The winner here was the 2013 Toyota Highlander Plus, which is projected to cost about $5,000 more than the 2013 Dodge Journey SE over five years -- even though the Journey costs a whopping $11,180 less at the dealership. The article observes that the Journey comes with fewer features than the Highlander, while the Toyota predictably adds value in the resale and reliability categories.
AutoTrader says: It's hard to go wrong with the Highlander. However, as with the Forte, it's doing a farewell tour this year: There's an all-new Highlander around the corner for 2014. As such, we suggest considering the recently redesigned, 3-row Hyundai Santa Fe.