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The Cheapest Cars You Can Drive

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Want a luxury car without the luxury cost?

Then opting for the Lexus RX400h might be a good call. It costs $41,895, and is estimated to set you back an additional $12,091 over five years.

That number may sound steep, but in relative terms, it’s not.

That’s because the RX400h had the lowest operating cost of the luxury cars on our list of the 10 least expensive to drive. Not far behind are the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec, the Audi A3 and the Acura TSX.
These cars’ operational costs–relative to other luxury models–are kept down due in large part to their fuel efficiency. Using a combination of two electric motors and a gasoline-powered V6 engine, the RX 400h, for example, achieves 32 miles per gallon city/27 mpg highway, according to EPA estimates for the 2007 model year. Hybrids get better mileage in city driving, when they are more likely to be running on battery power.

“It’s not exclusively about fuel,” says David Wurster, co-founder and president of Vincentric, a Detroit-based automotive data firm that analyzes vehicle ownership expenses. “But of course fuel is important, and it’s the biggest factor.”

The Methodology
Vincentric supplied five-year cost estimates for 2007 models. Its researchers looked at expected repair costs and expected scheduled maintenance costs. They also examined estimated fuel costs according to EPA mileage ratings based on 15,000 miles a year, using factory-recommended fuel–that is, regular, premium or diesel–at today’s prices and weighted for a realistic mix between city and highway driving.

Besides its enviable fuel efficiency, the RX 400h also had low estimated costs for repair and maintenance.

Its runner-up, the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec diesel, the only diesel on the list, clocked in at $13,063 for five years. At just over 30 miles per gallon for combined city and highway driving, the diesel actually had a marginally better mpg rating than the hybrid RX 400h, but the Mercedes had higher predicted repair and maintenance costs.

But as Wurster attests, it’s not all about fuel.

Beemer Benefits
Clocking in at No. 7 is the BMW 328i. All BMWs come with free scheduled maintenance, which means owners of the 328i can expect to pay about $1,610 over five years. This is generally for items like tires that are not covered.

In addition to reasonable operating costs, the BMW 328i also retains its value better than other vehicles in its class, according to IntelliChoice.com, which, like Vincentric, measures ownership costs.

The 328i won the IntelliChoice 2007 Highest Retained Value Award for the Near Luxury category. According to IntelliChoice, the 328i retains about 61% of its original value after five years, vs. an average of only 53% for its competitors, or only 41% for the 2007 Cadillac CTS.

That means the BMW 328i depreciates about $13,738 in five years, while the segment depreciates an average of $16,589, and the CTS depreciates $18,875, IntelliChoice said.

“So a car that costs the same or less than the BMW may not be the best value,” said James Bell, IntelliChoice.com publisher.

The Cadillac CTS costs about $3,000 less than the BMW 328i, but between higher depreciation and higher operating costs for the Cadillac, five-year ownership costs for the Cadillac are actually about $4,500 higher, according to an IntelliChoice analysis. To be fair, the 2007 Cadillac CTS is being replaced with an all-new 2008 model. For the industry, re-sale values deteriorate for a model in its last year.

Pretty good reason to spring for the Ultimate Driving Machine.

(c) forbes.com

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