Payne: 2021 Cost to Own auto winners may save you big

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 10, 2021

Kelley Blue Book has announced its 10th annual 5-Year Cost to Own Awards, and the winners may surprise you.

Mixed among the usual, bulletproof Toyota, Lexus and Ford products in the five-year study are three Stellantis stallions (Dodge Charger, Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler Voyager minivan) from brands that generally rank at the bottom of reliability surveys.

The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Ecodiesel joins a gas-powred V-6 and hybrid turbo-4 in the Wrangler's lineup.

Indeed, Volvo and Subaru — which also perpetually rank below average on J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Survey — also placed multiple vehicles on a sprawling podium culled from 22 vehicle categories projecting the lowest ownership costs over the initial five-year ownership period.

What’s going on?

Turns out that cost of ownership is about more than the cost of maintenance, repairs, fuel, and insurance (all factors in KBB’s evaluation). Depreciation — that is, the resale value of your asset after five years — is also a big part of your car’s cost.

Who needs Hellcat? The 2020 Dodge Charger Widebody Scat Pack packs 395 horsepower - and is quicker through corners than its fabled Hellcat mate.

“Depreciation tends to be a strong component for total cost to own, so cars that win typically have strong residual values,” said Eric Ibarra, KBB’s director of residual consulting, in an interview. “The Charger has very strong performance in the full-size car segment and carries strong residual values. Performance is a strong attribute when you’re looking at how it will retain value. Wrangler is an iconic vehicle and wins years after year in the off-road segment.”

So, too, the Volvo XC90 SUV and S90 sedan are hardly volume sellers but have a rabid fan base for the vehicles’ Scandinavian styling and tank-like safety reputation. Subaru, another below-average performer on J.D. Power’s quality ratings, tied Stellantis and Lexus for the most vehicles on the list (three) thanks to strong residuals. As the ads say, customers “love” their Subies.

The Lexus RX, NX and UX won in their respective SUV categories as Toyota’s luxe brand has been a perennial favorite in sales and reliability scores. Ford, which typically gets good grades in reliability class, also gained cost-of-ownership gold medals for its two red-hot picks: the F-150 and Ranger.

There were upsets on the list as well.

Proving good things come in small packages, the wee Mazda MX-5 Miata won the sports car category over supercars like the Porsche 911 that is not only super-fast but also super-reliable. Porsche routinely vies with Lexus for durability crowns.

“The overall price of vehicle is a factor,” said Ibarra noting the that the Porsche 911 stickers north of $100k while the Miata starts at $27,825. “Porsche produces vehicles that hold value well, (but) overall depreciation on a 911 will be greater than a Miata.”

Topless. The 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a roadster with a soft top that can be easily stuffed behind the rear seats without stepping out of the car.

There were surprises at the other, mega-tron end of the vehicle scale too. The Nissan Armada beat out the Chevy Tahoe/Silverado and Ford Expedition for best full-size SUV despite inferior sales volumes and an older design compared with its Detroit peers. Its sister Infiniti QX80 full-size luxury SUV also beat out the iconic Cadillac Escalade.

The list of winners was a smorgasbord of brands, an indication of how competitive the U.S. market is today.

Other notable winners include the Subaru Forester compact SUV in the market’s best-selling, non-pickup category and the VW Passat in the best-selling, midsize sedan category. The Nissan Leaf topped Tesla in the electric vehicle niche, while the Hyundai Venue won in the subcompact SUV segment — one of the industry’s fastest growing segments as first-time buyers switch from entry-level sedans to utes.

Car shoppers understandably tend to focus on the purchase price when buying. But, in truth, you could score a great price deal — and still end up paying more over five years just because you didn’t factor maintenance, insurance costs, and resale value.

“Choosing a car with low ownership costs can help shoppers save a significant amount of money over time — often several hundred and sometimes even thousands of dollars — so it’s worthwhile to research the cost to own details of any new car you’re considering,” said Ibarra.

2021 Kelley Blue Book Cost to Own Award winners:

Compact car: Hyundai Elantra

Midsize SUV-3-row: Subaru Ascent

Midsize car: Volkswagen Passat

Full-size SUV: Nissan Armada

Full-size car: Dodge Charger

Luxury subcompact SUV: Lexus UX

Entry-level luxury car: Acura ILX

Luxury compact SUV: Lexus NX

Luxury car: Volvo S90

Luxury mid-size SUV-2-row: Lexus RX

Sports car: Mazda MX-5 Miata

Luxury mid-size SUV-3-row: Volvo XC90

Hybrid/alternative energy car: Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Luxury full-size SUV: Infiniti QX80

Electric vehicle: Nissan Leaf

Off-road SUV: Jeep Wrangler

Subcompact SUV: Hyundai Venue

Midsize pickup truck: Ford Ranger

Compact SUV: Subaru Forester

Full-size pickup truck: Ford F-150

Midsize SUV-2-row: Subaru Outback

Minivan: Chrysler Voyager

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