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10 Cheapest Cars for 2012

With fuel costs rising, car buyers are placing a renewed emphasis on fuel savings and higher efficiencies.

That means a bigger market for the subcompacts that offer the best mileage and lowest ownership costs, created by low initial cost of purchase as well as lower fuel use.

Needless to say, these cars are not for everybody. The Kelley Blue Book 2012 list of the top 10 vehicles with the lowest cost of ownership includes just one compact, the Hyundai Elantra: the nine others are subcompacts.

The cars are marketed largely for young people and, with most of them, "for anyone with pets or kids, it's tough to cram in," KBB analyst Alec Gutierrez says. They are generally intended "for a young adult or any adult who is not looking for sporty or roomy."

The offset is that the cars cost little to buy, operate and maintain. "With fuel prices as big a concern as they are today, and with so much talk about fuel efficient vehicles, we wanted to make sure we captured everything that goes into owning a car for five years," Gutierrez says. "For commuters, these are all fantastic options."

KBB surveyed the five-year total cost of ownership. It considered fair purchase price, relying on recent actual transactions from around the country, and then factored in fuel and other cost components. For maintenance, it used assumptions based on the cost of recommended scheduled maintenance. For repairs, it assumed the cost of a third-party extended warranty commencing when the original factory warranty ends.

In computing the price, KBB included the value of incentives, either rebates or financing, when applicable, although these are subject to change.

Here are the top 10:


10) Scion xD

Scion xD is the 10th-lowest-cost car to operate, according to KBB, with a total ownership cost of $29,913 over five years.

The Toyota product "is similar to most Scion vehicles," Gutierrez says. "It's youth-oriented, it's fun to drive and it has excellent fuel economy."

The four-door hatchback has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $16,075 and a fair purchase price of $15,689. It gets 27 miles per gallon in the city, 29 mpg combined and 33 mpg on the highway.



9) Kia Rio

The Kia Rio is the ninth-lowest cost car to operate, according to KBB, with a total ownership cost of $29,862 over five years.


The Rio "is similar to the Hyundai Accent, based on the same architecture, and it is really economical on fuel," Gutierrez says.

The four-door hatchback has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $14,150 and a fair purchase price of $13,513. It gets 30 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg combined and 40 mpg on the highway. KBB assumed financing at 1.9%.



8) Hyundai Elantra
Hyundai Elantra is the lone compact car among the subcompacts on the list, and is the eighth-lowest-cost car to operate, according to KBB, with a total ownership cost of $29,498 over five years.

"Elantra is good for someone who can't quite climb into a subcompact and might want to make use of the rear seats," Gutierrez says.

The four-door sedan has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $16,120 and a fair purchase price of $15,519. It gets 29 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg combined and 40 mpg on the highway. KBB assumed financing at 3.9%.



7) Honda Fit

The Honda Fit is the seventh-lowest-cost car to operate, according to KBB, with a total ownership cost of $29,370 over five years.

"Fit is a perennial heavyweight in this segment," Gutierrez says. "It is maybe due for a redesign, since some of the competitors are newer. But it still gets 35 miles and still has a competitive price point."

The four-door hatchback has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $15,945 and a fair purchase price of $15,441. It gets 28 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg combined and 35 mpg on the highway.



6) Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta, the only Detroit product on the list, is the sixth-lowest-cost car to operate, according to KBB, with a total ownership cost of $28,639 over five years.

The new Fiesta began arriving in dealerships in 2010 after being absent from U.S. markets for two decades, and it is credited with helping Ford re-establish itself in California and other small-car markets. "It's been a good seller so far," Gutierrez says. "It gets 40 miles per gallon and it's very affordable."

The four-door sedan has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $13,995 and a fair purchase price of $13,488. It gets 29 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg combined and 40 mpg on the highway. KBB factored in a $500 rebate and assumed a financing rate of 3.9%.



5) Mazda2
Mazda2 is the fifth-lowest-cost car to operate, according to KBB, with a total ownership cost of $28,457 over five years.

Like the Fiesta, Mazda2 arrived in the U.S. in 2010 as its manufacturer sought a presence in the domestic subcompact market.

The four-door sport hatchback has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $15,325 and a fair purchase price of $15,153. It gets 29 miles per gallon in the city, 32 mpg combined and 35 mpg on the highway. KBB factored in a financing rate of 0.9%.



4) Toyota Yaris
Toyota Yaris is the fourth-lowest-cost car to operate, according to KBB, with a total ownership cost of $28,167 over five years.

Like the Honda Fit, the Yaris "is also a perennial heavyweight among subcompacts," Gutierrez says. "The two of them were unchallenged for a lot of years. They are very reliable and very easy on the wallet."

The two-door hatchback has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $14,875 and a fair purchase price of $14,009. It gets 30 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg combined and 38 mpg on the highway.



3) Kia Soul

Kia Soul is the third-lowest-cost car to operate, according to KBB, with a total ownership cost of $28,131 over five years.

The Soul "falls into the boxy subcompact segment, like Cube and Scion," Gutierrez says. "It's very youth oriented, a little sportier than some of the others."

The four-door sport wagon has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $14,650 and a fair purchase price of $14,111. It gets 29 miles per gallon in the city, 32 mpg combined and 36 mpg on the highway. KBB assumed financing at 1.9%.



2) Hyundai Accent

Hyundai Accent is the second-lowest-cost car to operate, according to KBB, with a total ownership cost of $27,743 over five years.

Redesigned for 2012, Accent "is part of Hyundai's overhaul of its U.S. lineup, and it's a significant improvement over the previous model," Gutierrez says.

The four-door sedan has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $13,320 and a fair purchase price of $12,657. It gets 30 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg combined and 40 mpg on the highway. KBB assumed financing at 3.9%.



1) Nissan Versa

Nissan Versa is KBB's lowest cost car to operate by a substantial margin, with a total ownership cost of $25,818 over five years.

The Versa "is the traditional segment leader," Gutierrez says. "It was also redesigned so it looks quite a bit nicer, and the cost is less than $12,000."

The four-door sedan has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $11,770 and a fair purchase price of $11,093. It gets 30 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg combined and 38 mpg on the highway.