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9 economy cars that are actually economical to own

Economy cars for the frugal
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Economy cars for the frugal © Honda

Economy cars for the frugal

The cheapest economy cars to buy aren't always the cheapest to own.

Automotive consumer website Edmunds.com assembled a 2015 list of cheap cars to own for Bankrate, based on the website's true cost of ownership, or TCO, calculator.

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The ranking includes many factors -- such as purchase price, fuel economy, depreciation, maintenance and repairs -- that affect the total cost of ownership.

Although the true cost of ownership provides an idea of a car's ownership cost over its first 5 years when driving 15,000 miles per year, the results are based on averages. It's a tool for comparing the total ownership cost of 1 model with another. Your actual experience may be different.

Here are 9 of the cheapest economy cars to own, beginning with the most expensive cost of ownership and ending with the least expensive. Edmunds included the destination fee in the base prices.

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Ford Fiesta S

Ford Fiesta S © Ford Motor Company

Base price: $15,280

5-year ...
  • Depreciation rate: 48%
  • Depreciation: $7,352
  • Cost to own: $36,090

Although the Fiesta is second lowest in purchase price here, it is highest on the list of 5-year cost of ownership. Its estimated maintenance costs are higher than all the others except the smart fortwo. Its average fuel costs are among the more expensive, too. Only 1 car on this list has higher estimated insurance costs. Its loss of value is greater than most of the others, with an estimated 48% depreciation rate over 5 years. Only its low purchase price keeps Fiesta in the hunt among the cheapest economy cars to own.


Toyota Corolla L

Toyota Corolla L © Toyota

Base price: $17,775

5-year ...
  • Depreciation rate: 43%
  • Depreciation: $7,730
  • Cost to own: $36,003

Sitting in the middle of the pack on purchase price, Corolla's 5-year cost of ownership is second highest on our list. The key to holding down Corolla's cost of ownership is its relatively low loss of value. The TCO estimates its rate of depreciation at just 43% over 5 years. Its estimated insurance costs are the highest, and at $8,732, its fuel costs are tied with 3 others for the highest. Its maintenance and repair costs are about average for these picks. In most respects, Corolla's costs are about average for this group.


Smart fortwo pure

Smart fortwo pure © Smart

Base price: $14,020

5-year ...
  • Depreciation rate: 56%
  • Depreciation: $7,806
  • Cost to own: $35,774

Boasting the lowest purchase price of these 9 cars, the fortwo winds up with the third-highest TCO. Why? It's not because of insurance or fuel costs; it's in the middle of those rankings.

What drives up the 5-year cost are depreciation, maintenance and repair costs. It has a troubling rate of depreciation of 56%. Five-year maintenance costs are the highest on the list. At an estimated $1,216 over 5 years, repair costs also outpace the rest by at least $317.


Hyundai Elantra SE

Hyundai Elantra SE © Hyundai

Base price: $18,075

5-year ...
  • Depreciation rate: 43%
  • Depreciation: $7,758
  • Cost to own: $34,922

Only the electric vehicle and hybrid on this list cost more to buy than the Elantra. It is a prime example of how a car with a higher price can cost less to own. A huge ownership plus is its low depreciation rate of only 43%. Elantra is tied for lowest repair costs. Only its fuel economy drags it down: At $8,732, it's tied with 3 others for the highest 5-year fuel costs.


Hyundai Accent GS

Hyundai Accent GS © Hyundai

Base price: $15,820

5-year ...
  • Depreciation rate: 47%
  • Depreciation: $7,445
  • Cost to own: $34,328

Accent anchors the middle of the list of 5-year cost of ownership. Only 2 of these picks cost less to buy. But the Accent is among the most expensive for insurance costs and is tied for the highest 5-year cost for fuel. It does well holding its value, though. It has a 47% depreciation rate. It has the second-lowest estimated maintenance costs and is tied for the lowest repair costs.


Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius © Toyota

Base price: $25,025

5-year ...
  • Depreciation rate: 38%
  • Depreciation: $9,480
  • Cost to own: $34,244

Actually, Edmunds listed the smaller, entry-level Prius C separately on its cheapest-to-own list, as the sixth least expensive. Bankrate chose to mention it here with the Prius sitting in fourth place among least expensive TCO. Prius is the sole hybrid among these picks. Despite its purchase price, Prius is highly ranked for 3 reasons. Predicted to lose only 38% of its value, the best among these 9 cars, the depreciation cost in dollars is reasonable. Only 2 cars have a lower insurance cost, and, finally, its predicted 5-year fuel cost is second lowest on this list.


Ford Focus Electric

Ford Focus Electric © Ford Motor Company

Base price: $29,995

5-year ...
  • Depreciation rate: 58%
  • Depreciation: $17,442
  • Cost to own: $34,216

As the only electric vehicle, or EV, among the cheapest cars to own, the Focus Electric got a break in its selection. Edmunds factors the $7,500 government tax credit into the 5-year TCO, which otherwise would be $41,716. Its predicted depreciation rate is a whopping 58%. Estimated fuel costs are less than half of 4 rival economy cars on this list. Estimated maintenance costs are lower than the other cars here, but only 1 car has higher repair costs. Only help from Uncle Sam puts the Focus EV in the running.


Nissan Versa Note 1.6S

Nissan Versa Note 1.6S © Nissan

Base price: $16,255

5-year ...
  • Depreciation rate: 53%
  • Depreciation: $8,616
  • Cost to own: $33,788

Its low purchase price has a lot to do with putting the Versa Note 2nd among the cheapest cars to own. At 53%, its high depreciation rate works against its 5-year value, but that's the only area where it stumbles. It has the second-lowest insurance costs and fourth-lowest estimated fuel costs. Only 2 others have lower estimated maintenance costs, and its repair costs are about average. Nissan targets the Versa Note at owners looking for a car that's cheap to buy and operate.


Honda Fit LX

Honda Fit LX © Honda

Base price: $17,270

5-year ...
  • Depreciation rate: 46%
  • Depreciation: $7,917
  • Cost to own: $32,642

There are 4 cars with a lower purchase price than Honda Fit, yet it's first among the cheapest to own. With a 46% depreciation rate, its actual dollar cost in lost value is more than 5 others. It has the 4th-highest predicted maintenance costs. But it makes up for lost ground with the 3rd-best fuel costs, and its estimated repair costs are in the middle of the pack.

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