There’s more to the cost of a car than the purchase price. We examine the 5-year overall costs of the cheapest popular car in each class to see which is the most cost-effective.*
With the huge range of passenger vehicles available today, it can be hard to find the one that’s right for you while also fitting your budget. If you're looking to use a loan to buy a new car, you should always be aware of the true cost of ownership, which goes far beyond the price you pay at the dealer. From fuel costs to maintenance, registration and insurance, there are many costs associated with owning a car beyond the initial purchase price.
In this guide, we take a look at the cheapest popular vehicle in each car class according to RACQ’s latest guide to see how each class measures up. Each vehicle is assumed to have been purchased using a car loan to cover the on-road cost of the car and loan repayments are factored into the weekly and 5-year running costs.
*All figures are taken from RACQ’s "Private vehicle expenses 2018". Costs are calculated based on privately owned vehicles in Queensland at an average distance travelled of 15,000km per year, over five years. The on-road price of each vehicle is assumed to have been financed on a secured, 5-year RACQ loan at a rate of 6.17%p.a. Total costs also include depreciation, registration, insurance, licence, RACQ membership and other related costs and will vary depending on where you are in Australia.
Car classes defined
The car classes featured in this guide follow the definitions of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries segmentation criteria, which measures the footprint of the vehicle, defined as length x width. Sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are defined as a two- or four-door wagon with elevated ride height.
|Micro||<6,300mm||Hatch, sedan, wagon||Mitsubishi Mirage ES 1.2L, Fiat 500 Pop, Kia Picanto S 1.2L|
|Light||6,301-7,500mm||Hatch, sedan, wagon||Suzuki Swift GL 1.2L, Toyota Yaris Ascent 1.3L, Holden Barina LS 1.6L|
|Small||7,501-8,300mm||Hatch, sedan, wagon||Kia Cerrato S 2.0L, Toyota Corolla Ascent 1.8L, Mazda3 Neo Sport 2.0L|
|Medium||8,301-9,000mm||Hatch, sedan, wagon||Skoda Octavia 110 TSI Sport 1.4L, Hyundai i40 Active 1.7L, Toyota Camry Ascent Sport 2.5L|
|Large||9,001-9,500mm||Hatch, sedan, wagon||Holden Commodore RS 3.6L V6, Toyota Camry SL 3.5L V6, Kia Stinger 200S 2.0L Turbo|
|People mover||Seats more than 5 people||Wagon||Honda Odyssey VTI 2.4L, Kia Carnival S 3.3L V6, Toyota Tarago GLI 2.4L|
|Sports car||None||Car, coupe, convertible, roadster||Mazda MX-5 Roadster ND 1.5L, Ford Mustang Fastback GT 5.0L V8, Subaru WRX (AWD) 2.0L|
|Small SUV||<8,100mm||SUV only||Suzuki Vitara RT-S 1.5L, Mazda CX-3 Maxx, Holden Trax LS 1.4L|
|Medium SUV||8,100-8,800mm||SUV only||Haval H6 Premium 2.0L, Nissan X-Trail TS Ser. 2 2.0L, Toyota RAV4 GX 2.5L|
|Large SUV||8,801-9,800mm||SUV only||Subaru Outback 2.0D 2.0L, Holden Capitva 7 LT 3.0L V6, Kia Sorrento Si 2.2L|
|Electric||None||Any||Mitsubishi Outlander LS Phev (Hybrid) 2.0L, Tesla Model S 75, BMW i3 94Ah|
Mitsubishi Mirage ES 1.2L
List price: $12,250
Estimated on road price: $15,706
Average weekly running cost: $112.14
5-year running cost: $29,157.24
Suzuki Swift GL 1.2L
List price: $17,990
Estimated on road price: $17,990
Average weekly running cost: $115.30
5-year running cost: $29,977.45
Kia Cerrato S 2.0L
List price: $19,990
Estimated on road price: $22,290
Average weekly running cost: $128.55
5-year running cost: $33,423.81
Skoda Octavia 110 TSI Sport 1.4L
List price: $29,990
Estimated on road price: $33,647
Average weekly running cost: $188.43
5-year running cost: $48,992.84
Holden Commodore RS 2.0L
List price: $37,290
Estimated on road price: $40,286
Average weekly running cost: $223.91
5-year running cost: $58,215.99
Honda Odyssey VTi 2.4L
List price: $37,990
Estimated on road price: $41,490
Average weekly running cost: $218.75
5-year running cost: $56,874.12
Mazda MX-5 Roadster ND 1.5L
List price: $33,990
Estimated on road price: $37,667
Average weekly running cost: $194.96
5-year running cost: $50,690.20
Suzuki Vitara RT-S 1.5L
List price: $23,990
Estimated on road price: $24,990
Average weekly running cost: $149.68
5-year running cost: $38,918.04
Haval H6 Premium 2.0L
List price: $29,990
Estimated on road price: $29,990
Average weekly running cost: $190.50
5-year running cost: $49,529.57
Subaru Outback 2.0D 2.0L
List price: $38,740
Estimated on road price: $41,660
Average weekly running cost: $209.04
5-year running cost: $54,349.98
Mitsubishi Outlander LS PHEV (Hybrid) 2.0L
List price: $50,490
Estimated on road price: $54,589
Average weekly running cost: $259.16
5-year running cost: $67,380.68
When looking at these figures, it is important to note that the 5-year cost includes monthly repayments on a loan used to finance the initial on-road price of each car. This means the overall 5-year cost is an estimate of what you would pay if you decided to get a loan on the car and used it for the next five years.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the smaller the car, the smaller the overall running costs over the first five years.
However, while the micro-class car is clearly the cheapest in terms of purchase price and overall running costs, it has the worst cost ratio between the two. Despite a significantly lower list price, the Mirage only just comes out ahead of the Swift and Cerrato when it comes to five-year costs. Those thinking they would be making significant savings by opting for a micro-class car may find that the benefits of light- and small-class cars may be worth the slight increase in overall cost.
These figures also suggest that a lot of car-related costs come from day-to-day use and not the initial purchase price. While you may think you're leaving the dealership with a bargain, you should always keep in mind the other costs of car ownership.
It is still worth noting that the five-year costs of larger vehicles are nearly double that of the smallest classes. For those on a budget, micro- and light-class cars still represent the cheapest ownership options in simple terms.
In terms of bigger vehicles, the large SUV has the best cost ratio between list price and five-year running costs, making it arguably the most cost effective option over that time frame. While you will still be paying significantly more for the Outback than the micro-class Mirage over five years, the difference between list price and five-year costs on the Subaru Outback is $15,609.98, slightly less than that of the Mirage at $16,907.24.
This highlights that different vehicles have different overall costs and even the cheapest cars can prove expensive once the ongoing cost of ownership is factored in. Again, the initial list price only tells part of the story when it comes to the cost of buying and running a car.
Average weekly running costs by class
Points to consider
Smaller car classes have significantly lower running costs on average than the larger classes. The average cost difference between a micro-class car and a medium-class car is $81.54 per week, or $4,240.08 per year.
The average running cost of a large car dwarfs those of people movers, sports cars and even large SUVs, due mainly to increased depreciation and lower fuel efficiency.
People movers and large SUVs come out around the same average weekly running cost, although you could make a decent saving by considering a medium-class car or medium SUV. Electric cars remain considerably more expensive than any other car class.
If you're after a certain type of car, use the table below to help find the class that may best suit your needs. Regardless of the type of vehicle you're after, if you're looking at buying a new car you should always factor in all the costs of ownership before making the decision that is right for you.
|I'm looking for||What to consider|
|A family car||People movers and large SUVs will set you back similar amounts over five years, but you could make a decent saving by considering a medium-class car or medium SUV.|
|A large car||The large car class is the most expensive to run (after electric), so if you need space, you may get better value with a large SUV or people mover.|
|The cheapest car||If you don't care about size or class, the micro- and light-class cars are clearly the cheapest options and will cost you roughly half as much as a large car or people mover over five years.|
|Something nice||The average running cost of a sports car will set you back about the same as a people mover or large car. However, the more expensive sports cars will generally have much higher running costs, so make sure the model you want is within your budget before making a decision.|
|An electric car||Electric cars far outpace regular car classes in overall running costs and may not represent value for money at this stage of development.|
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