Gas, Hybrid, Diesel, Electric: What Do They Cost Over 5 Yrs?

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2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco Quick Drive and Live Photos

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco Quick Drive and Live Photos

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So you're in the market for a new car. Fantastic.

You've done the research--looking at list prices, EPA fuel ratings, and all manner of other factors--and you know you want something fuel-efficient and easy on the environment.

But what will that car really cost over, say, five years of ownership?

We've done the math for you on five different types of cars, all of them significant models in the market.

For an efficient gasoline vehicle, we chose the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco compact sedan. Regular hybrids, of course, have to be measured by the 2012 Toyota Prius liftback.

The Volkswagen Jetta TDI flies the flag for diesel,  the 2012 Chevy Volt takes care of plug-in hybrids and range-extended electric vehicles, and electric cars are represented by the 2012 Nissan Leaf.

First, some ground rules

All cars here are bound by the same rules, for consistency.

All base figures have been taken from the website today, which not only means they're based on the same measurements EPA tests are done with, but that you can head to the website to compare other vehicles on the same scale.

Fuel prices are $3.79 for gas, $4.04 for premium, $4.09 for diesel, and a U.S. average rate of $0.12 per kilowatt-hour of electricity. The site assumes 15,000 miles driven per year, with a 45 percent highway, 55 percent city split.

One important thing to note: We can't predict the future. Gas prices are expected to climb over the next five years. The more fuel-efficient a car is, the less it will cost you in the future if that happens. For comparison (and our own sanity) we'll freeze gas prices for the next five years.

Make sense? Great! Let's get started.

1. 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco - 28 city / 42 highway / 33 combined (MPG)
Price $19,325 - Gasoline $8,500 over 5 years - TOTAL $27,825

Should you go for a regular, efficient gasoline engine? That's a tough call. It's certainly cheaper overall than any other option here - an MSRP of $19,325, with cheaper fuel costs than the Jetta. You may save even more, as owners are averaging 38.6 MPG, so five-year fuel bills could be as low as $7,364.

Gasoline engines are typically cleaner than diesels, but the Cruze Eco hits the same 6/10 as the Jetta TDI for the California smog score. CO2 emissions are lower though, and you'll use six fewer barrels of oil. These figures all apply to the more efficient, manual-transmission Cruze Eco.

2. 2012 Toyota Prius - 51 city / 48 highway / 50 combined (MPG)
$23,015 - Gasoline $5,750 over 5 years - TOTAL $28,765

2012 Toyota Prius

2012 Toyota Prius

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And so, to the old favorite. The Prius is the default green car, and it's still one of the cleanest vehicles on the road. That's borne out by the 9/10 California smog rating, and emissions of only 14.5 tons of CO2 over five years.

Owners are beating the 50 MPG combined rating too, getting 51 MPG on average. That lowers the five-year fuel cost from $5,750 to $5,573. And with economy that good, it'll prove cheaper than a Jetta TDI to run over five years, and almost as inexpensive as the cheap-to-buy Cruze.

3. 2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI - 30 city / 42 highway / 34 combined (MPG)
Price $22,775 - Diesel $9,000 over 5 years - TOTAL $31,775

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

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We've discussed before here that the Jetta's EPA ratings might be a little pessimistic, and judging by owners' reports, that's certainly the case.

Based on the official EPA figures, you'd spend $9,000 over five years on diesel. Taking owners' average MPG of 44.9, you'd spend only $6,832 - certainly a difference worth taking into account.

Add the $22,775 purchase price and your total, five-year bill is between $29,607 and $31,775.

Environmentally? Diesel has come a long way, but the Jetta still only scores an EPA rating of 6/10 for smog. You'll get through 56 barrels of oil in five years, and puff out 25 tons of CO2, with a further 6.5 tons of upstream greenhouse gases.

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Comments (73)
  1. Excellent piece and thanks for including smog, and CO2 and barrels of oil as well as pricing in your consideration.

    The first thing that strikes me is 25 Tons of carbon for the Diesel versus 14.5 tons for the Prius, along with the much better smog rating for the Prius. It really shows how much cleaner Prius really is... Unless you are considering the LEAF or the Volt :)

    The other thing that strikes me is that if you factor in the $7500 rebate, the LEAF is really not more expensive than the other offerings. Add to that the environmental benefits, the energy security benefits, and the smooth flow of torque to the wheels and you may have a winner.

  2. Very nice comparison. And I'm glad you didn't automatically throw the EV incentives in since quite a few people can't realistically take advantage of them anyway.

  3. Since you did not give the Leaf an honest rating, ie - it does not use any gas or oil or produce pollution, and in 5 years solar panels will off set charging bills; the 2013 Leaf will be much lower in price; the Leaf will be the best buy, and especially the best buy above the Volt. All around, the will be the best buy.

  4. Yes, once every buyer drops $30K on the solar panels to get fuel offset, the LEAF looks like a good deal... Truly honest and fair :-)

  5. But what about the batteries? Long term cost is the unknown.

  6. One more thing: a barrel of oil is 200 gallons. How the hell is the Leaf going to use 200 gallons of oil in a year; that's almost a half gallon or more a day?

  7. That comment did not come out right. Maybe I shouldn't type so fast. I didn't mean that the Leaf uses 200 gallons a year. I meant that the Leaf would save 200 gallons of oil in five years. The way the Volt, since everyone compares the Volt to the Leaf, uses gas and oil, the Leaf would save much much more oil than that in five years, and that would make the Leaf the number one best purchase.

  8. A (US) barrel of oil is 42 gallons, not 200 gallons.

  9. Hate to be such a nerd (actually I love to be such a nerd) but can you attach a link to your math on each vehicle? I would love to see how you came to your numbers. A Google spreadsheet would be great.

  10. Thanks for your comment Dallas. The math wasn't too difficult, just time-consuming! As mentioned in the first few paragraphs, all the figures were taken from today's numbers on the website, and most of them are then simply multiplied by 5 to get the five-year figures (with the caveats about fuel prices etc explained above). Likewise, the owners' averages highlighted in the piece are freely available on the same site. Hope that helps!

  11. Did you factor anything in for resale value? The Prius is going to have a far better resale value than the Cruise for example.

  12. Guess I'll have to refigure costs based on the current gas prices in and around Orlando, FL today. The 5 closest stations to my home posted 5.89, 4.79, 4.59, 4.58, 4.56. The 5.89 was the station closest to the rental car areas near the airport. Talk about rip offs!

  13. Those are some high prices, David! Luckily the website is fairly easy to use, and lets you work out costs based on fuel costs near you (click on the "personalize" link at the bottom of each vehicle on the site).

    For simplicity, I just used the site's default figures on the day the article was written.

  14. This is an incomplete and wrong analysis. First, the majority of households who buy brand new cars can utilize the the $7,500 tax credit. Your article failed to mention sales the state of WA, electric vehicles are exempt from sales tax giving the LEAF another ~$2,500 advantages vs your other alternatives. Other states offer different incentives for electric vehicles. The other major item missed in a true cost of ownership evaluation is the maintenance costs. Over your 5 year window, a gas/diesel car will require two major services, smog checks, brake work, etc. The LEAF will require none of those...the average projected difference in maintenance costs would be ~$2000. For the state of WA, the LEAF comes out on top.

  15. Every state is different and, no, most households (with kids and mortgage) will not be able to fully utilize the 7.5K credit. Half of us don't even pay any tax. Down with Obama and his no taxes policy :-)

  16. Nonsensical reply. The half "not paying tax" aren't in the market for any new vehicles.

    Tax credits come straight off what is owed, which includes Federal tax already withheld. If you make more than $70K a year household, in almost all cases you will benefit fully from the Federal tax credit.

    So you're in favor of raising taxes for everyone? I thought the Obama-opponents want taxes cut even more, in hopes of drowning the government in the bathtub.

  17. I never qualified for the $2500 that the government promised me on the Prius that I purchased. I was only able to get $800.

    However, some more recent "what-if" calculations in Turbo-Tax suggest that I would get the $7500 for an EV.

    I wish this was a simpler, more certain, system.

  18. A simpler system would certainly make my own job easier, John!

  19. I make a lot more than $70K but with three kids and a decent house I don't have more than a couple K left in my tax liability. Please check your bottom line: 3-5% bottom line for the middle class is pretty much common. My state taxes usually end up being a lot higher but I also have to spread GA's EV incentive over 2 years. We have the lowest taxes in history and the largest deficit. Do we need to revert to higher taxes (maybe not as high as during Reagan but maybe Bush Jr)? You tell me. You must have misunderstood me - Obama is obviously hardly liberal but I still love him.

  20. In addition to James' additions...don't forget resale value! The whole reason people figure 5-year costs is that's when they usually sell and get something else. The analysis is incomplete without that, as it doesn't tell you where you'll be financially from your decision, which was the whole point of the exercise.

  21. Fair point, but how to do that? Will the LEAF be obsolete and unvalued in 5 years after better models come out, or will it continue to shine almost like new as the Prius has done some years. Hard to know.

  22. Quite - as with gas prices, that one is near-impossible to predict, so it was left out of the reckoning.

  23. Anyone who wants to sell their obsolete LEAF in 5 years, just let me know...

  24. James - Thanks for your comment, though I'd not go as far as saying the article is "incomplete and wrong". If you can find any specifics that are incorrect I'll correct them, but since the things you mention - the tax rebate, the low maintenance costs - were mentioned a few times in the article already, I don't see how I'd need to change it.

    We appreciate that our readers are intelligent enough to realise that there are other costs involved with owning a car, even if they're not listed in the article above. Just as with insurance, there's little use trying to include specific costs for servicing, state-variable sales taxes and more because they vary for pretty much everyone.

  25. There are more comments in this thread
  26. A superbly created article. Pat yourself on the back for this one.
    I'd love it if the Leaf was in 1st place, but the high purchase price sets it off. I expect within 5 years however, the Leaf will be at the top, due to rising fuel costs, and lowering battery costs.

  27. Thanks for the kind words Gavin. And I suspect you're right - given a few years and a few thousand dollars off the price of a Leaf (and given a further rise in gas prices), it may quickly find itself at the top of such a list.

  28. Generally,I can't agree with the logic. Claiming a car is cheaper because someone else is footing $7500 of the cost is not valid, even though it may be cheaper for the government subsidized buyer. I would also select a gas powered comparison vehicle that represents value and is at least the equal (actually
    is a better vehicle) than either the Volt or Leaf - the Hyuandai Elantra, at around $14K (which also seats 5, has better performance and gets better gas mileage than the Volt : 40MPG HWY). The other mistake here is failing to take account of the big expense just around the corner at the five year mark : new battery packs for the Volt and Leaf, which will likely nearly equal the purchase price of the Hyuandai. Don't forget charger costs.

  29. Kent, you have some good points there (like the charger). However, the battery has an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty so perhaps we should set that concern aside.

  30. Thanks for the comments Kent. You'll note I've not included the cost of subsidies in the line of information below each car listed as it doesn't apply to everyone, but it's only fair to mention it in the text for the cars as some people *are* eligible. You'll note above I've had comments complaining that I *didn't* include it! You can't please everyone, it seems...

    With regards the Elantra, it wasn't included because the Cruze was - the aim of the exercise was to choose gasoline, diesel, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and EV - and since the Cruze's low purchase price enabled it to top the list anyway, there wouldn't have been much gain for the Elantra.


  31. (...cont from above)

    I'd also not say "failing to take account of the big expense just around the corner" was a "mistake" either, since I did actually mention the Leaf's battery - and although brief ("Battery life is a relative unknown"), it's once again another instance of expecting our readers are educated enough to take these factors into account should they actually be in the market for one of these cars.

    Nowhere does the article claim to be definitive - it's simply a very basic cost analysis that gives people an idea on the relative merits of cars, based on easily comparable factors. Arbitrary and unknown expenses aren't easily comparable.

  32. There are more comments in this thread
  33. The VOLT numbers are a worst of both worlds presentation. You're assuming it will use maximum electricity plus gas for every mile driven on top of it. That's nonsense. I know you only added the electricity in, but readers are going to see those two numbers and assume the worst, coming up with a hypothetical total cost of over $50K.

    If you can get time-of-use metering from your utility, you can save on LEAF charging costs by shifting EV charging to very low use times like 1 am, bringing down the charging costs.

    Burying LEAF's low maintenance costs in text with no numbers for other vehicles is really deceptive.

    The tax credit and state incentives should be mentioned with numbers, not text. CA residents get a $2500 check.

  34. I, for one, vote for leaving the $7500 credit out of the calculation. As for the state incentives, he would have needed to create an interactive spreadsheet.

  35. Thanks for your comment Maddi.

    The idea of making each section brief is to encourage each reader to read the small paragraphs, rather than make snap judgements based on the numbers they see in each heading. Anyone reading the Volt section will see that I clearly point out the MPG figure actual Volt owners are currently getting, and that it's higher than either EPA figure.

    You'll appreciate that given the near-infinite potential mix of electricity and gasoline that Volt owners will use, it's incredibly difficult to come up with a solid, usable energy cost figure for the car - which is why I only listed the EV-only and gasoline-only figures.

  36. The financial analysis is flawed for a number of reasons. First, it is based upon full purchase price, rather than depreciation. Second, there is nothing for financing or opportunity costs. Third, there is no consideration for maintenance and repair costs. Finally, the cost of insurance is excluded, which can vary significantly. Take a look at Edmund's TCO calculations for an example of a far more complete, and realistic analysis.

  37. Just ran these through Edmunds TCO calculator. For Stamford, CT, the order (ascending TCO) is Prius, Cruze, Leaf, Jetta, Volt. For Minot, ND, the order is Prius, Leaf, Cruze, Jetta, Volt. FWIW, I'm not convinced an all-electric car makes sense in a place like North Dakota - what is your realistic range when battery power is being used to keep you warm at -10 deg. F?

  38. Is that analysis with or without $7500 tax credit.

  39. But ignore Kelley Blue Book's numbers, which used a ridiculously high insurance price for the LEAF, based on a quote from Progressive only. Most insurers are pricing EV insurance at similar rates to ICE cars based on purchase price.

  40. Strange because my quotes (including my current LEAF coverage) have always been lowest with Progressive...

  41. I drive a 2010 Prius 3 and in non ac weather my around town suburban mileage approaches 60mpg. Summer driving (live in Phx.) nets me 52 to 54mpg. Highway driving nets me typically 55to 57 mpg unless there is a headwind etc. I drive no faster than 70 on the freeway and in suburban driving I make an effort to time the lights or coast if I am stopping.

  42. Unfortunately most consumers don't plan 5 years ahead. Secondly, if your buying a car over $25,000 performance and driving lifestyle are probably more important factors. A BMW cost more then a Honda upfront and long term, yet people still choose the BMW. I'm hoping that BMW will push the sports factor of EV's because I think this will show people that electric cars can be a blast to drive!

  43. What about depreciation and maintenance? Our 8-year-old Prius was still worth over $10k, the last time I checked. It's also gotten here entirely on scheduled maintenance.

  44. At this point I'd go for the Cruze. Aas the lowest priced vehicle it has a quiet, smooth ride, 10 airbags, is roomy and nicely appointed inside, can be worked on in just about any garage in the world, has little range anxiety, and has a 100,000 power train warrantee. This car is a hit worldwide for GM, with over a million sales so far. I could also wait a bit for the Volt drive version that could appear next year. Besides, I have a $2,500. rebate built up on my GM card that'll bring the price down significantly.

  45. For what it is worth, Prius c
    $25,250 = $19,500 +5*$1150
    would be the winner by a significant margin.
    Of course, the car is smaller.

  46. unfreeze the price of gas and i bet it would be pretty obvious which one can win. the Volt is also a tough cookie. i know a guy who got one back in Nov and is still on his original tank of gas from the dealership. other than the bare minimum, he never burns gas and his one way commute is just under 20 miles but he plugs in downtown Olympia every day

  47. I was looking at new cars and found the Honda Insight to be a better deal than the Prius. 18,350 and 42mpg 1,350*5= 6,750 + 18,350= 25,100 and it's nearly identical dimensions to the Prius. Of course GCR must have something against Honda because I've never seen anything on the 2012 Insight, only 2011, yet Prius updates are nearly real time. Oh yeah and the Insight looks better than the cookie cutter green machine.

  48. @Keith: We reported on the 2012 Insight when it was launched last fall in Europe:
    and then when it was announced for the States the next month:

    Please note also that the Insight is a subcompact, based on interior volume, while the Prius liftback is a mid-size car. Make sure you have enough space for people & cargo!

    GCR covers both cars when there is news. Note also that Honda sold only about 20,000 Insights a year in 2010 and 2011, while Toyota sold roughly 10 times that number of Priuses.

  49. Thanks for the link John, Ill have to check it out. I did see in a previous story about the difference in class (subcompact/midsize) but to be honest I think they're playing semantics. The dimensions listed for the Prius and Insight are basically identical, with maybe .5 inch differences in leg room etc., with the advantage going sometimes to the Prius and sometimes to the Insight. BTW I'm a fairly new subscriber to GCR, (basically when I started looking for a new car)and I do enjoy the stories and they are informative.

  50. Keith, if there is a Honda and Toyota dealers in your area, go drive both. My sister-in-law went through this process and all I can tell you is she ended up with a Honda Fit. Honda makes great cars, but not sure the Insight is one of them.

    FYI, when the engine turns off in the Insight, so does the AC. Not good.

  51. The MPG for Insight sucks (at least on paper), so that might have been the reason.

  52. 42mpg-50mpg yes the Prius obviously has the advantage, but there's a $5,000 difference on base models. Besides I wouldn't say 42mpg sucks.

  53. Please, go drive each of them.

  54. Will do. I'm not necessarily looking for a hybrid, just something a little more fuel efficient so I can relegate my Cobra to weekend duty. So personally if I can get 40mpg, that's great and it'll come down to aesthetics, and styles like the Fit and Yaris don't cut it. Even the Prius, although it's the king of the hybrids, I don't like the looks, but all of that's just IMO. I'll keep you updated on my adventures and decision.

  55. Crude is expected to rise and a more accurate av gas price should be $4.50 for gas and $5 for diesel. An appetite for expensive Canadian tar sands and continued instability in the Middle East will mean more expensive (and more heavily polluting) oil. Here in beautiful BC, we're already paying over $5.20/G equiv. or $1.35/L at the pumps for reg gas. Big Oil in Alberta seem determined to get their way with help from high levels of gov't, lobbies and rhetoric from both sides of the border. Any conventional vehicle puts smiles on their faces. That's the bad news. The good news is we have cheap, renewable power (almost 95% hydro) at ¢.62/kWh compared to US av ¢.12/kWh. Even with our lower $5000 rebate, EVs are looking VERY attractive up here.

  56. When evaluating electric cars, I find the statement that they produce "zero greenhouse emissions" somewhat baffling. Unless you're hooked up to your own solar PV array, or your areas electric is completely from a hydro plant, don't we need to count the emissions from the generating plant? How can one claim to be emissions free if the energy is coming from a fossil fuel plant? - Emissions were produced in the process of generating the electricity.

  57. Fair point, but let me also add, Hydro and Nuclear to the discussion.

    The thing about electric cars is that splits up the problem. EVs make the cars clean, in parallel, we need to clean up the power plants.

  58. Thanks for your comment Chris. What you're describing is the "long tailpipe" argument, and it's a perfectly valid concern. However, for fairness, if we're to consider the cost of producing the energy that the EVs use, then we must also consider the cost of finding, and producing the gasoline - and it quickly starts getting out of hand!

    It's why we often use the term "zero tailpipe emissions" for EVs, as the cars themselves produce no emissions as they're going down the road.

  59. @Chris: It's a valid point. The entire "wells-to-wheels" carbon emissions of driving on gasoline and on grid power were extensively modeled in the 2007 study jointly published by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

    It concludes that factoring in all carbon emissions from extraction, refining, and transportation of gasoline and the energy used to produce electricity, driving 1 mile on grid power is always cleaner than the same mile in a 25-mpg car--even using electricity from the dirtiest grids in the country (which I believe are ND and WV). Read the executive summaries of the study (available online); it's a good piece of work.

  60. There are more comments in this thread
  61. C$.62 or C$.062/kWh?

  62. Thanks for catching that: $.062

    In addition, the Pembina Institute did a study outlining the benefits of EVs in BC specifically re GHG emissions vs cost. Download "Powering the Future": Factsheet pdf here:

  63. What happened to the Honda Civic natural gas version? It would beat them all, even though the CNG conversion is overpriced IMHO. If you filled up at home you would get the best price. The CNG price is as low as $1.25 in some parts of the country, at stations, but double that in some others. Just because they can get away with it.

  64. One way to take one of the biggest "what if" variables is to simply price out a lease for 5 years. No trade in value to consider as the residual value is factored into the lease.

  65. Where is the Mitsubishi "I"?

  66. To keep the comparison short we only compared one of each of the main fuel types - with the Leaf included, the i was redundant.

  67. EV's really have a lot to offer for the enviroment since they will produce the very least amount of CO2 per mile driven and we can not always assume that fossil fuel prices will remain consistant. Ev's can be charged at home with Solar Electric panals and over the long run that will prove to be very economical especially if gasoline prices spike like many say will happen if we hit peak oil where demand will always exceed supply. This will happen once China and India economy gets going because they will dramatically increase the amount of fossil fuels burned. Don't believe me the population of the USA is only 5% of the worlds population and we use 25% of the worlds oil. If China does that we will be in big trouble since there isn't enough oi

  68. Somehow the issue of strip mining for the rare earth metals required for electric motors never gets factored into these articles/discussions. The issue of clean air is secondary to the strip mining. Modern emissions equipment can take care of all dangerous emissions, but what are the Chinese doing to clean up the mess caused by strip-mining for rare earth metals (required metals for electric motors used in automobiles)? Electric/hybrid cars are filthy and toxic if one were to factor in the pollution required to make them. Sorry...this was off topic, but people should be made aware of this unavoidable issue when they are making choices.

  69. @Randall: If you keep cutting & pasting versions of this same diatribe into multiple posts, I'm going to have to start moderating your comments--which I don't want to do.

    I rather suspect that the millions of people with cardiopulmonary health issues derived from particulate matter in the air they breathe (see the public health data) might disagree that "clean air is secondary to...strip mining."

    Where does your single-minded passion on this issue come from, may I ask?

  70. Cleaning up the exhaust of modern automobiles is a textbook example of the Law of Diminishing Returns (hyper expensive and achieve very little). Exhaust pollution is created almost completely by old automobiles. I feel that it is necessary to point out the BS of hybrids being "clean" and post the little known fact that they are polluting. My VW Golf TDI is legal to be sold in California. That is as clean as it needs to be. And it DOESN'T create toxic waste like hybrids do. The metals used in hybrid motors are used in electronics, turbines, and aircrafts. They can't run without them. Cars have been running for over 100 years without electric motors. Instead of removing my posts, why don't you refute my comments and points.

  71. ...or just ignore my posts. I am not hurling insults at anyone or using bad language. That's what normally gets comments booted off. Single minded passion is what incites one to boot non-offensive comments off simply because one disagrees.

  72. It appears to be a simple matter of taste, since there isn't much difference, costwise.

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