The pain at the pump may be easing a little, as the nationwide average hovered at about $3.87 per gallon this week. But that's still $1 more than a year ago, and for users of premium gas, the price still tops $4 a gallon. This is but one of several factors that have made luxury and high-end performance cars among the most expensive to own.
In fact, the cost of driving can be staggering if you add in the costs of depreciation, sales tax and registration fees, auto insurance, maintenance and repairs over a five-year period. In some cases, the cost of driving the vehicle is double the amount the owner likely paid for it.
Especially noteworthy is the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG luxury sedan, the car that tops our list as the most expensive car to drive. It costs $194,000 to purchase, but the five-year cost of ownership is $252,209. The car uses premium gas, and with its combined estimated EPA rating of 13 mpg, it uses a lot of it--about $27,286 worth in a five-year period, assuming annual mileage of 15,000 miles. What hits hardest, however, is the depreciation, running 48.6% of the total cost of ownership.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the norm. A 2007 study by Consumer Reports says that depreciation is the largest cost factor, accounting for 48% of total ownership cost on average for all cars.
Fuel is the second-highest cost factor, soaking up 21% of the ownership costs.
"Fuel is on everyone's mind," says Christie Hyde, a spokeswoman for AAA, the consumer motorist auto club. Big cars, SUVs and trucks are low on the shopping list for some buyers, while "fuel-efficient cars are hot commodities today," she says, and that is severely affecting depreciation values for vehicles with tanks that are costly to fill.
Behind The Numbers
To identify the 10 most expensive cars to drive, we used data provided by Vincentric, a firm that tracks vehicle life expenses for automakers. It evaluates depreciation, interest and opportunity costs, fuel, maintenance and repairs, insurance, taxes and fees over a five-year period to calculate the cost of ownership. We then divided the market into 10 vehicle classes to find the 2008 models in each that were the most expensive to own.
Looking at the top of the list might make you think twice about buying a Mercedes, as four of the top five most expensive cars to drive come from the German automaker. Behind the S65 AMG are the Mercedes-Benz SL65 sports car, with a $231,827 total ownership cost; at No. 3 is the Mercedes-Benz SL600 convertible with its $181,317 total cost; and at No. 4 is the Mercedes-Benz G55 sport utility vehicle with its $159,801 cost. Joining them in the top five is the Lexus LS600 Hybrid.
The Lexus, which runs alternately on premium gas and an electric battery, racks up the fuel costs despite being a hybrid. The higher cost of premium gas ($4.15 nationwide, on average) combined with the car's high-powered engine keeps the car to an EPA estimated 21 mpg. The price of the car is $104,900, but fuel costs comprise 24% ($17,111) of the total cost of ownership, bumping the five-year total up to $143,355.
Similar Costs, Myriad Reasons
Down the rest of the list, the most expensive cars to drive claim their spots for different reasons.
The Audi RS4 upscale sedan lands a spot on the list--No. 6, at $117,674--in part because of its high-performance V8 engine, which will rack up $23,125 in fuel costs over five years. But this sporty, niche sedan also has the highest maintenance and repair costs of all the vehicles on our list, with $6,164 of expenses on average.
If you think a small car equipped with high-tech and high-performance features, like the Subaru Impreza WRX, might be a better deal, think again. The car costs just $28,450 to buy, but will depreciate by an astounding 75% in five years, the worst depreciation rate of any car on our list. The $72,705 five-year cost of ownership is 2.5 times greater than the purchase price.
Life may be full of surprises, but shelling out double or more over five years than what you paid for a car doesn't have to be one of them. Spending a little time researching fuel, repair costs and depreciation can save a fortune in the long run.
If you have your heart set on one of these cars, though, a lease might be the best option.
"[Lesees] aren't really feeling the pain of owning one of these vehicles over five years," says David Wurster, president of Vincentric. Those "who can afford to buy these vehicles are shopping around to find the best deal in that segment. But they know it is going to cost a lot to own and operate these vehicles."
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