Even with the economy and vehicle sales both improving, consumers continue to make value an important part of the ol’ purchase decision. But as shoppers soon find out, “value” can mean different things to different people, and unlike horsepower or miles per gallon, it’s not so easy to determine which vehicles offer the most. On the other hand, the experts at Vincentric—a respected provider of data and analysis to the auto industry—have been giving it their best shot for eight years now and recently released their latest findings in the 2012 Best Value in America study: Toyota earned the title of the top passenger-car brand, Chevrolet was the highest-value truck brand and Volvo was crowned the No. 1 luxury brand. (Note: Chevy’s win was for its pickup trucks; crossovers and SUVs are considered “cars” for Vincentric’s purposes.)
As expected, the study also ranked individual vehicles in nearly 40 different market niches, and while the full list of winners can be found at the end of this article, let’s just concentrate on some of the core segments here.
The Best Value in America in the mid-size sedan segment—the highest-volume car segment in the country—was the Toyota Camry, one of nine Toyota brand vehicles to lead its category. That the Camry overtook last year’s Best Value, the Honda Accord, is no real surprise given that the former was redesigned for the 2012 model year. But what’s particularly notable is that Toyota specifically adjusted pricing on the Camry lineup this year to lower the cost on the most popular trim level—i.e., to make it a better value. Looking to Vincentric’s data, the Camry also performed well in terms of fuel, maintenance and insurance costs.
The South Korean automakers led the way in the exceedingly competitive compact classes, besting rivals like the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze. The Hyundai Elantra was named the Best Value among compact sedans, while the Kia Forte Koup was atop the compact coupe ratings and the Kia Forte 5-door won in the compact hatchback class. The Hyundai Accent also out-valued all other entries in the subcompact class. Both Hyundai and Kia are well-known for their value positioning, and the companies’ performance in the Best Value in America report—they combined for a total of six class wins—will only extend that reputation further.
Looking at the high-efficiency high-value choices, there’s simply no real arguing with the Toyota Prius as the No. 1 compact hybrid, while the mid-size hybrid leader, the Camry, again benefited greatly from its 2012 redesign. As just one example of this, the Camry Hybrid’s EPA ratings jumped from 31 mpg city/35 mpg highway/33 mpg combined last year all the way up to 43/39/41 this year—that’s an increase of more than 24 percent in combined driving. Perhaps more likely to cause controversy was the decision in the Electric/Plug-in Hybrid Car category, where the Chevrolet Volt became a two-time winner even with the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid among the competition.
Winning the battle but not the war in the Full-size Pickup segment was the Ford F-150, thanks to its “best-in-class fuel economy, low insurance costs and the lowest depreciation rate in the segment.” The Chevy Silverado, however, showed the highest value among heavy-duty pickups, garnering the award for both ¾ ton and 1 ton HD trucks, and that was enough to give Chevrolet the overall truck title. Just keep in mind that Vincentric includes crossovers and SUVs on the car side of the business.
Speaking of which, the Honda CR-V was rated as the biggest value in the biggest chunk of the crossover market—Compact, Mid Level—for the sixth year running. Here, again, customers benefit from a vehicle that was thoroughly redesigned for the 2012 model year and now features much more content that costs just a little bit more money. And the CR-V’s advantage is fairly impressive—its total ownership costs were 10 percent lower than expected, while the Hyundai Santa Fe finished “a distant second” with costs that were 2 percent lower than expected.
The other mass-market crossover winners were the Hyundai Tucson (Compact, Entry Level), Toyota Highlander (Mid-size), and Mazda CX-9 (Large). And lest we forget the minivans, it was the Toyota Sienna edging out the Honda Odyssey in this segment, on the strength of lower insurance and depreciation costs.
The Vincentric Best Value in America awards are based on cost of ownership as defined using eight separate factors—depreciation, fees & taxes, financing, fuel, insurance, maintenance, opportunity cost, and repairs—and some fancy statistical modeling.
The complete list of winners:
Passenger Car Brand—Toyota
Compact, Coupe—Kia Forte Koup
Compact, Hatchback—Kia Forte 5-door
Compact, Sedan—Hyundai Elantra
Compact, Premium—Lexus IS350
Compact, Hybrid—Toyota Prius
Electric/Plug-in Hybrid Car—Chevrolet Volt
Mid-size, Coupe—Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Mid-size, Coupe, Premium—Mercedes-Benz CLS Class
Mid-size, Sedan—Toyota Camry
Mid-size, Sedan, Hybrid—Toyota Camry Hybrid
Mid-size, Sedan, Premium—Volvo S80
Mid-size, Sedan, Premium, Hybrid—Lexus HS 250h
Large, Premium—BMW X6
Convertible, Premium—Volvo C70
Sports Car—Porsche Cayman
Wagon, Premium—Volvo XC70
Crossover, Compact, Entry Level—Hyundai Tucson
Crossover, Compact, Mid Level—Honda CR-V
Crossover, Compact, Premium—Volvo XC60
Crossover, Mid-size—Toyota Highlander
Crossover, Mid-size, Premium—Volvo XC90
Crossover, Hybrid—Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Crossover, Large—Mazda CX-9
Crossover, Large, Premium—Buick Enclave
SUV, Compact—Jeep Wrangler
SUV, Mid-size—Toyota 4Runner
SUV, Large—Chevrolet Tahoe
SUV, Premium—Infiniti QX56
Compact Pickup—Toyota Tacoma
Full-size Pickup, ½ Ton—Ford F-150
Full-size Pickup, Heavy Duty ¾ Ton—Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD
Full-size Pickup, Heavy Duty 1 Ton—Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD