There's truth in the old adage that "size matters" when it comes to owning a car. According to a new study by Victorian insurer and member service club, RACV, buyers on a budget may find that smaller is better.
RACV lists the Suzuki Alto and Barina Spark, along with the outgoing Hyundai Getz, as the cheapest cars to own.
Surveying 94 cars, the 2011 RACV Driving Your Dollars survey also found that despite rising prices at the bowser, the overall cost of owning and running a vehicle has fallen by 1.6 percent compared to this time last year.
The survey measures a number of factors, from fuel economy to servicing costs and vehicle loan interest rates.
“It’s important to look at the whole picture when shopping for a vehicle. The price of the car is just a piece of the puzzle," RACV's Michael Case said.
"Buyers also should know how much it costs to have the car serviced, how much it costs to fill the fuel tank, tyres, insurance, registration, interest, stamp duty, drivers’ licence, RACV membership, as well as the costs of spare parts like windscreens and batteries and we consider all these factors in compiling our survey.”
The results showed that outstanding fuel economy was no guarantee of a car's ranking in the survey, with Australia's most fuel-efficienct car - the Ford Fiesta Econetic ($153.38 per week) - bested by the Alto.
At $110.64 per week, the five-door 1.0 litre manual Alto GL topped the list, chased closely by the 1.2 litre five-door manual Barina Spark CD at $113.33 per week.
The new 1.2 litre manual five-door Nissan Micra ST rounded out the top three at $119.38, followed by the Suzuki Swift GA 1.4 litre five-door manual ($123.98) and the Hyundai i20 Active three-door 1.4 litre manual ($126.13).
The small car class proved a tightly-fought battle, with the top six models all within $5 of each other in this year's survey.
The 2.0 litre petrol automatic Hyundai i30 SX proved the most affordable small car to own and operate, at an average $157.30 per week.
Volkswagen's petrol-powered 1.2 litre Golf 77TSI was only two dollars away at $159.43, but Hyundai rounded out the top three - this time with the 2.0 litre diesel automatic i30 SX.
At the other end of the scale, the Toyota LandCruiser proved the most expensive at $387.21 per week for the 4.5 litre V8 diesel.
Mr Case said that depreciation is the "ticking time-bomb" in owning and running a car, with many buyers failing to consider its impact on their purchase - particularly the value they're left with at trade-in time.
“In the 2011 survey, depreciation accounts for an average of 39 percent and while car owners do not hand over 39 cents in every dollar they spend each week, in five years time when they are looking to trade their vehicle that’s when the depreciation costs kick in significantly,” he said.