Currently reading: Comparison: the best depreciation-busting cars
Cars that retain their value add up financially, but will they also appeal to the driver in you? Matt Saunders lines up four depreciation-led duels to see where the smart money goes
Matt Saunders Autocar
News
13 mins read
16 December 2014

Let’s hope the mandarins at the Treasury aren’t reading this. There’s absolutely no desire at Autocar to put the mockers on the current slow descent of fuel prices or to encourage even higher carbon taxes.

But the truth is that neither of them matters half as much as the financial opponent that has stalked the motorist for as long as anyone cares to remember: the dark lord depreciation.

Depreciation remains the biggest single expense that most drivers have to bear. These days, if you get more than half of the original value of your new car offered at trade-in time after a typical ownership stint of three years and 30-odd-thousand miles, you’ve had a result.

If you’re not careful, you’ll get more like 35 per cent of it. If you’re a private owner, that’s your cross to bear. For others, it’s the biggest single determinant of their monthly contract hire payment.

Quite how nearly three-quarters of the value of a Jeep Cherokee or an MG 6 can disappear by the time the car is only a quarter of the way through its operating lifespan defies reasonable explanation. But according to the people who supply the residual value forecasts that you read in the Autocar road test every week, it can.

The big con perpetrated in every showroom in the country is that, in advertising the list price of a new car instead of the projected cost of ownership, car makers are doing so many of us a disservice.

In order to buy smart, it often pays to spend more up front – and sometimes to consider the kinds of cars that we don’t routinely recommend so highly in our road test top five charts.

In some cases, as you’re about to read, the cars that pay you back simply don’t do enough to clinch the deal. But there are always jewels to unearth – cars as pleasing to drive and use as they are easy on the wallet. And we’re about to sift a few out into the light, as well as bury a few misapprehensions.

Where we get our depreciation information

The residual value numbers in this feature, our long-term test reports and our road test every week are supplied by CDL Vehicle Information Services, the UK’s top provider of quick-reference vehicle insurance and financial data. 

If you’ve ever used MyCarCheck or MyTextCheck to look up the value of a used car before making an offer, you’ve tapped into the same database. The company sells its numbers to the likes of Comparethemarket, Halfords, Swiftcover and Tesco Bank.

CDL’s automated valuation system, VIP DATA, is influenced by real used car sales transactions, provides a million used car valuations per month and is managed and moderated by valuation experts.

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Executive GT - Porsche Panamera diesel versus Mercedes-Benz CLS350 Bluetec

You might have been looking at a Porsche Macan recently. Should be, strictly – since Weissach’s performance SUV is about the most wanted new car of 2014.

Picking an in-demand model from a blue-chip brand is a sure-fire way to avoid depreciation. However, we’ve already written that about that car a few times this year – and between you and me, you’re going to read about the Macan once or twice more before the year is out. Retained value somehow seems the least remarkable thing about it.

And the Macan is not the only Porsche on the block at the moment that’ll give relative reward to an intelligent investor. Big saloons aren’t normally great at paying their first owners back, but buy a Panamera Diesel today and it’ll be worth a greater proportion of its original price in three years than a seven-speed manual 911 Carrera S.

An equivalent Mercedes-Benz CLS four-door, also facelifted this year, will pay you back eight per cent less. So although the Porsche is £12,000 dearer out of the showroom, owning one for three years actually costs you only £2000 more.

We’ve ranked the current Panamera and CLS pretty closely since their market launches half a decade ago, both as solid four-star bets. But in light of that market reality – plus some illuminating back-to-back driving – you can’t deny the Porsche’s dynamic superiority.

On cabin space, material quality and ambient richness, the pair are very evenly matched. Headroom and legroom in the back seats are almost identical – enough for two adults, but no middle space for a third. 

The Mercedes’ cockpit has a flavour of old-world luxury about it. The Porsche’s is less ornate, more modern and functional, but no less chubbily upholstered or solid to the touch. Both are deeply pleasant places in which to while away a long journey.

The Merc is the easier-going, more laid-back saloon to drive, with lighter control weights, gentler pedal responses and a quieter ride. But that ride – on standard steel springs and selective dampers, at least – could be more comfortable.

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There’s a slight abruptness to the vertical body control that’s just sharp enough to jostle you in your seat at times. The car doesn’t have an impervious low-speed ride, either.

At higher speeds the CLS does a creditable job of gliding along while giving you enough feedback and performance to maintain your interest. But the Panamera strikes that balance better.

Although the Porsche rides more firmly, its better damping actually makes the ride the more comfortable while at the same time keeping its body movement better in check. We had a mismatched pair of test cars for this exercise, the CLS on its standard steel springs, the Porsche on optional height-adjustable air suspension. 

There’s more road noise in the Panamera, which you often get as a result of pneumatic spheres, but not a lot. The Porsche’s steering, meanwhile, is much heavier than the CLS’s, but more incisive and much more feelsome, and the Panamera corners flatter than the Benz, develops more grip and has the better cornering balance.

Then there is the Porsche’s powertrain, which beats that of its rival in every important way on the road save one. This year’s revision to the Panamera gave it the strong twin-turbocharged diesel engine that the original so clearly lacked. You can feel the difference between these two cars on outright in-gear acceleration, but the Porsche’s powertrain is the more refined and responsive as well as the more potent.

The CLS effortlessly returns 40mpg, whereas the Panamera does only 37mpg. Frankly, it would be a small price to pay.

The Porsche’s big vulnerability remains obvious: it’s an awkward-looking car – plain ugly from some angles – and the Diesel doesn’t have the oversized rims, extended sills or spoilers to disguise its clumsiness. Although the CLS is not half as pretty as Merc’s original, it has the contest sewn up on that front. 

But not overall. If you’re looking for a smart luxury saloon that’s as rewarding to drive as it will be at resale time, look no further than the Panamera Diesel. Keep it for four years rather than three and it’ll even start to put money back into your pocket relative to the CLS – as well as just about every other rival exec that we could mention. 

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Porsche Panamera Diesel

Price £65,634; 0-62mph 6.0sec; Top speed 161mph; Economy 44.1mpg; CO2 169g/km; Kerb weight 1975kg; Engine V6, 2967cc, twin-turbo, diesel; Power 297bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 479lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 8-speed automatic

Mercedes-Benz CLS350 AMG Line Premium Plus

Price £53,545; 0-62mph 6.5sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 52.3mpg; CO2 142g/km; Kerb weight 1845kg; Engine V6, 2987cc, turbodiesel; Power 255bhp at 3600rpm; Torque 457lb ft at 1600rpm; Gearbox 9-speed automatic

Compact crossover - Dacia Duster versus Nissan Juke

Some 30,000 Britons a year are buying the Nissan Juke at the moment. Can so many people be wrong? Not, perhaps, if they’re getting everything that they want in this off-the-wall supermini-cum-SUV.

Very few Juke buyers are likely to expect much added practicality from their new car. What they expect, it strikes me, is something fresh and different. If you fancy a Juke, you’ll have one – simple as that.

But would you still fancy one if I parked a handsome enough alternative next to it that had a more practical cabin, comparable performance and economy and three and a half grand in the glovebox?

That, in a nutshell, is what the Dacia Duster offers. Yes, it’s cheap to buy. More important, it’s cheap to own. And although it’s basic, it’s easily good enough to hold its own next to even the pricier high-rise hatchbacks.

Dacia’s sales philosophy is behind the car’s rock-solid residuals. As a rule, heavier-depreciating cars are sold with big discounts. The worse the depreciation gets with every passing model generation, the bigger the discount needs to be to seal the deal – and so the spiral deepens.

Dacia doesn’t do discounts or dealer stock or ‘September special’ clear-outs. Which is why, three years after you bought it new, a Duster can cost you as little as £4000 in depreciation. I reckon you wipe more off the value of a BMW X5 the instant you sign the registration documents.

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Value motoring of that order doesn’t come with heated seats, DAB radio or inductive charging for your smartphone. It doesn’t need to. It can afford to impose a little bit of austerity – and the Duster unashamedly does. The car has manual door locks, a heater but no air conditioning and a fixed steering column, while you have to pay extra for a radio.

It’s a considerably less mechanically refined car than the Juke, as well as more sparsely equipped, which means that the engine is not only noisier but also coarser at times and considerably less civilised on the motorway.

Having said all of that, I much prefer the way the Duster rides and steers to the slightly stiff-legged, over-dramatised manners of the Nissan. The Juke is on a mission to convince you that it’s fun. There’s turbo flutter from the 1.2-litre engine, a boost gauge, a Sport mode that adds weight to the steering wheel and sharpness to the accelerator and, all the time, upright body control and a nagging firmness to the ride.

The Duster counters with a softer, simpler, broader-batted chassis tune, honest and natural steering feel and a bit less (but no great shortness of) directional responsiveness and outright grip.

You could go on a family holiday in the Duster, such is the volume of the cabin. By stark contrast, a full-size adult can’t even sit in the back of the Juke without grazing his or her head on the rooflining. Plenty of normal superminis offer more space than the Nissan, although not the more convenient ride height, I grant.

None of which will matter much to someone who just fancies a Juke, which is itself a pretty tidy act on retained value. Personally, I’d take the usability, comfier handling manners and the money in the glovebox. But I’d spend a bit of it on a radio. You need one on longer journeys to drown out the engine whine.

Dacia Duster 1.6 Access

Price £9495; 0-62mph 11.5sec; Top speed 104mph; Economy 39.8mpg; CO2 165g/km; Kerb weight 1160kg; Engine 4 cylinders, 1598cc, petrol; Power 104bhp at 5750rpm; Torque 109lb ft at 3750rpm; Gearbox 5-speed manual

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Nissan Juke 1.2 DIG-T Acenta

Price £15,320; 0-62mph 10.8sec; Top speed 111mph; Economy 50.4mpg; CO2 129g/km; Kerb weight 1236kg; Engine 4 cylinders, 1197cc, turbo, petrol; Power 113bhp at 4500rpm; Torque 140lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual

Driver's car - Mini Paceman Cooper S versus Toyota GT86 Giallo Edition

They shouldn’t fit self-levelling headlamps to cars like the Mini Paceman. Drive one in the dark on an unlit road with the dipped beams on and you’ll soon understand why.

The Paceman has a problem with body pitch. It’s not the worst-afflicted example of its breed, but because it’s fairly short of wheelbase and stiffly sprung, it has an unmistakable tendency to teeter slightly, shuffling weight between its front and rear wheels.

That, in turn, causes the headlamps to auto-adjust, in an attempt to keep the dipped beams level. But they can’t quite adjust quickly or finely enough. So the upshot is that they often amplify the effect of the body movement rather than cancel it and thereby exacerbate your perception of the root cause.

Just one quirk of many that make up modern life in a fast Mini. It’s a busy, boisterous kind of life, but a commendable one in part, because Minis have an enviable capacity to resist depreciation. Any example should beat 45 per cent retained value over a typical three-year ownership, and some do even better, the Paceman Cooper S being one of them. 

Toyota’s recently revised GT86 in limited-edition Giallo trim does eight per cent worse over three years and 36,000 miles, and because it’s more expensive to buy anyway, it is expected to surrender more than £15k in depreciation, whereas the Mini gives up less than £12k. And £1000 a year buys you plenty of weekend unleaded.

Here, however, we come up against the difference between the concepts of ‘cost’ and ‘value’. Three years in a GT86 may very well cost you more than the same time spent in a Paceman, but I’d defy any remotely keen driver not to realise the greater performance value in the Toyota, derived as it is from a drive so much more naturally agile and entertaining that you’d simple never believe these cars could be rivals.

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Every dynamic impression that the Paceman tries so desperately to conjure, the GT86 produces effortlessly – and to much more convincing effect. One is a true sports car, you might argue, the other a gussied-up hatchback. Of course, they offer different things. But if you went out blind intending to buy the first £25k four-seat sports coupé you found, you could end up with either.

The GT86 is actually a softer ride and much less demanding to drive than the Mini, because its sporting qualifications (low centre of gravity, good weight distribution, rear-wheel drive) are more deeply founded than the Paceman’s (fast steering rack, firm, short springs, grippy tyres and plenty of turbocharged torque).

In a straight line, the Mini is probably quicker, but contending with the bump steer, broken traction, body deflection and braking instability that it throws at you on a B-road would make keeping up with the Toyota quite a physical, full-on task. 

Meanwhile, the GT86 is all balletic balance and communication, linear in its responses, tactile and immersive though the corners. It remains a sports car of genuinely rare integrity and quality, less concerned about dazzling you with how fast you’re going than how you’re going fast. 

Yes, in the cold light of day, according to our experts, the Toyota costs £3000 more over three years for that experience – and it’s not as usable as the Mini, either. But that’s still only £20 a week. Can’t see how you’d get that much extra amusement out of a perfect-handling rear-wheel-drive sports car over a fast but flawed front-driver? Then you need a better imagination. 

Mini Paceman Cooper S Chilli Pack

Price £24,795; 0-62mph 7.4sec; Top speed 137mph; Economy 47.1mpg; CO2 139g/km; Kerb weight 1380kg; Engine 4 cylinders, 1598cc, turbo, petrol; Power 187bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 192lb ft at 1700rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual

Toyota GT86 Giallo Edition

Price £27,495; 0-62mph 7.6sec; Top speed 140mph; Economy 36.2mpg; CO2 181g/km; Kerb weight 1275kg; Engine 4 cylinders, 1998cc, petrol; Power 197bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 151lb ft at 6400rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual

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Premium hatchback - Lexus CT200h versus BMW 120d M Sport auto

The advance of premium brands such as Lexus into the territory of traditional mass-market brands like, say, Vauxhall over the past couple of decades hasn’t been founded on tight shutlines, slush-moulded plastics or rear-wheel drive. Primarily, it has been founded on value.

The CT200h here depreciates almost £2000 less over three years than an equivalent Vauxhall Astra, even though the Vauxhall’s list price is £3000 cheaper.

Lexus, in particular, has an enviable reputation for low ownership costs, not least because its hybrid powertrains have been saving fleet drivers money on company car tax for so long. That’s why we were surprised to line up its CT200h F Sport against an equivalent BMW 120d M Sport and find that the difference between them is less than one per cent on retained value, according to our sources.

Cheaper versions of the CT do better against the drop, but with the higher-end versions you stand to be repaid only £1000 more over three years than with an equivalent BMW.

If I were buying one with my own money, that wouldn’t be enough. Wouldn’t come close, in fact, to compensating me for the strange, one-dimensional driving experience that this Lexus forces on its owner.

You don’t have to look very far, or drive a great distance, to understand what it is that Lexus does well. Sure, the CT’s cabin is a bit cramped and its driving position is perched high and fairly tightly enclosed, but it’s rich and expensive to touch.

There’s more carefully stitched leather in here than you expect to find in any compact hatchback, and the fascia and door fittings look and feel high quality. The engine runs quietly and smoothly – and that’s when it’s running. The suppression of road and wind noise is first rate, too.

But the chassis doesn’t deliver such carefully hewn refinement. It’s too firm and short of travel by quite a margin and the steering is much too heavy and direct. The cause of this is obvious. Lexus attracts younger business fleet drivers with its tax-friendly low-CO2 powertrain, but it knows that what many of those drivers really want is a bit of dynamism.

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The company’s hybrid system is about as convincingly thrusting as Tom Jones these days, so it over-compensates with a super-direct suspension set-up. 

A 120d, by contrast, has a noisy diesel engine and a conventional, inexpensive and unimaginative cabin, but it’s the more complete premium product by a mile. Authoritative performance, balanced and engaging ride and handling and more occupant space give it an over-arching sense of substance that the Lexus can’t even approach – despite the evident substance of its cabin plastics.

Lexus CT200h F Sport

Price £26,745; 0-62mph 10.3sec; Top speed 112mph; Economy 68.9mpg; CO2 94g/km; Kerb weight 1410kg; Engine 4 cylinders, 1798cc, petrol, plus electric assist; Power 134bhp at 5200rpm; Torque 105lb ft at 2800rpm (ICE only); Gearbox E-CVT

BMW 120d M Sport auto

Price £27,950; 0-62mph 7.2sec; Top speed 142mph; Economy 62.8mpg; CO2 119g/km; Kerb weight 1439kg; Engine 4 cylinders, 1995cc, turbodiesel; Power 181bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 8-speed automatic

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marj 17 December 2014

Dacia

Well this will shut up the drivers of ageing Audis and BMWs that are 10 year old with more than 200,000 miles on the clock posting on Dacia forums. I agree with many posters here it is the final drive out price vs trade in but many dealers take this into account and offer significantly below book if you trade in again against more discount on new. I have just acquired a Duster 4x4, 24,000 BGN on a 2.49 exchange rate makes this 4x4 model almost as cheap as the 4x2 version here. The ride is quite god especially on bad country roads, and you don't feel too precious about it. Plus, at around 40% depreciation over 3 years, it must be one of the least depreciating cars in the world. I suspect it will be even stronger in Bulgaria as there is a very small domestic used car market as most are bought for Germany or Austria. I still have my trusty 5 year old C-Class for longer journeys and when I want to look a bit more flash. That will be kept until it is financially unviable not to do so. It's also good to have a so far, comfortable, cheap to run 4x4 for the mountains now that the snow is here. Basically for the price of a Golf 1.2, I have a comfortable, prestige cruiser for those long journeys home and an up to the minute 4x4 to head into the mountains for skiing. With change to spare.
winniethewoo 16 December 2014

@mr pushrod

bangernomics could pay at an individual level, but on aggregate, it ends up costing the country more through fatalities and injuries (dont quote me on this, but 1 road fatality costs over £1m in investigation costs, clean up costs, healthcare costs - the victim could be airlifted to hospital, get treatments and die a few days later etc. I read this a while ago so cant remember the exact figure, but it was huge.). Because of these factors, the government worked out the scrappage scheme actually saved them money through reduced numbers of injuries and fatalities. Modern cars are orders of magnitude more protective in a crash. A 5 star Euroncap car from 2001 will not be a 5 star car in 2014.

I think we all know people who have had their lives seriously disrupted by Road traffic collisions, so it isn't a rare occurance. Say you crash, shatter your hip in an accident and can't work for 18months. That 3k banger suddenly cost the NHS hundreds of thousands in treatment costs, and you tens of thousands in lost earnings. I guess the question is, how lucky do you feel?

Daniel Joseph 16 December 2014

Extras

One aspect of the depreciation / retained value argument that intrigues me concerns the choice of extras on a new car. My view is that, if you really want a particular extra, then get it and enjoy it, but don't expect to get your money back at resale time. Earlier this year I bought a new car and the salesman tried hard to sell me an expensive extra I neither wanted or needed on the basis that it would improve the resale value of the car. My response to this was that, unless I could recoup the full cost of the extra, plus the cost of funding the outlay, then I wasn't interested. The salesman had to concede that this was very unlikely; in fact, it was more likely to improve the car's "saleability" rather than its secondhand value, per se. There are exceptions, of course: for example, premium saloons can be virtually unsaleable secondhand without leather upholstery and metallic paint. I once had to work hard to persuade a (Californian expatriate) colleague that it would be financial suicide to order his new S-Class saloon in white in the UK. Conversely, very highly specified new cars can be teriffic value secondhand: I bought a three-year old Boxster with £8k worth of extras for almost no premium over the book value of a standard car. It was a private sale and the seller was happy as long as the price we agreed covered the "guaranteed future value" bullet payment owed to Porsche Finance and gave him a few hundred pounds profit...
scotty5 16 December 2014

@Daniel Joseph - those essential extras.

I had the same when I picked up my BMW 325 SE Coupe. I wanted Silver because I liked it in silver. Salesman told me the car would be hard to shift without auto and leather - a near £3000 extra neither of which I needed. They sourced a car for me, I had to pay a modest £100 for slightly smarter alloys. The Merc dealer I traded the car in to offered me a reasonable trade-in. I asked him what would his trade-in price be for auto + leather - an extra £200 for auto plus £400 for leather. In other words, how to loose £2400 on those 'essential' extras.