So I threatened in my earlier post to compare the operating costs of three Toyota vehicles, the Matrix, Corolla and Prius. I chose those three cars because I have firsthand experience with them. I still own a '99 Corolla (102,000 miles, baby, and still going strong!) and J drives a '04 Maxtrix (90,000 miles).
However, the April 2010 edition of Consumer Reports* makes the comparison pretty easy for me, and actually solved the problem of what category a Prius actually falls into. Right now, Consumer Reports classifies it as a family car with a price tag of around $26,750 and a cost per mile of 47 cents. This is comparable to a Volkswagen Jetta ($23,939, 48 cents per mile). A Toyota Camry has a price tag of about $22,850 and a price per mile of 53 cents. The cost per mile, by the way, includes depreciation, fuel costs, insurance premiums, interest on financing, maintenance/repairs, etc.
The Toyota Corolla LE, which is a more upscale version of the one I own (a CE) is $16,205 with a cost per mile of 45 cents. So yes, it would be cheaper for me to own an LE by about 2 extra cents per mile, but it would be a small car comparatively and that's not what I wanted. Unfortunately, Consumer Reports didn't provide a cost per mile for the Toyota Matrix, so I can't offer you that information right now.
Overall, the Prius has one of the lowest cost per miles provided by Consumer Reports. The really high costs -- over $1/mile -- belonged to cars most of us can only dream about such as the Mercedes-Benz S550 at a whopping $1.70/mile and the Porsche 911 Carrera S at $1.53/mile. The Mercedes-Benz, btw, is the most expensive car to operate. The cheapest looks like the Honda Fit at 42 cents per mile. The most expensive small SUV is the Land Rover LR@ SE at 83 cents/mile and the most expensive mid-sized SUV is the Jeep Commander Limited (V8) at $1/mile. The car that surprised me the most was the Honda Civic, which came in at 58 cents/mile and the Dodge Charger at 71 cents/mile. I always thought of the Civic as a more economical, fuel-efficient car, so it surprises me how much more expensive it is per mile compared to the Corolla. I think a Fit might be a better value and I anticipate (though I don't know for sure) it might be a bigger car.
I would probably have to redo my cost per mile for the Prius as mine was nowhere near the $26,750 price tag listed in Consumer Reports. I suspect my cost would probably drop 2 to 3 cents as a result. I was also pleased to find out that Consumer Reports has my model -- the 2009 -- selling at $20,000 to $24,000 used, which means given what I paid for mine, I could sell it today and actually break even or come out slightly ahead.** I don't think that's a bad deal. Maybe I should take back my earlier statement about cars not being a good vehicle for investment...
*I think most of you know this, but I'm using Consumer Reports as an independent reference; no money is changing hands here -- we pay for our subscription. Second, I'm not being compensated by Toyota in any way; after 10+ years of driving Toyotas and having 5 of them in the family, I'm just a very loyal consumer.
**My Prius is not impacted by the recall as it was manufactured in Japan (vin number starting with J).