Savvy car shoppers know buying a new car isn't only about getting a good deal on the price. The car also shouldn't cost a lot to own. A recent study from the automotive information website IntelliChoice compared each 2012 model with the currently available model in the same model year and in its respective vehicle segment to determine the "best bets" for 2012 in total cost of ownership. Twenty cars from 13 manufacturers made the list, but here are four cars that provide plenty of bang for your initial investment. Best yet, they won't put a huge dent in your wallet over the long term.
Coupe: Honda Civic
Redesigned for 2012, the Honda Civic is available in coupe and sedan styles. Though the styling changes are not dramatic from the previous version, the redesigned Civic features a larger rear seat and better forward visibility. It is powered by a 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that gets 28 miles per gallon city and 36 mpg highway. The high-performance SI model comes with a 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
A top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Civic comes equipped with six air bags, whiplash-protection front seats, antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control. Starting at $15,605, all models of the 2012 Honda Civic come standard with a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power windows, speed-sensing steering and delay-off headlights.
Budget sedan: Nissan Altima
With a starting price of $20,410, the Nissan Altima received just minor changes for the 2012 model year. This family sedan that seats five offers sporty handling as well as a roomy back seat that can be folded into two sections to provide additional cargo space.
The Altima is powered by either a 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that gets 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway or a 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that gets 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
Standard safety features include six air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. All 2012 Nissan Altima sedans come standard with tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, power windows, variable intermittent wipers and speed-sensing steering.
Luxury sedan: Cadillac CTS Sport Sedan
If you prefer a sedan with more luxury features, the 2012 Cadillac CTS Sport Sedan offers a lot for your dollars at a starting price of $35,915. The standard engine is a 270-horsepower, 3-liter V-6, while a 318-horsepower (an increase of 14 horsepower over last year), 3.6-liter V-6 is optional. Both engines get 16 city mpg/27 highway mpg when equipped with the automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. An all-wheel-drive version gets 18 city mpg/26 highway mpg.
Standard safety features are six air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. All versions of the 2012 Cadillac CTS sedan come with tilt/telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, power windows, automatic climate control, eight-speaker audio system with CD and MP3, and steering-wheel-mounted controls and fully automatic headlights.
CUV/SUV: Chevrolet Equinox
For those who need more space for cargo, the 2012 Chevrolet Equinox, with a starting price of $23,450, is an affordable choice. It comes standard with a 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine, while a 264-horsepower, 3-liter V-6 is optional. Both engines are available as either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, and they can run on unleaded gasoline, E85 ethanol or a combination of both.
As a result, fuel economy ranges from 12 to 22 mpg city and 17 to 32 mpg highway, depending on the drivetrain and the fuel used. Standard safety features include six air bags, antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control. Standard features included blind spot mirrors, power windows, remote keyless entry, climate control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, fully automatic headlights with delay-off function and power driver's seat.