I consider Consumer Reports to be pretty impartial and objective, when it comes to product testing and reporting. And they just published their annual "Auto Issue." IMO, it's a great source of info for would-be car buyers.
If I were shopping for a car, I'd want something that performs the task I need it to perform, with a maximum level of reliability and safety, and with the least financial outlay.
The reality is... a car can be much more than utility transportation for a lot of motorists. And perhaps if you spend hours every day in your car, that's understandable. However, I think it's silly to choose a car based on the "image" it will project to other people... but there's no denying that some people shell out thousands of dollars for that very reason. (You're still stuck in the same traffic, and you still have the same speed limits.)
Consumer Reports factors in depreciation, fuel economy, insurance, interest on financing, maintenance and repair, and sales tax in figuring out the cost of operating for five years (and assuming the vehicle will be traded in at the end of the period). Seems to me they should also factor in storage/parking - that's not an expense to be sneezed at, particularly in the Big City! (Maybe I'm still just smarting from paying $32/day in Boston, a few months back.)
Small car - Honda Fit - $26,500
Family sedan - Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE - $31,500
Luxury sedan - Hyundai Genesis 4.6 - $54,250
Upscale sedan - Buick Regal CXL - $39,250
Sporty car - Mini Cooper - $28,250
Small SUV - Toyota RAV4 - $34,500
Midsize SUV - Hyundai Santa Fe GLS - $38,500
Luxury SUV - BMW X3 xDrive28i - $50,000
Large SUV - Ford Flex SEL - $50,500
The most-expensive? Aw, heck! What's the point? The people who drive a BMW 750Li ($106,750) or Corvette ($70,750) or Escalade ($84,750) probably aren't really into penny-pinching.
The cheapest car costs $5300/year. I could ride my bicycle for ten years and then pitch it and buy a replacement, and probably wouldn't exceed that one-year car cost.
I firmly believe that if car expenses weren't accrued in "nickel and dime" bites - if motorists had to write out a check at the beginning of the year for $5300, or $21,350 (the BMW), for that year's transportation, they'd give it a lot more thought, and perhaps explore alternatives. I know I'm happy to have that extra jingle in my pocket, from choosing a cheaper way.