2011 Toyota Prius (© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.)Click to enlarge picture

2011 Toyota Prius

With home values tanking, paychecks dwindling and employment tenuous, it's more important than ever to be smart when choosing a new car. Obviously, that means identifying what your needs are, conducting careful research — such as reading the latest reviews and news about the vehicles that meet those needs — and then haggling for the best price. It also means considering what that vehicle will actually cost you in the long run.

Luckily, IntelliChoice.com does most of the cost-of-ownership legwork for you. And it recently announced the winners of its annual Best Overall Value of the Year awards for 2011.

The awards are given to vehicles with the lowest cost of ownership over a 5-year period in 21 classes defined by size, body style and price. Vehicles are judged based on retail price as well as accumulated ownership costs of depreciation, maintenance, repairs, fuel, fees, financing and insurance.

For 2011, Toyota came out the big winner, collecting 11 prestigious BOVYs. Volvo, MINI and General Motors tied for a distant second place with two cars each. Infiniti, Subaru, Audi and Honda each collected one BOVY nod.

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The Big Winner: Toyota
Toyota may have had a tough 2010 with a much publicized group of recalls and a sliding market share, but that didn't stop the automaker from topping 11 of the 20 BOVY classes. Toyota-branded vehicles captured wins in seven vehicle categories, while its luxury division Lexus took home four more.

The seven Toyota winners were the Prius in the passenger-car class; the Avalon in the premium passenger-car class; the RAV4 4-cylinder in the compact crossover/wagon class; the Sienna in the minivan class; the 4Runner in the SUV class; and the Tacoma in compact pickup and the Tundra in full-size pickup classes.

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All of the Toyota winners rose to the top of their classes due to resale value.

But it wasn't the only area in which Toyota vehicles excelled. The Prius, for instance, had predictably low fuel costs, plus low figures for maintenance and repairs. In the minivan class, the Sienna had cheaper insurance and maintenance costs, while the 4Runner rose from third to first in the SUV category thanks to lower maintenance costs and an improved residual value. The Avalon had low fuel costs, too, as did the 4-cylinder version of the RAV4. IntelliChoice's data show that a V6 version of the RAV4 will cost another $840 in fuel over five years, making the 4-cylinder engine the wiser choice for the budget conscious.

Compare: Toyota Sienna vs. Kia Sedona vs. Volkswagen Routan

Surprisingly, Toyota's pickups also did well. The Tacoma has long been the sales leader among compact pickups, so its win wasn't surprising. However, the Tundra is widely viewed as a less capable pickup than the Ford F-150 or Chevrolet Silverado — and it sells in much lower numbers. Those lower sales totals actually helped the Tundra. "The domestics turn out the trucks in great numbers," says IntelliChoice executive editor Charlie Vogelheim. "Does that make them bad trucks? No. But if you're looking at the ownership costs when you're done with it, it's going to have a lower value because there's a lot on the road."

Toyota's luxury brand Lexus was the next best performer. Lexus winners included the GX 460 in the premium full-size SUV class; the RX 350 in the premium crossover/wagon class; and two IS models, the IS 250 in the premium compact passenger-car class and the IS 250C in the premium convertible class. Again, residuals proved to be a major factor, but Vogelheim also notes that the RX 350 excelled in insurance and repair costs; the IS 250C had lower repair costs than other convertibles; and the GX 460, which was new in 2010, had lower insurance costs and improved residuals. Two of the Lexus models also beat other top Toyota contenders: The GX 460 edged out the Toyota Land Cruiser and the IS 250 bested the Lexus ES 350.

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