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Which Cars Better to Lease or Buy

May 31, 2018

When it comes to leasing, depreciation cost will be the largest portion of your monthly payment. Depreciation is the difference between what the vehicle is worth at time of lease, and what it's worth at the end of your lease (called Residual Value). So it makes sense to lease a car with low depreciation cost, or put another way - high residual value.

Residual value is calculated as a percentage of MSRP. The higher the percentage, the lower your depreciation cost during a lease. For example, if a car has an MSRP of $30,000 and the leasing company has calculated a residual value of 50% after 36 months, that means the total depreciation cost will be $15,000 (that's if you purchase the car at MSRP, which you better not do if you're reading RealCarTips - any price you negotiate below MSRP will reduce your overall depreciation cost).

Below, you'll find a list of the vehicles with the highest 36-month residual values. These are the vehicles you will be paying the least when it comes to depreciation - and which may be better to lease than to purchase, especially if you plan to keep it for only 3 years and not drive more than 12,000 miles per year. The vehicle with the best residual value right now is the 2018 Toyota Tacoma, with a residual value of 73% over 3 years. With an MSRP of $37,110, that means it will depreciate by only $10,019 over 3 years (if you were to pay full MSRP).

Keep in mind residual values are best-guess estimates, and sometimes leasing companies set them higher than what they actually expect the vehicle to be worth (as a hidden incentive so lease payments are lower). And sometimes, market conditions change during the lease, and the actual worth of the vehicle ends up being way lower than the residual "guesstimate". Since the residual value is set in stone, this is why these vehicles may be a better choice to lease than purchase, especially the ones with residuals over 60%.

However, not all vehicles with high residual values offer good lease deals (due to other factors such as interest rates and other fees). For these types of deals, it's better to purchase the vehicle rather than lease - check out the final column in the table below to see if it's better to lease or buy the vehicle.

As always, I recommend using TrueCar No Haggle and Edmunds Price Promise to see the lowest prices your local dealers are willing to offer on these leases.

Rank Vehicle Trim MSRP Lease Payment ($0 Down) Residual Better To...
1 2018 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road $37,110 $402 73.0% Lease
2 2017 Toyota Tacoma SR5 $35,228 $416 67.0% Buy
3 2018 Toyota 4Runner SR5 $37,374 $439 67.0% Buy
4 2018 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i 6MT $22,710 $248 66.0% Lease
5 2018 Toyota Highlander LE $35,759 $335 66.0% Lease
6 2018 Toyota Tundra SR5 $39,549 $416 66.0% Lease
7 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i $26,810 $291 65.0% Lease
8 2017 Mercedes CLA CLA 250 Coupe $35,675 $391 62.0% Lease
9 2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i 4D 5MT $19,355 $186 62.0% Lease
10 2018 Honda Pilot 6 Speed 2WD EX-L $37,735 $438 62.0% Lease
11 2018 Subaru Forester 2.5i 6MT $23,710 $271 62.0% Lease
12 2018 BMW 3 Series 320i Sedan $38,695 $421 61.0% Lease
13 2018 BMW X4 X4 xDrive28i $49,845 $615 61.0% Buy
14 2018 Honda Fit Continuously Variable Transmission Sport $19,190 $218 61.0% Lease
15 2018 BMW 5 Series 530e $56,495 $682 61.0% Buy
16 2018 Mini Countryman Cooper $28,950 $346 60.0% Buy
17 2018 VW Tiguan NULL $25,495 $243 60.0% Lease
18 2018 Mini Hardtop 2 Door Cooper $24,650 $287 60.0% Lease
19 2018 Honda Civic Si Sedan 6 Speed Manual $24,990 $284 60.0% Lease
20 2018 Mini Hardtop 4 Door Cooper $25,650 $316 60.0% Buy
21 2018 Mercedes C-Class C 300 Sedan $42,495 $526 59.0% Buy
22 2018 BMW X1 X1 sDrive28i $37,945 $465 59.0% Buy
23 2018 Acura MDX 9 Speed $45,195 $500 59.0% Lease
24 2018 Subaru WRX WRX 6MT $27,855 $328 59.0% Buy
25 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XLE Hybrid AWD-i $30,215 $275 59.0% Lease
26 2018 BMW X5 X5 xDrive40e $66,445 $722 59.0% Lease
27 2018 Kia Niro LX $24,590 $277 59.0% Lease
28 2018 Audi Q3 SUV 2.0T quattro $35,975 $436 59.0% Buy
29 2018 Mazda CX-9 Sport $33,105 $385 59.0% Lease
30 2018 Honda Civic Hatchback Continuously Variable Transmission LX $21,740 $264 59.0% Buy
31 2017 Mercedes C-Class C 300 Sedan $41,725 $494 59.0% Buy
32 2018 BMW X6 X6 sDrive35i $65,645 $782 59.0% Buy
33 2018 Honda HR-V Continuously Variable Transmission 2WD LX $21,445 $248 59.0% Lease
34 2018 Mercedes GLA GLA 250 SUV $36,195 $442 58.0% Buy
35 2017 Honda Pilot 6 Speed 2WD EX-L $37,580 $409 58.0% Lease
36 2018 Mazda CX-5 Sport $25,125 $268 58.0% Lease
37 2018 Mercedes CLA CLA 250 Coupe $35,495 $425 58.0% Buy
38 2018 Honda Civic Si Coupe 6 Speed Manual $24,990 $284 58.0% Lease
39 2018 Acura RDX 6 Speed $36,995 $360 58.0% Lease
40 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe NULL $31,830 $356 58.0% Lease
41 2018 Infiniti QX60 3.5 $44,295 $493 58.0% Lease
42 2018 BMW i3 BMW i3 $47,745 $428 58.0% Lease
43 2017 Mercedes GLA GLA 250 SUV $36,525 $431 58.0% Buy
44 2018 Lincoln MKC Premiere $34,280 $381 58.0% Lease
45 2018 Kia Sportage LX $24,590 $277 57.0% Lease
46 2018 Mazda CX-3 Sport $21,085 $249 57.0% Buy
47 2018 Toyota RAV4 LE $27,029 $266 57.0% Lease
48 2018 Honda Civic Sedan Continuously Variable Transmission LX $20,530 $239 57.0% Lease
49 2018 BMW 4 Series 430i Coupe $47,345 $578 57.0% Buy
50 2018 Subaru Legacy 2.5i $23,055 $252 57.0% Lease
51 2017 Kia Optima LX $23,095 $255 57.0% Lease
52 2018 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid LX $28,840 $307 57.0% Lease
53 2018 Hyundai Kona NULL $22,130 $260 56.0% Buy
54 2018 Genesis G80 NULL $42,745 $518 56.0% Buy
55 2018 Lincoln MKX Premiere $39,960 $450 56.0% Lease
56 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid Hybrid LE $28,919 $307 56.0% Lease
57 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE $23,495 $224 56.0% Lease
58 2018 Toyota Camry LE $24,895 $277 55.0% Lease
59 2018 Honda Civic Coupe Continuously Variable Transmission LX $20,940 $239 55.0% Lease
60 2018 Lincoln MKZ Premiere $36,530 $401 55.0% Lease
61 2018 Toyota Sienna LE $34,785 $431 54.0% Buy
62 2018 Kia Optima LX $23,495 $257 54.0% Lease
63 2018 Acura TLX 8 Speed Dual-Clutch $33,965 $346 54.0% Lease
64 2018 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0T quattro $41,475 $491 54.0% Buy
65 2018 Hyundai Sonata 4dr Sdn SE $22,935 $260 54.0% Lease
66 2017 Kia Niro LX $24,095 $268 54.0% Lease
67 2018 Nissan Rogue S AWD $27,560 $316 54.0% Lease
68 2018 Infiniti QX30 NULL $30,945 $383 54.0% Buy
69 2017 Lincoln Continental Premiere $45,645 $510 54.0% Lease
70 2017 Mercedes E-Class E400 Coupe $59,575 $718 54.0% Buy
71 2018 Mazda Mazda6 Sport $23,890 $288 54.0% Buy
72 2018 Ford Expedition XLT $52,985 $651 54.0% Buy
73 2018 Kia Forte5 LX $19,195 $237 53.0% Buy
74 2018 Kia Stinger 2.0L $32,800 $374 53.0% Lease
75 2017 VW Golf 4-door S $21,815 $239 53.0% Lease
76 2018 VW Passat S $23,845 $257 53.0% Lease
77 2018 Nissan Pathfinder S AWD $34,115 $407 52.0% Buy
78 2018 Infiniti Q60 2.0t LUXE $42,295 $462 52.0% Lease
79 2018 Toyota Corolla iM iM $20,485 $223 52.0% Lease
80 2018 VW Atlas NULL $31,675 $382 52.0% Buy
81 2017 Mercedes B-Class B-Class Electric Drive $41,925 $457 52.0% Lease
82 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe 4dr $31,750 $330 52.0% Lease
83 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Blue $23,085 $278 52.0% Buy
84 2017 Lincoln MKX Premiere $39,185 $423 52.0% Lease
85 2018 Acura ILX 8 Speed Dual-Clutch $29,065 $263 52.0% Lease
86 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 4dr CUV Sport $25,930 $320 52.0% Buy
87 2018 Toyota Corolla LE $20,029 $223 52.0% Lease
88 2018 Infiniti Q70L Q70L 3.7 LUXE LWB $52,795 $563 51.0% Lease
89 2017 Kia Sportage LX $24,095 $260 51.0% Lease
90 2017 VW Golf GTI 4-Door S $26,415 $327 51.0% Buy
91 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport S AWD $24,610 $296 51.0% Buy
92 2018 Ford EcoSport S $20,990 $193 51.0% Lease
93 2018 Kia Sorento L $26,890 $271 51.0% Lease
94 2018 Nissan Sentra NULL $20,360 $252 50.0% Buy
95 2018 Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback Sport $21,285 $249 50.0% Buy
96 2017 VW Golf Alltrack S $27,770 $273 50.0% Lease
97 2017 Genesis G80 NULL $42,350 $471 50.0% Lease
98 2018 Toyota Avalon XLE $34,633 $330 50.0% Lease
99 2018 Audi A6 Sedan 2.0T Plus quattro $55,575 $680 50.0% Buy
100 2017 VW Golf SportWagen S $22,400 $249 50.0% Lease

My Recommendation for Car Shoppers

TrueCar, Edmunds, and 1-800 Car Show are the quickest way to see the lowest car prices in your area. These sites show you no-haggle prices from dealers closest to you - and the deals are usually really good. This should be the first step you take when negotiating your car price. Follow this up with my checklist to make sure you squeeze out every last bit of savings.

California Residents - Important:

There is a new online car buying service called Roadster, available only to California residents, which I highly recommend you try - especially if you hate the stress of haggling with a car salesman. They provide an expert concierge who negotiates the price of the car and delivers it to your home with zero hassle - you never have to interact with a dealership. Here is my in-depth review of Roadster and why I recommend it.

- Gregg Fidan

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Gregg Fidan

About: Gregg Fidan


Gregg Fidan + is the founder of RealCarTips. After being ripped off on his first car purchase, he devoted several years to figuring out the best ways to avoid scams and negotiate the best car deals. He has written hundreds of articles on the subject of car buying and taught thousands of car shoppers how to get the best deals.

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