Which Cars Better to Lease or Buy

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 2021 Toyota Tacoma SR5, with a residual value of 76% over 3 years. With an MSRP of $33,903, that means it will depreciate by only about $6,500 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 if you're planning to keep it short-term.

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

Better to Lease or Buy

Rank Vehicle Trim MSRP Lease Payment ($0 Down) Residual Better To...
1 2021 Toyota Tacoma SR5 $33,903 $345 76.0% Lease
2 2022 Honda Civic Sport $24,115 $281 69.0% Lease
3 2021 Nissan Frontier SV CC SWB $35,700 $387 68.0% Lease
4 2022 Subaru Outback Base $28,070 $338 67.0% Buy
5 2021 Toyota HIGHLANDER LE $40,378 $374 67.0% Lease
6 2021 Toyota Sienna LE $35,855 $364 67.0% Lease
7 2021 Toyota Venza 2.5L 4-Cyl LE $34,014 $325 67.0% Lease
8 2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Standard $43,145 $530 67.0% Buy
9 2021 Toyota RAV4 LE $29,184 $306 66.0% Lease
10 2022 Kia K5 Nightfall Edition $25,685 $287 65.0% Lease
11 2021 Subaru Ascent $33,345 $360 65.0% Lease
12 2021 Subaru Forester $25,845 $302 65.0% Lease
13 2021 Toyota C-HR LE $23,483 $257 65.0% Lease
14 2022 Kia Seltos LX $23,665 $277 65.0% Lease
15 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Crosstrek $24,645 $290 65.0% Buy
16 2022 Subaru Legacy Base $23,955 $290 64.0% Buy
17 2021 Kia Sorento LX $30,565 $349 63.0% Lease
18 2021 Mazda CX-5 Sport $26,545 $309 63.0% Lease
19 2021 Honda CR-V EX $30,585 $367 63.0% Buy
20 2021 Mazda CX-30 CX-30 2.5 S $23,225 $267 63.0% Lease
21 2021 Subaru Impreza Base $21,020 $249 63.0% Buy
22 2022 Nissan Pathfinder S $37,105 $402 62.0% Lease
23 2021 Subaru Outback Base $27,845 $312 62.0% Lease
24 2021 Honda HR-V LX $23,945 $253 62.0% Lease
25 2021 Honda Pilot EX-L $41,885 $412 62.0% Lease
26 2021 Mazda CX-9 Sport $35,335 $364 62.0% Lease
27 2021 Honda Accord Sport $28,445 $332 61.0% Lease
28 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime SE $42,311 $450 61.0% Lease
29 2021 Nissan TITAN S CC $44,910 $531 61.0% Buy
30 2022 Kia Stinger GT-Line $37,135 $421 61.0% Lease
31 2022 Hyundai Elantra $20,855 $245 60.0% Buy
32 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe $28,185 $303 60.0% Lease
33 2022 Kia Sportage LX $25,265 $266 60.0% Lease
34 2022 Mini Clubman Cooper S $35,350 $423 60.0% Buy
35 2021 Hyundai Sonata SE $24,955 $245 60.0% Lease
36 2021 Hyundai Venue SE $19,935 $221 60.0% Lease
37 2021 BMW 5 Series 530i $55,745 $673 59.0% Buy
38 2021 Mazda Mazda3 2.0L $21,645 $267 59.0% Buy
39 2021 Acura TLX $38,545 $467 59.0% Buy
40 2021 Subaru Legacy Base $24,170 $273 59.0% Lease
41 2022 Hyundai Tucson $26,135 $303 59.0% Lease
42 2021 Toyota Corolla 4-Cyl LE $21,719 $209 59.0% Lease
43 2021 Toyota Prius Prime LE $29,474 $209 58.0% Lease
44 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe SE $27,450 $264 58.0% Lease
45 2021 BMW 2 Series 228i Gran Coupe $38,195 $455 58.0% Buy
46 2021 Hyundai Elantra $21,905 $235 58.0% Lease





My Recommendation for Car Shoppers

TrueCar No-Haggle, CarsDirect, and NADAGuides 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.
- Gregg Fidan

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About The Author

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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