The argument about whether to buy automobiles from domestic or foreign manufacturers dates back to the late 1950s, when the first Japanese cars made their way into the US. But discussions tend to center around patriotism and what is better for the US economy rather than what is best for your wallet.

We at GET.com have decided to drop the big hypothetical questions and focus on which cars actually work out cheaper to drive based on the initial cost of buying the vehicle plus insurance and fuel economy.

American Brands

Cheapest car:


Image source: Chevrolet

Chevrolet Spark. The Chevy Spark isn't much to look at, but if you're interested in getting from A to Z at the lowest possible cost, it's worth checking out. Price tags start at just $12,660. The annual cost of insuring the 2016 Spark averages just $1,240. The LS manual make will get you 42 miles per gallon of unleaded gas on the freeway and 30 miles to the gallon in the city.

Cheapest to insure:


Image source: Dodge

Dodge Grand Caravan AVP 2WD. With annual premiums for 2016 averaging $1,174 according to a survey by insure.com, this dodge minivan is currently the cheapest American car to insure. At $22,595, its price tag compares favorably with its Korean counterparts. Fuel economy isn't bad for a minivan, but 25 miles per gallon is not amazing.

Best fuel economy:


Image source: Chevrolet

The plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt 2016 model took second place on the EPA's list of top fuel sippers, delivering 82 miles per gallon on the highway and 72 in the city. But with a price tag of over $30k, you will have to do a lot of driving to recuperate the high vehicle price through gas savings.

Foreign brands

Cheapest car:


Image source: Nissan USA

Nissan Versa 1.6 manual. This very generic looking sedan actually provides great value for money. With low price tags starting at $11,990, this car comfortably sits 5, has enough luggage space and includes air conditioning. Other peripherals are somewhat retro (think hand-crank windows and non-automatic locks), but those can be added at a markup if you really want them. It manages 27 miles per gallon in the city and 36 miles per gallon on the highway.

Cheapest to insure:


Image source: Honda

Honda Odyssey LX. When it comes to insurance, it doesn't get better than Honda's family car. The average annual premium is just over $1,100. But with a price tag starting at $29,550, this minivan is not the cheapest around. At 19 miles to the gallon if the city and 28 miles per gallon on the highway, fuel economy is good for a car that comfortably sits 6.

Best fuel economy:


Image source: BMW USA

BMW i3 REX. Germans are known for their thriftiness, and this plug-in/hybrid BMW is as thrifty as it gets. It tops the EPA's fuel sipper lists with a range of 97 miles per gallon in the city and 79 miles per gallon on the highway. On average you get around 11 more miles per gallon of gas you pour into this car's tank than you get with the Chevy Volt. But at a luxurious price of $43,395, it's also $10k more expensive than the Chevrolet. While BMW has typically been a luxury brand, don't expect much luxury from this car. It has about as much space as a VW Beetle minus the luggage space.

Verdict:

The Chevrolet Spark may look nothing like an American automobile and offer about as much interior room as a bumper car, but if getting around for the lowest possible price is your priority then this is the car you will drive. While it cost about $700 more than the Nissan Versa, and has less space, it will take you over 5 miles further for each gallon of gas you put into it. The average cost of insuring a Spark is just over $1,220 per year, compared to $1,286 for the Nissan Versa.

The Nissan Versa offers very good value if you need or prefer a larger car, and it also scores well on fuel economy and relatively low insurance premiums. The cheapest American sedan is the Ford Fiesta S, which at $14,965 is $3k more expensive than the Versa.
Of course, price, gas and insurance costs aren't the full measure of a car's expenses. Factors like rebates, incentives, service warranty's and rewards all play a part. For example, if you plan to lease your car or buy it through a dealer loan, you can often get more favorable terms from well established American brands like Chevrolet and Buick.