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Resale heroes: which cars have the best retained value?

By Tony O'Kane, 27 May 2018 Car Advice

Resale heroes: which cars have the best retained value?

What cars cling to their value most after three years of ownership? We delve into the data to tell you the categories, body styles, makes and models that perform best when it’s time to trade in

Did you know the biggest single cost of owning a car is depreciation? More money is lost here during the first few years of ownership than is spent on any other running cost.

So what should you buy if you want to maximise your car’s trade-in value when it comes time to upgrade? That’s what we’re here to find out, armed with industry data to help.

First things first, if there’s one thing we’ve learned by scanning spreadsheets of cars and their retained values, it’s this: buy a performance car if you want a vehicle that depreciates the least.

Performance is king

According to automotive industry monitor Glass Data, the type of vehicles that dominate the top end of the 36-month/60,000km resale value charts are cars that are designed to go fast. In fact, the car that depreciates least - with 73 percent retained value at the end of 36 months – is the Audi RS3 Sportback, one of the hottest hatches on sale. Its sedan sibling isn’t far behind, with a score of 67 percent.

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Other notable members of the high-resale club include the AMG GT S and GT C (67 percent), Lexus LC 500 and LC 500h (67 percent), BMW Z4 35is (67 percent) and eight variants of the Mercedes-Benz SLC (all 67 percent). Nissan’s GT-R Nismo also scores 67 percent, along with the Benz S500, S63 and S65.

Audi’s A5 coupe also features strongly, with 2.0 TDI, 2.0 TFSI and the 3.0-litre turbocharged S5 all recording 64 percent retained values. The Ford Mustang achieves the same rating too, but only the V8-powered GT manual model and not the four-cylinder Ecoboost – choosing the four-pot option may save you cash at the checkout, but that powertrain retains only 54 or 52 percent of its purchase price at the end of three years, depending on whether you select the automatic or manual.

Which brings us to another point; in the performance car sphere, manual gearboxes don’t necessarily bring a resale advantage. Certainly in the 60-percent-and-up crowd, the few vehicles that are available in both auto and manual form (namely, the BMW M240i, Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman and Audi S3) had identical resale figures for auto and manual. That said, the impact of transmission choice appears to be very much model-dependent: Golf R variants with a DSG auto score a percentage point higher than their manual-equipped brothers, while the Mustang GT automatic has a whopping 8 percent penalty relative to the manual.

Somewhat surprisingly, it takes a little bit of scrolling before Porsche’s sports car models start appearing. Vehicles like the 718 Boxster and Cayman as well as the 911 Carrera GTS retain 61 percent of their retail value after three years, which is a respectable result but lags behind the Cayenne and Macan. Porsche’s two-door models have traditionally been seen as rock-solid ‘investment grade’ buys, but apparently it’s the SUV product that performs better in the short term.

Read next: Explained: What is depreciation?

Performance cars and coupes may have been the recurring theme at the sharp end of the retained value list, but they were far from the only identifiable trend. Here are the other key patterns we discovered when analysing the cars with the best three-year resale figures:

Premium vs mainstream

Luxury brands prove to be the better option for the most part. Audi had the distinction of claiming top spot overall, with five models (RS3, A4, A5/S5, Q5/SQ5, Q7/SQ7) all retaining more than 63 percent of their purchase value at the end of 36 months. It was a strong performer, however it’s not alone.

Mercedes-Benz actually had seven model lines represented at 60 percent and over, with the AMG GT (in both GT C and GT S flavours), the S-Class in S500, S63 and S65 trim, the SLC, GLE, GLS and the C43 Coupe being its top scorers.

BMW also figures strongly with six model lines represented in the over-60-percent realm, but if you count all of the Jaguar Land Rover products as a single group, it was the Indian-owned British brands that had the strongest showing – all up, there were eight JLR models with retained values in excess of 60 percent, with Range Rover providing four and Jaguar and Land Rover bringing two each. What’s more, virtually every variant of the Range Rover Velar and Jaguar F-Pace families made it onto the >60 percent list, both at 61 percent. British-accented premium SUVs appear to have very good prospects on the used car market.

Of the 17 manufacturers that had at least one model score over 60 percent, a whopping ten of them were makers of luxury vehicles and only one of those wasn’t European in origin – Lexus. When it came to the 48 individual models on that list, just eight came from mainstream brands: Toyota (Landcruiser and Landcruiser Prado), Mazda (CX-5 Akera), Volkswagen (Touareg), Kia (Picanto Australian Open edition), Nissan (GT-R Nismo), Mitsubishi (Lancer Black Edition) and Ford (Mustang GT manual). The split becomes a lot more equitable in the 50-59 percent bracket, but at the top of the chart it’s clear that buying luxury has significant resale benefits.

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The body style question

Once you get away from the very top of the pile, those sports cars in the high 60 percent region, another trend becomes abundantly clear. Not only is the 60-and-up gang dominated by premium brands, but it’s overwhelmingly populated by SUVs.

Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Porsche Cayenne and Macan, Volvo XC60, Mercedes GLE-Class and GLS-Class, Audi Q5 and Q7, BMW X3, X4, X5 and X6… it’s these vehicles that are the ones that are clinging to residual values the best. No great surprise, given they belong to a section of the market that continues to grow in size with each passing month.

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Even Toyota snuck into this otherwise prestigious group with 12 variants of the 200-series Landcruiser and six of the Landcruiser Prado, along with Volkswagen’s hulking Touareg. All three retain 61 percent of their value after three years.

As for the everyman, Mazda’s comparatively humble CX-5 Akera diesel AWD achieved a 60 percent score – though all other CX-5 variants appeared a few percentage points further down the list.

Trade vehicles

Just because your vehicle is a workhorse doesn’t mean nobody will want it once you’re done with it. In fact, if you shop smartly you’ll be able to dodge depreciation and reduce the impact on your business’ bottom line. Unsurprisingly, the best performers in the commercial space are Toyotas.

But despite dual-cab utes enjoying bigger and bigger sales in Australia, it’s not the Hilux that rates highest for Toyota’s commercial division – it’s the Hiace commuter van, which returns a healthy 59 percent of its retail value at the three-year mark. The first Hilux on the list appears at the 58 percent mark (the Rugged X variant), followed by a brace of higher-spec Hilux Rogue, Rugged and XR5+ variants at 57 percent. Hiace SLWB models also turn up at 57 percent, while LWB models rate well at 56 percent. The rest of the Hilux 4x4 range achieves a 56 percent retained value score too.

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Ranger FX4, XLS, XLT and Wildtrak models also achieve 57 percent ROI, with the rest of the Ranger range appearing at 56 percent. With the Ranger continuing to experience strong demand in the new car market, its healthy performance as a used vehicle is easily understood. Its Holden rival the Colorado also shows up at 56 percent, but only in LS-X Special Edition and LT 4x4 form.

Colour, trim and options

Our spreadsheet doesn’t drill down into this level of detail, but it’s also worth noting that the paint colour and trim selections [LINK: https://www.whichcar.com.au/car-advice/how-buying-a-bright-car-colour-affect-your-resale-value ] you make at the dealership can also have quite a profound impact on resale values years down the line.

White continues to be the most popular colour in Australia (though that stat is probably skewed by the sheer volume of white utes and vans on commercial fleets), but opting for a high-profile ‘hero’ colour can produce dividends when time comes to sell – particularly on performance cars.

Some paint finishes – like silver and black – are considered timeless and thus are fairly safe choices, but will specialised finishes like matte or satin paint age quite so well? It’s something you’ll need to take into consideration if you consider resale to be more important than your own personal satisfaction.

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And there are other general points to bear in mind to help preserve resale value. Keep your car clean and tidy and its interior will present far better. Paint scratches may be easily rectified, but a car’s interior is much harder – and more expensive – to refurbish if it’s heavily worn, soiled or otherwise damaged.

Keep the mileage down too, if you can. Used car buyers will always gravitate towards cars that have fewer kilometres on the odometer. Interestingly, Glass Data says optional equipment can depreciate faster than the car they’re bolted too – so select your options carefully.

And lastly, keep in mind that expensive optional extras very rarely add the same value (if any) to a car when it comes time to sell.