Image: Convertible © Carlos S.Pereyra Pixtal age

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You're bound to turn heads behind the wheel of the 604-horsepower Mercedes SL65 AMG, a sleek, two-door convertible with a 6-liter, V12 turbocharged engine. Step on the gas and you can accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds and to 120 mph in just 12.8 seconds. Be warned, though: According to insurance company data, you're more likely to crash that beauty than a less-powerful vehicle.

Meet the most expensive vehicle to insure for 2011, according to Insure.com's annual list. The average annual national premium for the powerful Mercedes SL65 AMG roadster is $3,543.81 -- and that's for a good driver who hasn't racked up any speeding tickets or previous insurance claims.

Of course, if the SL65's $198,750 suggested retail price is within reach, maybe you don't worry much about saving money on car insurance premiums. But if you're a more typical driver, your auto insurance rate should be a consideration when shopping for a car. After all, why hunt down the best deal on a vehicle only to discover it carries exorbitant insurance costs?

What drives auto insurance quotes sky-high?

"Any vehicle that would cause a teenage boy to stop and gawk would likely cost a pretty penny to insure," says Russ Rader, a spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Highway Loss Data Institute. "Many of the vehicles at the top of the list cost as much as a small house to buy, and that means they're costly to fix."

The BMW 750i, the No. 2 most expensive vehicle to insure -- a luxury sedan with a 400-horsepower, V8 engine -- is packed with high-end components. Those goodies include a navigation system that responds to voice commands, a two-way tilt power moon roof and a 10-speaker sound system. Repairing just one of those features after a crash could cost a small fortune.

A vehicle's premiums for collision and comprehensive coverage are largely determined by that vehicle's "loss history," reflecting the frequency and severity of claims other drivers have typically filed for that model. Cars chosen for flash and speed -- and even mundane cars typically chosen by young, experienced drivers -- pile up claims and thus garner higher insurance rates.

Add in a driver with a history of traffic violations, claims or accidents and you've got a recipe for truly painful car insurance prices.

Scoring cheap car insurance

Looking for a low car insurance quote? On the opposite end of the spectrum are vehicles that would make a teenager yawn: practical minivans and SUVs that appeal to family drivers. This year's cheapest vehicle to insure is the Chrysler Town & Country LX minivan. Its national average annual premium is $1,091.80, a third of the cost of insuring the Mercedes SL65 AMG.

The Toyota Sienna minivan and its LE version earn the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively, on the list of least-costly vehicles to insure.

"Family vehicles driven by soccer moms aren't as likely to get into crashes as flashier sporty models," Rader says. "Soccer-mom vehicles are driven by people who are generally not driving aggressively, aren't speeding and often aren't driving during peak commuting hours."

Discounts for added safety equipment can also bring insurance costs down. Such equipment includes electronic stability control, which can help drivers avoid accidents, and overhead airbags, says Peter Moraga, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.

Car insurance rates where you live

"When shopping for a vehicle, you have to look for safety, as opposed to sexy," advises Moraga. "A safer car is not only going to save your life, it's also going to lower your insurance rates."

Consider this: If you live in California, the difference between the most- and least-expensive cars to insure there is more than $4,700 annually (that's for premiums on an Aston Martin DB9 Volante, compared with those of a Chevy Traverse LS).

If you live in New York, the Aston Martin DB9 series and the Rolls Royce Phantom top the list. Wave if they pass your Chrysler Town & Country LX or Nissan Cube SL and remind yourself that you've scored some of the lowest car insurance rates in the state.

 
2011 vehicles with the lowest insurance rates
RankMakeModelStyleCylindersNational average annual premium
1ChryslerTown & Country LX4-door minivan6$1,091.80
2ToyotaSienna5-door minivan4$1,100.66
3ToyotaSienna LE5-door minivan4$1,107.70
4HondaOdyssey LX5-door 2WD minivan6$1,114.62
5NissanMurano SL2WD 4-door SUV6$1,127.89
6JeepWrangler Unlimited Sport4WD 4-door SUV6$1,131.27
7HondaOdyssey EX5-door 2WD minivan6$1,138.16
8ToyotaSienna5-door minivan6$1,142.94
9FordEscape XLS4WD 4-door SUV4$1,150.26
10ToyotaHighlander4-door 2WD SUV4$1,154.02
11HondaCR-V LX5-door 2.4L SUV4$1,155.44
12HyundaiSanta Fe GLS4-door 2WD SUV4$1,157.66
13JeepPatriot Sport2WD 4-door SUV4$1,157.70
14JeepWrangler Unlimited Sahara2WD 4-door SUV6$1,161.20
15JeepWrangler Sport4WD 2-door 3.8L SUV6$1,162.97
16MazdaTribute I2WD 4-door SUV4$1,163.24
17FordEscape XLT4WD 4-door SUV4$1,166.20
18ChryslerTown & Country Touring4-door minivan6$1,167.38
19HondaOdyssey EX-RES5-door 2WD minivan66 $1,167.93
20SubaruForester X4-door AWD SUV4$1,170.45
 
2011 vehicles with the highest insurance rates
RankMakeModelStyleCylinderNational average annual premium
1MercedesSL65 AMG2-door convertible12$3,543.81
2BMW750i4-door sedan hybrid8$3,280.70
3BMW750Li4-door sedan hybrid8$3,280.70
4MercedesSL63 AMG2-door convertible8$3,263.46
5MercedesS65 AMG4-door turbo sedan12$3,220.86
6Aston MartinDB92-door coupe12$3,120.45
7MercedesCL6002-door coupe12$3,114.28
8Porsche911 Carrera S2-door cabriolet6$3,092.31
9Aston MartinDB9 Volante2-door convertible12$3,088.96
10MercedesG55 AMG4WD 4-door SUV8$3,086.49
11MercedesCL65 AMG2-door coupe12$3,063.73
12MercedesCL63 AMG2-door coupe8$3,058.69
13Porsche911 Carrera 4S2-door cabriolet6$3,046.87
14MercedesSL5502-door convertible8$2,942.97
15JaguarXJ L Supercharged2WD 4.2L 4-door sedan8$2,940.94
16JaguarXJ L Supersport2WD 4.2L 4-door sedan8$2,940.94
17Porsche911 Carrera 42-door cabriolet6$2,921.61
18Porsche911 Carrera S2-door coupe6$2,919.90
19MercedesS63 AMG4-door sedan8$2,898.30
20JaguarXJ Supercharged2WD 4.2L 4-door sedan8$2,853.24

Survey methodology

Insure.com commissioned a study from Quadrant Information Services that calculated the average premiums using auto insurance rates from six large carriers (State Farm, Allstate, Progressive, Geico, Farmers and Nationwide) in 10 ZIP codes per state. Not all models are available for calculating average rates, especially some exotic vehicles, which is why you won't see Lamborghinis on the list -- although you can assume those carry hefty insurance bills.

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Averages are based on a single 40-year-old male driver who commutes 12 miles to work each day, with policy limits of $100,000 for injury liability for one person, $300,000 for all injuries and $50,000 for property damage in an accident, and a $500 deductible on collision and comprehensive coverage. The study further assumed a clean driving record and good credit. The rate includes uninsured motorist coverage. Average rates are for comparative purposes; your rate will depend on your personal factors.

Want to see more average premiums? Here are the rankings of the most- and least-expensive vehicles to insure for 2009 and 2010.

This article was reported by Barbara Marquand for Insure.com.