Best Commuter Cars [Ranked for 2021]
Anthony Sophinos has been infatuated with cars for as long as he can remember, and that passion has fueled his journey from nerdy gearhead to professional writer and content creator who covers all things automotive. His byline has appeared at CarsDirect, New Car Test Drive, iSeeCars, and other online publications. To read more of his work, visit anthonysophinos.com. When he’s not penning articles, you can find Anthony outside biking, hiking, or exploring New England in his Miata (in the summer, of course).
Crossovers and SUVs may be in the limelight right now, but sedans are by no means down and out. In fact, they’ve gotten better than ever: between their performance, styling, and efficiency, the current crop of both mainstream and luxury four-doors are as well-rounded and sophisticated as they’ve ever been.
For those who don’t have the luxury to work from home, today’s sedans might be some of the best commuter cars yet.
Let’s take a closer look at what cars made the cut.
Table of Contents
- How We Picked the Best Commuter Cars
- Best Commuter Vehicles
- Best Long Distance Commuter Cars
- Best Comfortable Commuter Cars
- Best Cheap Commuter Cars
- Best Small Commuter Cars
- Best Luxury Commuter Cars
- Best Commuter SUVs
- Best Used Commuter Cars
- What Is the Best Brand for Commuter Cars?
- What Is the Best All-Around Commuter Car?
- Best Commuter Vehicles
- Frequently Asked Questions
How We Picked the Best Commuter Cars
The high bar of excellence being set by the current market leaders makes it hard to pick favorites, but we’ve endeavored to do exactly that.
We took a look at what buyers value the most - think fuel economy, affordability, and comfort, among other categories - and found our favorite models that best exemplify those traits.
Above all, we considered these cars from the standpoint of commuting. Can they handle the highway slog to downtown? Are they easy on the wallet? Will they stand being used and abused five days a week, 52 weeks a year, across all four seasons?
The models profiled here can indeed stand up to such wear and tear - all while putting a smile of satisfaction on your face.
Best Commuter Vehicles
|Best Commuters||Honda Civic||Honda Insight||Chrysler 300||Chevrolet Bolt EV||Tesla Model S||Toyota RAV4||Used Toyota Prius (2015-2017)|
|Max Cargo Volume|
|Max EPA Combined MPG|
*MPGe = Miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent (Measures fuel efficiency of hybrid and electric models)
Best Long Distance Commuter Cars
Super commuters - you know, those people with commutes well beyond an hour each way - understand the importance of a car that can handle what they’ll throw at it. If you’re spending two or three hours each day in the car, it better be thrifty, comfortable, and enjoyable. The best long-distance commuting cars do exactly that.
Our favorite car for the super-commuter set is the Honda Insight. It marries all the goodness of the more familiar Accord - a midsize mainstay with great handling and a supremely comfortable interior - with the efficiency of a hybrid powertrain. The latest Insight returns up to 55 mpg city and 49 mpg highway, with a range of over 500 miles per tank.
Another option for more luxury-oriented buyers is the Lexus ES Hybrid. The ES has become renowned for its elegant interior and quiet, composed ride; the Hybrid model mixes in excellent fuel economy. The EPA rates it for 43 mpg city and 44 mpg highway. Factor in the brand’s reputation for reliability and you have an indulgent, efficient sedan that’s up to even the longest commutes.
See all our picks for the best long-distance commuter cars »
Best Comfortable Commuter Cars
Maybe you don't drive 500 or more miles a week to get to work. Even if work is five miles down the road, you still want a car as inviting as your sofa. Who wants to punch out for the day and dread climbing into an uncomfortable driver’s seat? With the best comfortable commuters, that scenario will remain a hypothetical.
Our favorite choice for comfort is the Chrysler 300. This big bruiser is like your neighbor’s German shepherd: an intimidating exterior that hides a coddling, inviting interior. The 300 has big, comfy seats, excellent infotainment, and a spacious trunk and back seat. It also remains affordable, with most models ringing in under $40,000. For the price, it packs attitude and comfort in spades - a combo we suspect many buyers would certainly appreciate.
The Toyota Avalon is a more efficient, more low-key take on the 300’s full-size swagger. Like the 300, the Avalon is big and roomy, but it uses more modern powertrains that promise better gas mileage and efficiency. The regular model earns 26 mpg; the Avalon Hybrid is rated for 43 mpg city and 44 mpg highway. If you can’t swing the Lexus ES discussed above, the equally comfortable Avalon should be on your shortlist.
See all our picks for the best comfortable commuter cars »
Best Cheap Commuter Cars
Several manufacturers continue to build affordable cars that remain appealing in their own right. Some of these cheap commuter cars are good enough to make you do a double-take when seeing the surprisingly manageable MSRP
Our favorite of these is the Honda Civic. A long mainstay of the segment, the Civic has proven to be one of the best buys in the compact-car segment on account of its zippy handling, excellent space utilization, and cheap running costs. Their reputation for reliability and excellent gas mileage - the best models return more than 40 mpg highway - means that a new Civic will hardly make a dent in your monthly budget.
An alternative to the Civic is the Mazda 3. Available as both a hatch and sedan, the Mazda 3 mixes the best attributes of the Civic with a more premium experience. The comfy, comfortable interior is upscale for the price point, and in hatchback form, the styling is surprisingly svelte. Though it looks and feels fancier than most compacts, pricing begins at just $21,000, making this Mazda a worthy contender for any shopper seeking a pleasant, affordable small car.
See all our picks for the best cheap commuter cars »
Best Small Commuter Cars
There's a time and place for large, three-row SUVs, but if you're primarily commuting in a city, a small, compact car might be your best bet. The truth is, smaller more compact commuter cars are a bit easier to manage in many traffic situations.
Our top pick for this category is the Chevrolet Bolt EV. GM’s first mainstream BEV earned awards and turned heads. Reviewers loved the Bolt and found it fun to drive in point-and-shoot urban commuting. In addition, the Bolt also has an extremely low energy cost per mile. Since it only uses electricity, the Bolt’s efficiency rating is a whopping 118 MPGe.
If you don't want to rely solely on electric power, check out the Toyota Prius Prime. With a 25-mile range using only electricity, it can handle many commuters’ daily needs without burning any gas. After the electricity runs out, the Prius Prime is a 50 MPG fuel-sipping hybrid with a cost of ownership that rivals the Chevy Bolt.
See all our picks for the best small commuter cars »
Best Luxury Commuter Cars
Sometimes entry-level just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes you want to gleefully spoil yourself. Sometimes you want to enjoy such indulgence every time you reach for your keys. If that’s you, you’ll want to turn your attention towards the best luxury commuter cars on the market.
When we looked at luxury cars, our perspective puts the most weight on technology and fuel economy. No surprise, then, that we chose the Tesla Model S as our favorite luxury sedan. Though it’s electric, an impressive 402-mile range ensures plenty of juice to get to the office and back. It features some of the most advanced infotainment and safety features in the business. The design is Apple-like in its minimalism. Electric powertrain aside, the Model S is still a competent, appealing luxury car from all angles.
If you’re not ready to make the leap to a Tesla, try the Volvo XC40. This small little crossover breaks our focus on sedans, but bear with us here - there’s a lot to like about this Swedish compact, including a delightfully comfortable and attractive interior, a variety of powertrains that includes an electric option, and ample space for passengers and storage. If you want something that is quietly lavish and loudly distinctive, try the XC40.
See all our picks for the best luxury commuter cars »
Best Commuter SUVs
We said this article would focus on sedans, but let’s face it - crossovers and SUVs are by no means inferior commuter vehicles. They’ve quickly closed the gap on cars in efficiency and comfort, and whatever lead sedans still have in this regard is often trumped by the SUV's ability to easily haul three or four times as much cargo. To recognize their popularity among shoppers, we’ve highlighted the best SUVs for commuting.
Our favorite is the Toyota RAV4. Other people already know this - it’s often the best-selling vehicle in America that isn’t a pickup truck - but we can’t help but call out its excellent, all-around competence. Few cars at this price point can be everything to everybody, but that’s the RAV4. Get it in plain-Jane LE or XLE trim, off-road Adventure trim, or in deceptively-fast Prime trim. Whatever your preferred flavor, the RAV4 offers it.
A more offbeat option is the Mazda CX-30. Like most modern Mazdas, this runabout has a whiff of luxury about it - the cabin is nicely decked out in premium materials, the seats are contoured and comfortable, and the overall execution feels more tailored than the other mainstream brands. Add in great handling and a stylish exterior and there’s a lot to love about this Mazda.
See all our picks for the best commuter SUVs »
Best Used Commuter Cars
Not really a fan of buying new? We can’t really blame you, considering how expensive it is to bring home any new car these days. Luckily, the used-car market has plenty of options for just about any budget - and who wouldn’t mind nabbing that lightly-used Mercedes that costs the same as a new Camry? If that's an enticing thought, you’ll be interested in our list of best used commuter cars.
Among used cars, we’re most drawn towards the Toyota Prius from 2015-2017. We realize that a Prius isn’t exactly that Mercedes we touted earlier, but from a cost perspective, it’s hard to beat a five-year-old example of Toyota’s iconic hybrid. Besides the stellar fuel economy, the Prius also boasts excellent reliability scores - a major factor when you’re buying secondhand. It’s also roomy and comfortable, making it great for the commute.
We also like the 2016-2018 Chevrolet Volt. Again, this is a more economy-minded choice, but Chevy’s second-generation Volt is a winner on many levels. Being a PHEV, it offers the cheap running costs of an electric car while around town but the security of having a gas engine for those longer trips. On the outside, the second-gen Volt traded off the futuristic looks of its predecessor for a more demure, anonymous appearance; inside is a comfortable interior that has plenty of features. In short: it’s an all-around winner for commuters needing a cheap but enjoyable car.
See all our picks for the best used commuter cars »
What Is the Best Brand for Commuter Cars?
We’d go with either Honda or Toyota (or their luxury arms, Acura and Lexus). These two brands have firmly established their reputation for reliability, quality, and comfort, and their current lineups showcase those traits. You can’t go wrong with any of their options.
What Is the Best All-Around Commuter Car?
Our favorite is the Honda Civic. Broadly, it covers all its bases by being cheap, thrifty, comfortable, and fun. Topping it off is its great reliability. Overall, the Civic is tough to beat if you’re looking for the overall best commuter car.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best car for daily commuting?
We’d say either the Honda Civic, the Lexus ES, or the Toyota Avalon. They make the daily commute easy thanks to great gas mileage and - in the case of the Lexus and Avalon - luxury trappings.
What’s the most fuel-efficient commuter car?
The Toyota Prius or Honda Insight. The Prius manages nearly 60 mpg; the Insight gets up to 55 mpg. Nothing else that isn’t all-electric comes close.
What’s the best type of car for commuting?
We’d say a sedan, largely on account of its superior fuel economy. Other perks include the ability to stash valuables in the trunk, their cheaper cost, and their enjoyable driving dynamics.
What’s the cheapest commuter car?
For buying new, the Honda Civic is probably the cheapest good commuter you’ll find. It begins just north of $20,000.
What’s the most luxurious commuter car?
Our vote goes to the Tesla Model S or the Lexus ES. These two cars bring two distinct approaches to luxury - the Tesla is minimalist and sleek, the Lexus is traditional and opulent - but both are unapologetically indulgent.
Is used a good choice for commuter cars?
Absolutely. Buying used lets someone else take the initial depreciation hit on a new car. Snag a used car coming off a three-year lease and you’ll get something that’s nearly new, has plenty of modern features, and will likely provide years of reliable service.