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7 of the Best Commuter Cars for the Money

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If you fold yourself into a car for an hourlong daily commute or shell out $30 in gas money each week, you might not be happy with your vehicle. Long commutes in an uncomfortable or inefficient car may make you contemplate walking. But, never fear, there are economical cars out there with good ratings and high MPGs — or MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). Whether you have a long-distance commute or a short one that involves a lot of stop-and-go traffic, here are some of the best commuter cars for the money.

Best cars for long-distance commutes

  • Kia Rio
  • Chevy Cruze
  • Honda Civic
  • Volkswagen Jetta

Best hybrid and electric commuter cars for the money

  • Hyundai Ioniq
  • Toyota Prius
  • Nissan Leaf

Best cars for long-distance commutes

These vehicles are under $20,000, have an MPG of 37 miles or better, and have earned at least four-star ratings by Kelley Blue Book (KBB) experts, Edmunds consumers and safety crash testers, either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). All cars are 2018 models; 2019 model crash test results haven’t been released. They also have some type of phone-connectivity ability available so drivers may make hands-free calls and play entertainment during long drives. Note the MSRP is for the base trim of each vehicle, which includes a manual transmission in some cases. Any standard feature comes with the base trim at no extra cost. Any available feature may cost extra or may be included with a higher trim.

Kia Rio

  • MSRP $14,795
  • 37 MPG highway, 29 MPG city, 32 MPG combined
  • 4.3 by KBB experts and 4.3 by consumers on Edmunds
  • 4 star NHTSA and Top Safety Pick+ by IIHS

The Kia Rio is a low-priced, fuel-sipping, compact car that still gets good ratings. Standard features include a five-inch audio display, a 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty and steering wheel-mounted controls. But you’ll have to pony up more money if you want power windows, a larger screen, autonomous emergency braking and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

Chevy Cruze

  • MSRP $17,850
  • 40 MPG highway, 27 MPG city, 32 MPG combined
  • 4.3 by KBB experts and 4.3 by consumers on Edmunds
  • 5 star NHTSA

GM is reportedly discontinuing the Chevy Cruze in 2019 as most consumers are opting for crossover vehicles, not sedans. So consider getting it while you can. With 40 MPG and a quiet, comfortable ride, the Cruze is a good highway cruiser, as its name implies. Available features include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, voice activation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, teen driver technology, navigation, Bose audio, wireless phone charging, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist and forward-collision alert. The diesel option would bump the mileage up even more, but also bumps up the price.

Honda Civic

  • MSRP $19,835
  • 40 MPG highway, 28 MPG city, 32 MPG combined
  • 4.7 by KBB experts and 4.6 by consumers on Edmunds
  • 5 star NHTSA

The Honda Civic is available as a sedan, coupe and hatchback, but we specifically looked at the sedan, which is the lowest priced and extremely roomy. Even backseat commuters have enough leg, arm and head room to be comfortable for long rides. Available features include a technology package called Honda Sensing which has adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, road departure mitigation, lane-keeping assist, forward-collision warning and Collision Mitigation Braking System.

Volkswagen Jetta

  • MSRP $19,540
  • 40 MPG highway, 28 MPG city, 33 MPG combined
  • 4.1 by KBB experts and 4.1 by consumers on Edmunds
  • 5 star NHTSA and high ratings by IIHS

Roomy and powerful with a German brand name for under $20,000 — the Jetta is hard to beat. It’s a sporty, compact sedan with a standard turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a six-year, 72,000 basic warranty. Available features include: Fender Premium Audio System with nine speakers and a subwoofer, Bluetooth, rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, heated seats, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and rear parking sensor system.

Best hybrid and electric commuter cars for the money

For city drivers, hybrids and EVs are hard to beat —  they have lower (or nonexistent) gas costs. However, as a whole, they have higher MSRPs. We took into account available features, consumer, expert and crash safety test ratings, but we focused on comparing MPGe with MSRP to come up with these three picks. Like our picks for long-distance commutes, these vehicles received high safety ratings as well as high ratings from consumers and experts at Edmunds and KBB. They also offer commuter-friendly technology and like our long-distance picks, MSRP is based on the base trim of each vehicle, so some bells and whistles — including automatic drive — may be extra. All three are 2018 models as 2019 crash test results haven’t been released.

Hyundai Ioniq

  • MSRP $22,200
  • 59 MPGe highway, 57 MPGe city, 58 MPGe combined
  • Top safety pick by IIHS
  • 4.4 by KBB experts and 4.4 by consumers on Edmunds

The Ioniq is available as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and a fully electric vehicle. We focused on the hybrid — for which we put the price and MPGe figures above — but no matter the motor type you choose, the model body is a 4-door hatchback. Standard features include a 7-inch touch screen, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, hill-start assist, a rearview camera, five-person seating and large cargo room. There are other available features, such as automatic emergency braking, leather seats, heated seats, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, navigation system and heated side mirrors.

Toyota Prius

  • MSRP $23,475
  • 54 MPG highway, 50 MPG city
  • 5 star NHTSA
  • 4.4 by KBB experts and 4.8 by consumers on Edmunds

Perhaps the most famous hybrid, the Prius is capable of 54 MPG fuel economy (133 MPGe for the plug-in Prius Prime) and has one of the lowest five-year cost-to-own ratios. Toyota Safety Sense P is standard, including radar-adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, autonomous braking and steering assist.

Nissan Leaf

  • MSRP $30,885
  • 125 MPGe city, 100 MPGe highway, 112 MPGe combined
  • 4 star NHTSA
  • N/A by KBB experts and 4.5 by consumers on Edmunds

A fully electric car, the Nissan Leaf won the 2018 World Green Card award. It has a range of 150 miles, which should satisfy any city driver. The MPGe for the price of the car is excellent. The only soft spot is that the Leaf only earned 4 out of 5 stars in crash test ratings by the NHTSA. Available features include: navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, 7-speaker Bose audio system, leather seating, heated seating, heated side mirrors and a  heated steering wheel. Available safety tech: blind-spot monitoring, around-view camera, driver attention alert, ProPilot steering assist, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, Intelligent Lane Intervention and rear cross traffic viewing.

Ways to finance the best commuter cars

Potential lenders include a credit union, bank or online lender. Apply to a few in order to compare offers and see which one is best for you before stepping foot onto the car lot. Dealers are often able to raise your APR and make a profit off your loan, not just your car. The best way to avoid this is to go with a preapproved auto loan in hand, so you know what APR you deserve and you can ask the dealer to beat that rate. On LendingTree, you could fill out an online form and receive up to five potential auto loan offers from lenders at once, instead of filling out five different lender applications.


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