The average commute in the U.S. is about 25 minutes each way. That’s 50 minutes a day, more than four hours a week — and more than 200 hours a year.
When you spend that much time behind the wheel, you need to choose your ride carefully.
“A good commuter car is one that should be economical, both in operation but also, and perhaps more importantly, in purchase price,” said Robert Sinclair, the manager of media relations for AAA New Yorkand the test-drive editor of their Car & Travel magazine.
With gas prices barreling toward $4 a gallon, it also has to get better-than-average fuel efficiency. And, with all the crazy drivers you encounter, making a mad dash to be on time, you have to have a car with good safety features.
“Safety is an important consideration: It’s far better to avoid a crash than attempt to survive one,” Sinclair said. And we’re not just talking air bags, Sinclair said — we’re talking about a solid body structure and good visibility.
“That’s why I like station wagons,” Sinclair said. They’ve not only got extra pillars of support in the back that cars with trunks just don’t have. Plus, with all those windows, they offer great visibility. They may not be as sexy as, say, a convertible, but they get high marks for safety. “Style can create certain compromises when it comes to safety,” Sinclair said.
You also want what they call “active safety features” such as stability control, quick steering, superior brakes and handling.
And, of course, some creature comforts inside – comfortable seats, a good stereo system, good navigation, Bluetooth for hands-free connectivity, and a roomy trunk or hatch so when you stop to pick up some groceries on the way home, you can fit it all in.
Here are 10 of the best cars for commuting, according to AAA New York, and what makes them great rides for work.
Sources: List from AAA New York, extra analysis from Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds.com and fuel-efficiency data from Fueleconomy.gov.
Fuel efficiency: 26 city, 36 highway
The big selling point of the Chevy Cruze is that it offers “really superior fuel economy,” Sinclair said. Plus, it’s affordable and the seats are comfortable.
And, you get a nice size vehicle for the price, adds Jack R. Nerad, the executive editorial director at Kelly Blue Book’s KBB.com.
Fuel efficiency: N/A
The Chevy Volt, of course, makes the list for its fuel efficiency, even though it can’t be measured in miles to the gallon. It made the list over other electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf because it is an “extended range” electric vehicle, Sinclair said. That means it has a back-up gasoline tank, which powers a generator that recharges the battery when it dies. (So the car never actually runs on gasoline.)
“Depending on your commute, you may burn no gasoline in a week,” Sinclair said.
Plus, it’s high-tech, with nifty features like touch-screen technology. “It’s the most space-aged vehicle inside!” Sinclair said.
“It’s a landmark car,” Nerad said, adding that it’s also a smooth ride – very quiet – and that if money were no object, this car would be his first choice for commuting.
Fuel efficiency: 25 city, 35 highway
The Focus gets high marks for fuel efficiency and for engineering.
“I think the major selling point is it’s got European engineering but it’s built here in the U.S.,” Nerad said. “It’s fun to drive.”
“It’s a really nimble, nifty-running vehicle,” Sinclair added. “It’s small, light and easy to park. Easy to handle.”
The Focus is one of the best picks for commuters with a long drive, Nerad said.
Fuel efficiency: 23 city, 31 highway
This is one of Sinclair’s favorite station wagons, which get high marks for their strong bodies and visibility (a lot of windows). Plus, there’s a lot of cargo space.
They also have a few extra features that make them more fuel efficient and some nice safety features like lower rolling resistance, Sinclair said, which make it appealing for the commute as well as picking up the kids or taking the family on a road trip.
“Fuel efficiency is certainly its strongest suit,” Nerad said. “Also, a low purchase price” and some nice creature comforts inside for the price, like a good stereo system.
Nerad said this is a great pick for those with shorter commutes.
Fuel efficiency: city 43, highway 40
If you’re going to go luxe for your commute, the Lexus CT200h hybrid is the way to go, Sinclair said.
“This is the luxury model of the Prius,” he said. What makes it better than the Prius, he said, is that it’s got different modes – normal driving, eco driving and sport driving, if you want to give it a little get up and go. “The Prius is a snail,” he said.
Not only the quick pick-up but also the handling: It has great suspension and shocks, and superior brakes, he said.
Plus, it’s got that luxury interior, which makes for a smooth ride.
Fuel efficiency: 29 city, 35 highway
“If you want the top commuter car, this is it!” Sinclair said. “The whole package is awesome.”
The Mazda 2 is actually new to the U.S. this year – it’s been available in Europe for the past two years. What Sinclair likes about it is not only the outstanding fuel efficiency but also it’s handling.
“It’s really responsive. Very peppy,” he said. “Good performance, good acceleration … It has a gear for every occasion! For acceleration, for relaxed highway cruising, for high-speed highway driving or just tooling around the city.”
This is a great car for those with a longer commute, Nerad added.
Fuel efficiency: 21 city, 28 highway
This is the only big car on the list — it can seat six. It’s great for carpooling not just for its roominess but also its handling.
“If I had to pile a bunch of people in a car and take a trip, whether it’s long highways, mountain roads, a challenge of any type — this vehicle will handle it,” Sinclair said.
Plus, it’s very fuel efficient and has a unique design. “It’s like a mini minivan!” Nerad said.
Fuel efficiency: 29 city, 36 highway
The Yaris scores high on fuel-efficiency, particularly for the price.
Edmunds.comsays you don’t necessarily think “sporty” or “fun” when you drive it, but “competent.” Steering is light and it’s easy to park, and it’s a great choice for those with a shorter commute.
Nerad calls it a “commuter appliance.” “It’s like a great refrigerator. It just keeps going and going!” he said.
Fuel efficiency: 30 city, 42 highway
Diesel may seem like an odd choice to some, since it’s so much more expensive than gasoline, but you more than make your money back, Sinclair said.
And, it’s a clean-burning fuel. “Diesels aren’t the smoky, dirty things that we remember from the 80s!” he said. New technology makes it a very clean-burning vehicle.
And the diesel makes for better torque, which gives it better pick-up. “It’s got the acceleration of the BMW 5 series,” Sinclair said.
Between that and the mileage, it’s a winning combination. “The mileage is just so impressive. That’s close to what hybrids achieve, without the slug potential of what hybrids have,” he said.
Fuel efficiency: 23 city, 32 highway
The Altima gets decent gas mileage, has good handling and decent acceleration. And, it’s super roomy inside, making it an excellent choice for taller drivers, said Sinclair, who himself is over six foot.
It’s a great choice for carpooling: It can comfortably fit four adults inside with a high roofline, so there’s lots of headroom. And, that room transitions nicely from the carpool to taking the whole family out to dinner or on a road trip.
Edmunds.com also praises its handling: “The current Nissan Altima distinguishes itself with perhaps the sportiest handling of any family sedan,” they wrote in a review. It also gets some points from Edmunds for style.