Practical But Not Punishing: Best Commuter Cars Under $10K

What comes to mind when you think commuter car? For many of us, it's a hand-me-down family car or an econobox that gets good gas mileage or distance on a charge but isn't much fun to drive. It could also be a nice older car which costs less upfront but has major repair costs in its future. Thankfully there are some better options, ones which you can probably afford and which won't leave you tense at the office and grouchy when you get home. After all, you deserve to have comfort, safety, and affordability together in your commuting vehicle!


What's a nice, basic commuter car with good fuel economy and reliability?

The traditional economy commuter cars include Toyota and Honda compact and subcompact models, now including the hybrid Prius. Most from 2011 are sub-$10k; the 2013 Honda Civic is also within this range. They all provide high reliability, excellent fuel economy, especially for the Prius, with decent comfort and basic features. Repairs are generally reasonable, but beware of the Prius' battery replacement cost, which is a substantial percentage of the used car price!


What's a good choice that will make me feel a bit more like an original than a copycat when I drive to work?

The 2012 Mazda 3. It's a little jazzier but basically in the same class as Toyota and Honda subcompact models. For about the same price as the top sellers, you can get a slightly newer Mazda 3. It makes a great commuter car with decent gas mileage and driveability, and you may find that you prefer Mazda styling over the more common Civics and Corollas.


How can I express my creative side, carry photo gear to location shoots, or just get people talking when I drive to work?

Check out the 2013 Kia Soul. People still recall the hamster TV ads for these vehicles with a unique appearance and funky styling. Kia is a popular South Korean brand, and the boxy Soul is one of their popular North American models. It's a great brand in general -- new Kia SUVs and crossovers are highly competitive in the current market. Gas mileage, reliability, and comfort are good, and tech features are up to date for 2013.


I'm a bit more hardcore, and I'd like to commute in something economical but with a precision German feel. What's right for me?

Drive the 2011 VW Golf. The Golf is a sporty, reliable German commuter car. It handles well, has decent fuel economy, and is equally at home on city streets and the German Autobahn highway. Those with mixed commutes will find this an excellent choice that keeps them comfortable no matter what the driving conditions.


What's good for both commuting with good gas mileage and repair costs, and with AWD to head to the great outdoors?

You need to see the 2012 Subaru Legacy. Fans of the legendary Subaru Boxer engine can enjoy its performance along with all-wheel-drive for commuting in changeable climates. The Legacy also has updated comfort, decent technology, excellent handling, and Subaru quality. Gas mileage is good, repair costs are better than average, and it makes a versatile vehicle for weekend trips. A 2012 dips under $10k and provides a nice change of pace for the commute.


I've got goals and I want my car to feel like the suit I wear to work, sharp and upscale. What can I afford?

If you can find one about ten years old with decent mileage, Lexus and Acura models such as a Lexus IS sport, ES sedan, or Acura TL are great options. They offer top reliability, decent gas mileage, and excellent comfort and driveability, but may cost a bit to repair if needed. When the car you park at the office needs to make a statement, these are excellent under $10,000 choices.


What sub-$10k used model looks and feels like a prestigious company car, with a good cost of ownership and a relaxing ride?

For sure, the 2010 Hyundai Genesis. The Genesis is now Hyundai's higher-end standalone brand in its own right, but it was introduced about ten years ago as a new Hyundai model. As with Toyota Lexus and Honda Acura, it's a car for those who think more of themselves: great comfort and handling, smooth ride and decent gas mileage. In South Korea, Genesis cars are often chauffeur-driven. Repair cost should be reasonable — check for transferable warranties on cars less than ten years old for additional affordability.


I'm a Junior VP and I want to show upper management I know how to live the part. What sends a message that I'm confident and ready to take on the world?

An executive car with great reliability and performance for under ten thousand, a 2010 Audi A6 may be more than you thought you could buy. Look for the V6 engine and expect somewhat lower fuel economy but a lot of fun, comfort, and relaxation on your commute. Or you can drive like a boss in all kinds of traffic, your choice. Your clients will love going to lunch with you in this one.


I'm ready for an electric car with an average commute and charging stations available, but I just want a regular car that happens to be electric. What can I drive for under $10k?

One way to find a quality electric commuting car is to look for a popular gas model with an equivalent EV version such as the 2013 Ford Focus EV. Electric vehicle drivers need to be mindful of charging and range, but for a regular commute that shouldn't be a problem. The obvious benefit in fuel economy is accompanied by compact car comfort and decent driveability.


I've been following electric car development for years and I'd like to get something from a Japanese manufacturer that's been on the market for a while. What's available?

The 2011 Nissan Leaf is a popular electric car model worldwide and has been through many generations of evolution. It's perfect for single or double occupant commuting. By the way, now is a good time to start driving electric as there are so many charging options -- even at many workplaces. Remember that the Leaf affordability, as with any EV, is somewhat tempered by the eventual cost of battery replacement.


The size of my car isn't an issue, it's the safety and ability to go just about anywhere, especially in my city commute. An electric would do fine, what works for me?

Smart cars aren't for everybody, but the 2013 Smart ForTwo offers a great deal for commuters in an urban or suburban short-trip environment. Mercedes build quality, and structural design makes the Smart vehicle safer than it looks, while still providing extremely compact transportation which can park almost anywhere, gain two-passenger or EV HOV access and enter zero-emission urban zones. For this price range, you can even find convertible models!


I tend to drive American and I want to get good gas mileage and reliability in something that feels familiar. What can I get that should last?

Interestingly, the 2011 Buick LaCrosse is even more popular as a commuting car in China than it is in the US. It gets good gas mileage, is comfortable to drive, can seat a small family if the SUV is unavailable, and is well-rated for reliability.


I can't afford to fuel and fix an SUV, but I like driving one. What's a good compromise with similar capabilities and Japanese economy and reliability?

We all know someone who prefers to drive a more outdoors-oriented vehicle to work. Do you? The 2010 Toyota RAV4 4WD meets that need with Toyota gas mileage, quality, and longevity along with a comfortable ride and good handling. For rugged climates or for sales and repair personnel using their own vehicles, this 4WD Toyota has additional advantages.


I have to make a good impression with clients or colleagues and I don't mind paying a bit more for gas and repairs down the road, but I need reliability. What sharp ride can I get that costs under $10k but looks like a million?

There are plenty of reasons for selecting a Mercedes-Benz 2009 E-Class sedan as a daily commuter, but a careful budget is not usually one of them. Nevertheless, the executive E-class can be had for under $10,000 about ten years old. Repair costs won't be as low as economy cars, gas mileage could be better, but safety, comfort, and luxury features are hard to beat at this price.

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