Commuters often buy a similar car each time they shop. We look for the basics of comfort, economical operation and low cost to repair. Let's expand the thinking about commuter cars a bit because the way people drive to work is changing. More drivers have access to charging stations for all-electric vehicles. And more cars have plug-in hybrid capability and other eco-friendly drivetrains. Trading up can add active safety features and driver assistance technology. These are the kinds of tech which can make the drive more productive and more relaxing for everybody.
It's the future; let's go beyond the familiar to different manufacturers who produce similar commuter cars and several levels of luxury and technology for those who have a bit to invest in their commute. Don't just invest in another Accord, Camry or Malibu. Take a look at these options and see if it's time to change the way you think about commuter cars for 2019.
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Part of a growing range of compact car choices for electric-only commutes and starting at about $22k, this EV has a range of 124 miles, delivers 118 hp and reaches full charge in a half hour at 440V. The Ioniq is also available as a plug-in hybrid which Hyundai claims to be the most fuel-efficient car in America. Advanced driver assistance features start on the second-tier SEL trim level, and an Ultimate option package for the top limited trim includes subscription-based navigation, bending lights to follow your route and rear parking sensors. In other words, you can drive a Hyundai without a bag over your head.
Take yourself back to the mid-aughts - say 2007. Remember the Chevrolet Aveo, and what a horrid driving experience it was? Cheaply built, poorly laid out - it was the entry-level car from hell. Often, when the Aveo was in a fender-bender, it was a write-off. Fast forward to 2019, and even though the Sonic is built from the same platform, it is nothing like its predecessor. The Chevy Sonic is like going from an original iPhone to an iPhone X and owning no other smartphone in between. Prepare to have your mind blown. The Sonic is a popular entry on commuting-car lists with solid fuel economy (up to 27C/38H), a low price starting around $15k and a 138 hp engine. It has good handling characteristics, room for people and cargo without much complaint and an easy-to-use infotainment system which helps make it a good low-price commuting choice.
Look, it won't win you any person of the year awards, but the Mazda 3 offers decent fuel economy and good handling along with a commuter-friendly infotainment system and, in the Sport model, the "Smart City Brake Support System" which helps avoid collisions in slow-speed and stop-and-go city traffic, a big commuter plus.
The Rio is another option in the basic commuter car category with reasonable fuel economy in the high 20s city, high 30s highway, and around 130 hp, it offers good handling and good infotainment usability and an entry price around $15k. For those seeking a simple, comfortable commuter car this list has several options from a variety of global sources. The Kia Rio is no slouch. It's not a racer or an off-roader. But then again neither are you.
Forget all about the diesel-gate issues from a few years ago. Those executives are getting their just desserts. We're not Volkswagen apologists - though we do like driving reliable vehicles. The Jetta meets and exceeds the basic characteristics of other commuter cars for $18k to start, a few thousand more than the collection of similar Asian vehicles on this list. The ride and interior comfort are a bit better giving it a more executive feel, and for 2019 the Jetta design has been refreshed and updated which could add to the comfort and handling at a minimum.
The Impreza is hot enough to be popular with modders and tuners as well as commuters. The Impreza is like driving in a Fast and Furious scene when you're in your mid-30s. You want to have fun, but be in bed by a reasonable hour. It has a bit more horsepower than basic models though it can be hard to call upon, but it offers good fuel economy. The roomy seats and standard all-wheel drive help this commuter car, which tends to have a loyal following, compete with all the others with similar specs.
The Kia Forte has been redesigned for 2019. It does well meeting drivers' basic needs including legroom, good fuel economy, comfort, tech accessibility and features and space for your stuff. Reviews of this compact car report that its performance is not that impressive, but the ride is enjoyable. Let's face it, 15 years ago you wouldn't be caught dead even staring at the exterior of a Kia but nowadays, for the price (starting about $17k) the Forte makes it a great commuter car.
Here we have a variation on the basic commuter car narrative which characterizes a number of sound offerings on this list. For a price starting around $15k, Hyundai's standard compact car provides comfortable, roomy seats, responsive handling, and good tech features. Not bad! But, the Accent can be a bit rough on less-than-smooth roads. If your commute takes you over surfaces in need of renewal, driving the Accent might get to you after a while.
Moving up to a midsize format, the Kia Optima hybrid bumps up the fuel economy numbers (39c/45h), adds a selection of popular safety and driver assist features, adds good infotainment technology, and provides a solid, smooth ride which drivers may like a bit more than basic commuter cars and their lighter road feel. Driving a hybrid may not be as en vogue as it was six years ago, but being eco-centric is never truly out of fashion these days, and for 2019, Kia includes even more futuristic features like blind spot monitoring and lane change assist which are heaven for a busy daily commute. Base price starts around $28k.
Stepping up from the Accent, this is another Hyundai commuter offering with similar specs but improved quality over some other models. A big advantage of the Hyundai Elantra is the recent tech refresh it has received. For a car which starts around $17k, it gives a better quality impression than some other compact cars and tends to have great reliability. Want to feel like you can finally afford that little something extra? Then step up a bit more to a roomy 5-door hatchback with the Elantra GT.
The Cruze is a solid choice for highway commutes, with a bit less pep and more comfort and convenience in the interior and tech. It is also available with a diesel engine. For utility beyond the commute, drivers can choose a hatchback version. Unlike some past Chevy compact cars, the interior and exterior have a quality look and feel which keeps up with other similar models on this list. It has a standard turbo engine, and rear vision camera plus Apple CarPlay compatibility and buyers can add a Wi-Fi hotspot option.
There are so many Honda entries in the commuter car category, but it's the Fit which gets top ratings. It's roomy, more upscale than most - it has a less tacky plastic interior, the tech is impressive for its class, and the safety features are plentiful. The fuel economy is excellent (33c/40h) and, for 2019, it features automatic high beams as an option. It's available with either a manual transmission or continuously variable (CVT) one, in several trim levels including a Sport level.
The Ford C-Max Hybrid has a nice price starting in the lower twenties and excellent fuel economy. It uses a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle gas engine plus power-split technology to employ gas and electric drive together. The Titanium trim level provides leather seats and Ford+Alexa allows access to Alexa voice command skills, so you get all the excellence of Amazon's voice commands, without your car ordering you more paper plates. The C-Max Hybrid in its current incarnation may have limited availability in 2019, but it's an example of what new generation hybrid commuter cars can be.
The midsize Honda Clarity has a quality interior which drivers will enjoy and plenty of powertrain efficiency as a plug-in hybrid with fuel economy numbers in the 40s. It is also available as a fully electric vehicle and a hydrogen-powered car in some locations on the U.S. West Coast. The Clarity has a soft ride which commuters may prefer if they have long highway stretches where a bit of detachment from the realities of the road surface would be appreciated. A collection of active safety technologies and a robust infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto provide advanced vehicle protection and media connections on the road. The hybrid version of the Clarity employs serial hybrid technology which keeps the drivetrain focus on electric no matter the power source. The Clarity is the largest sedan produced by Honda.
The excellent (40s) fuel economy numbers of a hybrid along with a more luxurious driving experience than compact cars makes this Sonata an excellent commuter option. The starting price is in the mid-20s. It's a midsize car which scores very well on safety and comfort and is generous with standard features. Several safety assist features are now standard as of a 2018 feature and styling refresh, and additional safety features are offered as options so buyers can add what they need to fit their highway or city-oriented commute.
The i3 is a different kind of BMW, aimed commuting and local trips. It's an enjoyable, greenhouse-gas-friendly ride up to about 153 miles between charges in battery-only mode, or add an optional two-cylinder gas engine for topping up on the go. Eighty percent charging takes less than four hours, DC fast charging can finish the job in 1.5 hours so either way, commuters can fill it up during their time at home or the office to keep it ready to roll. This is an expensive way to do electric, but a nice way to enjoy driving a BMW as a commuter without being your typically obnoxious BMW owner. Luxurious interior options, tech equipment to match modern lifestyles and driver assistance technologies including self-parking take the edge off a busy day.
One of the leading plug-in hybrids with an MPGe in the 80s, the Audi A3 e-tron combines classic Audi performance and luxury with a move into energy-saving hybrid life. A turbo four engine is combined with battery and electric motor drive to configure the best drivetrain for any trip. This Audi can be controlled and personalized using a special smartphone app, and charging is supported by a growing network of charging stations across the United States. It starts around $40,000 in Sportback configuration.
Commuters can sail along in Jaguar style, enjoying the refined experience formerly limited to large and thirsty luxury cars and now available with Jaguar-worthy electric-only power. All-wheel drive and 394 hp provide a driving experience that won't give performance junkies a headache on the way to work, and they can pull up to their assigned parking spot with prestige and sensibility. Jaguar was intent on producing a vehicle which just happened to be electric, allowing drivers to easily make the switch to EV while keeping the features and driving experience that make a Jag worth the price.
Beyond the Kia and Hyundai, the team which is Genesis offers a more affordable approach to luxury in a car suitable for a relaxing everyday commute. The G80 provides performance (it's available in a twin-turbo V-6 sport model), and the latest driving and safety technology in a sensible mid-size car.
For more upscale luxury and complete creature comfort in a plug-in hybrid with refined style, this Volvo executive car does its best to make the transition from home to office stress-free. Known for sophisticated seat comfort technologies, it also includes features such as a HomeLink garage door interface which help the transition home stay smoother, too. At home on the highway for a long commute where adaptive cruise control helps maintain safe spacing, camera-based parking and safety technologies help handle the complexities of city driving.