The best commuter cars for 2021


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If you spend a lot of time commuting for work, driving the right car could turn highway drudgery into a pleasant journey. Choosing the best commuter car depends on your commute (long versus short, highway versus city miles), as well as what matters most to you. For a long commute, you may want the best gas mileage you can get — or comfort may be a higher priority, so you’ll feel better when the ride is over. A premium audio system or smartphone connectivity can help pass the time with your favorite tunes. We’ll look at some of the best commuter cars for 2021 to fit your budget and lifestyle.

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How we chose the best commuter cars

We looked at a variety of vehicles, including hybrids, small SUVs and sedans, narrowing the list to vehicles with the highest rating by experts and consumers on Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and Edmunds. Some cars are 2020 models, while others are 2021, depending on the manufacturers’ release schedule and number of reviews available.

Note that the MSRP is for the base trim of each vehicle, which may include a manual transmission. Additional features that could make your commute more enjoyable or efficient may cost extra, or feature as part of a higher trim level.

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2021 Honda Civic Sedan

  • 4.53 out of 5
  • $21,250 starting MSRP
  • 36/32/42 MPG combined/city/highway

The Honda Civic tops our list as the best commuter car for good reasons. It combines thrifty fuel economy with comfortable space for five and various safety and driver-assist technologies. The experts at Edmunds note the Civic’s performance, comfort and practicality that comes at a competitive price point, while its ride quality makes it an excellent choice for chewing up the miles each day. For the daily battles with traffic, the Civic sports adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, collision mitigation braking and road departure mitigation. Bluetooth connectivity and streaming audio offer a hands-free link to your smartphone entertainment and navigation. Step up to the Sport trim level (MSRP $23,050) for Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration, push-button remote start, 60/40 split rear seats, and a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines. Edmunds recommends the EX level (MSRP $24,400), which includes a turbocharged engine, heated front seats and power driver’s seat.

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2020 Chevrolet Bolt

  • 4.41 out of 5
  • $36,620 starting MSRP
  • 118/127/108 MPGe combined/city/highway

Unlike gas engine cars, battery-powered electric vehicles like the Bolt tend to get better mileage in city driving than highway driving. The Bolt has an EPA-estimated range of 259 miles, so if your commute is through stop-and-go traffic, an EV could be a good choice — you may even be able to go a few days without recharging. Reduce range anxiety with the myChevrolet Mobile App that calculates the most efficient route for your drive and points you to the nearest compatible charging station. As a subcompact, the Bolt has enough headroom for taller drivers, but the back seat is a squeeze for three adults. The split-folding rear seats open up ample cargo room in the rear. Still, KBB’s experts wish the front seats had more cushion, so it may not be comfortable for extended commutes.

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2020 MINI Countryman

  • 4.33 out of 5
  • $28,400 starting MSRP
  • 29/26/33 MPG combined/city/highway

The four-door Countryman is a subcompact crossover SUV that blends the spunky MINI driving experience with enough room to fit five adults and luggage. Included in the base trim are features that make commuting more bearable, like active driving assistance and rear parking distance control. To make a chilly morning drive more inviting, check the heated front seat option. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is standard — but if you’re looking for all-wheel drive, upgrade to the Countryman All4.

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2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

  • 4.29 out of 5
  • $20,715 starting MSRP
  • 35/32/41 MPG combined/city/highway

Toyota’s popular Corolla comes three ways — sedan, hatchback or hybrid. We went with the hatchback, whose mileage rating is second only to the hybrid. It seats five with accessible cargo space in the rear. To get the starting price quoted above, opt for the six-speed manual transmission, or else pay about $1,000 more for the automatic. The automatic delivers better fuel economy (shown above) and is highly responsive to boot, but a manual transmission gives drivers more interaction with the car. The Corolla’s interior feels more luxurious than you might expect for a commuter car, with soft surfaces instead of hard plastic. The front seats are built for comfort, but KBB’s experts found the rear seat room a bit tight. For 2021, the Corolla features the Enhanced Cargo Space on most models that lowers the cargo floor by removing the spare tire. Standard safety features take the stress out of commuting, with lane-departure warning and assist, auto high-beam headlights and automatic emergency braking. Opting for the automatic adds adaptive cruise control and lane tracing.

Image Credit: Toyota.

2021 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

  • 4.25 out of 5
  • $23,400 starting MSRP
  • 59/58/60 MPG

Hyundai offers its Ioniq sedan as a plug-in hybrid, a fully-electric vehicle and the hybrid we focus on here. The electric version offers the greatest mileage, but the hybrid puts up solid numbers at one of the lowest prices on the market. Underneath the hood, gas and electric systems switch on and off, but it all happens quietly and smoothly. For the especially environmentally conscious, the Ioniq’s interior uses recycled materials, such as wood, plastic and sugar cane. Front and rear seats are comfortable for racking up the miles,  with the 60/40 folding rear seat allowing for large amounts of cargo space when folded. The 8- or 10.25-inch display screen connects you to wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for navigation and entertainment. The base Blue trim offers driver-assist features to make your commute safer, including lane-keeping assist, driver attention warning, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and electronic stability control.

Image Credit: Hyundai.

2021 Subaru Outback

  • 4.25 out of 5
  • $26,795 starting MSRP
  • 29/26/33 MPG combined/city/highway

We see the Outback as one of the best cars for long commutes, especially if you drive through rain and snow. Like all Subarus, it has all-wheel drive and more ground clearance than many of its competitors. The standard X-Mode optimizes the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system to provide max traction for any weather conditions — then there are standard safety features like EyeSight driver assist technology, which includes adaptive cruise control with lane centering. Higher trim levels have even more safety features — one example is the DriverFocus system, which spots a drowsy or distracted driver using facial recognition software and infrared sensors.

Image Credit: Subaru.

2021 Hyundai Tucson

  • 4.23 out of 5
  • $23,700 starting MSRP
  • 25/23/28 MPG combined/city/highway

A compact SUV, the Tucson offers space to haul the family around on the weekend and pick up a cartload of groceries on the way. The Tucson was designed with family use in mind — notably, the stain-resistant cloth seats repel spills and fight odors. The cargo area has an adjustable floor, and the folding rear seats double the cargo volume. The Tucson is well equipped at the base SE level, with forward collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and a⁠ 7-inch color touchscreen display. And if you’re planning on racking up the commuting miles, Hyundai has one of the most generous warranties available, offering a 5-year/60,000-mile limited warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty.

Image Credit: Hyundai.

Ways to finance the best commuter cars

Shopping for an auto loan is just as important as shopping for the right vehicle. You can look at banks, credit unions and online lenders to find the best APR. Then you’ll be ready to knowledgeably compare your financing with what the dealer may have to offer.

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