Urban driving can be a hassle, but we all need to get from A to B. Our writers pick the best commuter cars for a variety of budgets.  

The Daily Grind 

Repetition in life is unavoidable. Monotony, however, can be forestalled by how we shape our days, by the rituals, people, places, and things we choose to fill our lives with. You seek out the right partner for your temperament and outlook, the right job for your aptitudes and interests, and hopefully the right car for your commute, errands, and sundry journeys which round out your daily life.

There are many considerations that go into choosing the perfect commuter car. Comfort, fuel economy, reliability, and more all factor in. For this Critics’ Choice we challenged our writers to find three excellent commuter cars spanning three different price ranges: $15,000, $30,000, and $45,000.

Jesse McGraw’s Top Picks

2024 Mazda CX-30
2021 Volvo S60 Recharge eAWD T8
2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

2024 Mazda CX-30 - mazdausa.com
2024 Mazda CX-30 - mazdausa.com

I started this Critics’ Choice thinking about Los Angeles traffic, the worst commuter experience in the whole United States. I’ve experienced all the converging freeways throughout the city firsthand in a Kia Soul rental car. I learned the hard way how to interpret the various exits and mergers while dealing with LA drivers who had no time to acknowledge a blinker. That mixed with the random traffic crawls would make for an interesting commute every day. I also learned that having a subcompact is ideal for this environment for not only getting through traffic but also for finding parking in the big city. The Kia Soul I had did its job fine, but driving comfort was not ideal during my time on the West Coast. So, my search looked to combine the easy to handle and park mentality with the added value of a comfortable and enjoyable interior.

For my brand-new car choice, I felt that going with a Mazda would be great. The 2024 Mazda CX-30 combines great driving dynamics with a lux interior space and comfortable seating – at least for the driver. It also offers a compact size that I find is a necessity when trying to make your next exit or navigating slow moving traffic. Plus, there’s the option of a punchy turbocharged engine that’ll give you the burst in acceleration you need to hit the on ramp or make those quick lane changes. Fuel economy comes in at 29 mpg combined if you stick with the naturally aspirated engine and drops to 25 mpg combined with the exciting turbo. Not the worst numbers in the world and you get a nice space to sit in on your drives, but the next option might be better if you’re fuel conscious.

2021 Volvo S60 Recharge - carsforsale.com
2021 Volvo S60 Recharge - carsforsale.com

A slightly used Volvo S60 Recharge eAWD T8 might just be an all-around contender when it comes to a great daily driver. The plug-in hybrid sedan is able to achieve 69 MPGe combined when fully charged or 30 mpg combined on strictly gas power. That fuel efficient powertrain features a 2.0L four-cylinder engine that’s been both turbocharged and supercharged to generate 415 horsepower sent through a full-time all-wheel-drive system featuring added power from a part-time electric motor. Volvo has put careful time into the handling of this sedan as it’s both a composed ride and provides great cornering if you find a nice twisty bend on your commute. Inside is full of quality materials and commendable attention to detail. There’s generous amounts of passenger space and the seats are both supportive and comfortable. Used examples of the Volvo S60 Recharge eAWD T8 may still come at a premium price for a used sedan, but they’re worth it.

2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque - carsforsale.com
2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque - carsforsale.com

Looking for something a bit older on the used market while still giving you every ounce of comfort on your drives? Check out some used Land Rover Range Rover Evoque models. These things plummet in price when they drive off the lot, so you’ll get a bargain on the used market. Not only that, but the original owners typically move on quicker than your average owner so you can find plenty of low mile options out there on these Land Rovers. We found a 2020 example as an SE trim with under 20,000 miles on the odometer for just $28,995! That may seem a little more spendy than a used Ford Escape in similar shape, but you get a nicer experience with the Land Rover. Nicely bolstered and comfortable seating, a good amount of passenger space, dual infotainment displays, a fully digital gauge cluster, lux interior appointments, and a panoramic sunroof to let the light in. Not only is this an enjoyable environment for your daily commute, but you join a posh club of specific SUV owners at more affordable price. Fuel economy is a little limiting 24 mpg combined out of the turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine especially coupled with the AWD. Who cares about that though, you’ve got a Land Rover.

Jesse Batson’s Top Picks

2021 Subaru Outback
2024 Toyota Prius
2021 Audi Q5

2021 Subaru Outback - carsforsale.com
2021 Subaru Outback - carsforsale.com

A lot goes into picking a daily driver, especially if it’s used for commuting. Decent gas mileage, a good amount of power, and comfort are all must-haves since I’m braking hard, weaving in and out of traffic, and sitting in standstills. Here are three cars that mostly meet those criteria.

The 2024 Subaru Outback is a possibility. It’s priced between $28,895 and $42,795. However, I found a 2021 Outback that’s $20,999. It’s got 44,176 miles, but it saves money. This Outback Premium makes 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission. CVTs aren’t always smooth, but I’ve driven enough family Subarus to know it gets the job done. All-wheel drive (AWD) is always nice for heavy rain or snow. 26 miles per gallon (MPG) in the city and 33 MPG on the highway isn’t bad. Premium models also have adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, forward collision mitigation, blind-spot monitoring, and a rear cross-traffic alert.

The Subaru Outback handles easily for drivers and rides nicely for passengers. Front seats are heated and comfortable with good support. 42.8 inches up front and 39.5 inches in the rear is plenty for legroom. Cargo space normally measures 32.5 cu. ft. It expands to 75.7 cu. ft. when the seats are folded down. The interior could be better, but it does have Apple and Android integration and a seven-inch touchscreen. A sunroof would’ve been nice, but that’s not a dealbreaker. The bonus is great visibility for merging and lane-swapping.

2024 Toyota Prius - toyota.com
2024 Toyota Prius - toyota.com

I’m also looking at a fuel-saving 2024 Toyota Prius. The efficiency of a Prius is more than enough to turn my head. Add in the $27,950 sticker price for a brand-new Prius and I’m really intrigued. All trims come with 194 horsepower from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, two electric motors, and a lithium-ion battery. An electronically controlled CVT delivers power to the front wheels or all four wheels. I’m opting for AWD. The LE has the best mileage, getting 53 MPG in the city and 54 MPG on the highway. Even with those lower AWD figures, that’ll lower my gas station spending.

The 2024 Toyota Prius has 43.2 inches of front-row legroom and 34.8 inches in the back. Cabin enhancements include leatherette seats, an eight-inch screen, wireless Apple and Android connectivity, and a six-speaker system. Higher trims have heated front seats, driver’s seat memory settings, a wireless charging pad, a 12.3-inch screen, and a JBL sound system with eight speakers. Adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot warning with a rear cross-traffic alert, a forward collision warning and automatic braking, lane-keeping assist, and lane departure mitigation are all included. It’s a nice little package!

2021 Audi Q5 - carsforsale.com
2021 Audi Q5 - carsforsale.com

There’s also the Audi Q5, a luxury vehicle I wouldn’t normally look at. A new 2024 Audi Q5 starts at $45,300, but I found a 2021 Audi Q5 for $28,888. It’s got 37,107 miles. A 2.0-liter inline-four mates to a seven-speed automatic for 261 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. AWD is standard. Adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation, blind-spot monitoring, a lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, a surround-view camera, and front and rear parking sensors are all included at the Premium Plus level.

The 2021 Q5 Premium Plus also comes with keyless entry, a power liftgate, and a sunroof. It’s also got a 10.1-inch screen and signal-boosting wireless charging pad. The leather seats are heated in front and the driver’s seat has memory settings. Sliding and reclining rear seats fold into a 40/20/40 split, which is handy if 25.85 cu. ft. of cargo space isn’t enough. Cargo maxes out at 54.06 cu. ft. when the rear seats are down. Front-row legroom measures 40.9 inches. The second row gets 38.0 inches. That front-row number is lower than the Outback or the Prius, but the cabin is more upscale and comfortable. Each of these cars has positives and negatives but I wouldn’t mind any of them as a commuter car, so the final step? Finding a good podcast!

Chris Kaiser’s Top Picks

2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid
2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo
2021 Lexus Rx 450h

2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid - carsforsale.com
2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid - carsforsale.com

Curating your garage is a life-long task. You might want something sporty, maybe outdoorsy, something that can tow, something with three rows for all those rugrats and the dog. But aside from these various use cases, one staple of any garage is the commuter car. The general-purpose commuter is there to soak up the miles, take the abuse of daily driving, and hopefully provide a degree of comfort all the while. The three vehicles I chose offer vastly different interpretations on the same basic premise.

The first and least expensive of the bunch is a 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid. The Avalon Hybrid is a highly evolved version of the same basic sedan we’ve been riding around in for the past hundred years or so. It emphasizes interior space and comfort over driving dynamics, making it as accommodating (read family friendly) as most crossovers. Its 2.5L four-cylinder is augmented by an electric motor for a combined 200 horsepower and an EPA estimated 40 mpg in city driving. Of course, as a Toyota, the Avalon has a good reliability track record. That can be critical in a less expensive used car since the last thing you want on any commute is a breakdown.

2012 Porsche Panamera - carsforsale.com
2012 Porsche Panamera - carsforsale.com

I decided to shake things up with my middle-priced pick. Rather than your average lightly used, thoroughly dull crossover, many of which could make a respectable commuter, I wanted something a good deal spicier. The last thing you want on your death bed is to think, I should have traded in that RAV4 for a used Porsche, it would have been so much more fun. In light of this foresight, I present to you a 2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo. Yes, it gets an embarrassing 15 mpg in city driving, but that’s the price you pay for greatness. Superman had kryptonite. The Panamera Turbo’s 4.8L twin-turbo V8 gives you 500 horsepower in exchange for that bloated gas bill. A luxury-level interior and Porsche’s impeccable driving dynamics more than compensate. If your commute involves highway miles or curvy roads, I recommend at least glancing at a used Porsche.

2021 Lexus RX 450h - carsforsale.com
2021 Lexus RX 450h - carsforsale.com

And yet, if a commuter car should be anything at all, it’s practical. The undisputed king of practicality is the Lexus RX. It’s nice inside; smooth-riding and quiet, equipped with all the latest tech gizmos like Bluetooth and adaptive cruise control. Very comfortable seats and a Mark Levinson premium stereo make for highlights of daily usage. The 2021 RX 450h I found is powered by a 3.5L V6 hybrid making 308 horsepower and good for an EPA estimated 30 mpg combined. That translates to adequate acceleration and decent efficiency. Which is just fine according to the RX.

The Lexus RX lives by the ethos of set it and forget it. It is unapologetically an appliance, albeit a finely wrought appliance of masterful engineering and careful craftmanship. Its mechanical nature is intended to fade into the background. Its record as one of the most reliable vehicles of the last 20 years reassures owners that they can leave your prior automotive anxieties in the past. If the perfect commute means sidestepping monotony in favor of fashioning a becalming daily rhythm, then the Lexus RX might prove the perfect commuter car.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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