According to U.S. Census data, an average one-way daily commute time in America is just over 25 minutes and more than 8 percent of workers spend an hour or more driving to or from work. Many commuters opt for used cars to save on initial costs and insurance. We picked the 9 best used cars for long commutes. We looked at reliability data from Consumer Reports, compared maintenance costs, checked fuel economy and other ratings. As usual, we left one spot for a reader’s choice. Feel free to vote.
One of the perennial best sellers, the Civic is also one of the best cars for long commutes. The Civic offers precise and responsive handling and good road feel. The ride is firm, but compliant. ConsumerReports rates the Civic’s reliability ‘above average’; maintenance costs are fairly low too. Honda Civic is one of the most fuel efficient vehicles in its class. The 2007 Honda Civic with an automatic transmission gets 36 mpg on the highway. The Civic is also available as a hybrid, however there are reports about the hybrid battery problems. If you want to buy a hybrid, the Honda Insight or Toyota Prius would be a better choice.
Mazda 3, 2004 and newer
Mazda 3 is an excellent choice if you want a sporty small car with a peppy engine. Mazda 3 is available as a hatchback or sedan, with a manual or automatic transmission. With an independent rear suspension, the 3 is fun to toss around the corners. Mazda 3 is powered by a 2.0L or 2.3L (2.5L from 2010) engine. The ride is firm, but comfortable, although there is some road noise. The interior is sporty and nicely finished. Mazda 3 is very reliable; maintenance costs are moderate. Fuel economy is average for the class. The 2010 2.0L Mazda 3 gets 24/33 mpg with an automatic and 25/33 mpg with a manual transmission.
Honda Insight hybrid, 2010 and newer
The second-generation Honda Insight is an aerodynamically-shaped 5-passenger hatchback. It’s about the same size as the Civic, but with less rear seat space. The Insight has a 1.3L engine and a continuously variable transmission with the electric motor/generator sandwiched between them. The Insight handles sporty for a hybrid, especially compared to the Prius, but the ride is firm and road noise is noticeable. Honda Insight is reliable and is very good on gas. The 2010 Honda Insight is rated at 40/43 mpg city/highway.
Volkswagen Jetta/Golf TDI diesel
Volkswagen doesn’t have the best reputation for reliability, however the TDI diesel models are known to last for 200,000 miles and more, especially with a manual transmission. What is remarkable about the diesel is the fuel economy. The 2004 VW Jetta TDI diesel with a manual transmission is rated at 32/42 mpg city/highway, with the annual fuel cost estimated around $2,250 at 22,000 miles per year. The Jetta comes as a sedan or wagon. It handles very well and is comfortable to drive on long distance trips. The Golf hatchback is also available with a diesel engine. VW diesel models are rare, but if you find one in good mechanical shape, it could serve you well for a few years.
If you are looking for exciting driving experience or rich interior, the Corolla is not the car for you, but if you need a simple dependable commuter car, don’t overlook it. Toyota Corolla is one of the most reliable cars on the market and won’t cost you a lot to maintain. It’s also one of the segment leaders in resale value. The base 1.8L engine is adequate in day-to-day driving, but it won’t overwhelm you with power. The handling is predictable, but the steering lacks feedback and feels somewhat numb on center. The ride is soft and comfortable. The cabin is fairly quiet, although you will hear some engine noise on acceleration. The 2009 Corolla with an automatic transmission is rated at 27/35 mpg.
Toyota Prius hybrid, 2004 and newer
The 2004 and newer Prius is a fairly small hatchback with a very roomy interior. The Prius has enough power to pass or merge on the highway, yet, it’s one of the most fuel efficient cars – the 2009 Toyota Prius is rated at 48/45 mpg city/highway. With a 40-mile one way commute and some weekend grocery shopping, you will probably have to fill the Prius’s 11.9-gallon tank only once a week. At 22,000 miles per year, with mostly highway driving, the Prius’s annual fuel cost is estimated at $1,600. How can you beat that? Despite all the high-tech stuff, Toyota Prius is very reliable. We’ve done some research and found that the Prius’s hybrid battery rarely needs replacement and often lasts more than 200,000 miles.
Honda Accord (4-cylinder)
Honda Accord is one of the leaders among family sedans. It offers a roomy nicely-done interior and a refined powertrain. The Accord’s 2.4L 4-cylinder engine is one of the best in its class. It provides reasonable power and decent fuel economy. Handling is precise and responsive. The ride is on the firm side, but compliant. The reliability is above average, maintenance costs are moderate. Honda Accord scored well in the crash tests. Front seats are very comfortable even on long trips. The 2010 automatic Honda gets 21/31 mpg city /highway, however, the 2011 4-cylinder Honda Accord with an automatic transmission is rated at 23/34 mpg city/highway by the EPA.
The Fit is a fun-to-drive subcompact with a very roomy interior and flexible cargo space. The Fit’s unique feature is the rear seat that not only folds down but flips up, allowing to haul tall cargo in the second row. Honda Fit is very reliable and easy to maintain. It handles well and feels nimble on the road, although the ride is firm and the road noise is noticeable. Also, the cracks in the pavement and expansion joints are felt when driving over them, partially due to smaller tires. If this doesn’t bother you, it’s an excellent practical small car. The 2010 Honda Fit with an automatic transmission is rated at 28/35 mpg city/highway.
Chevrolet Equinox / GMC Terrain, FWD, 2010 and newer
If you want a family vehicle that is suitable for long commutes, check out the 2010 and newer 4-cylinder Chevy Equinox or its mechanical twin, GMC Terrain. Both models are rated at 32 mpg on the highway in a front-wheel drive trim, which is even better than most family sedans. The segment mainstays like Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V are also behind: they both are rated at 28 mpg on the highway in front-wheel drive trims. The Equinox and the Terrain offer a very stylish, well equipped cabin with plenty of passenger space. The long-term reliability is not proven yet, but to date, they don’t have too many problems. Either vehicle offers secure handling and very comfortable highway ride.