Best Commuter Car on a Budget

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee
best commuter car on a budget

Working from home may be sweeping the nation, but many people still need to commute to and from work every day.

The daily commuting grind is hard on a car and driver alike. Stop and go traffic and harsh, unpredictable weather like to chew away at a vehicle’s vital components. And don’t even get us started on the overcrowded parking lots where inattentive drivers are just waiting to smash open a door into your prized automobile, or worse – play a little accidental bumper cars.

For many, a commuter car is a necessity, if not a disposable item. It’s something to get them from point A to point B, reliably, and at minimal cost. But not everyone is the same. The amount of value put on efficiency, comfort, price, and usability will differ from individual to individual. So to help out, we have assembled the best commuter car choices that satisfy various needs within different automotive segments. See our picks below.

Chevrolet Spark – Lowest Priced Car

best commuter car on a budget

Listen up Canadians – if the absolute cheapest way to get a new car warranty is all that is desired, look no further than the Chevrolet Spark. The base LS trim level with the five-speed manual transmission starts at an unbelievable price of just $10,398 CAD. And yes, that is in Canadian dollars. Nothing else on the market comes close to touching this price point. Granted, you’ll have to do away with luxuries like air conditioning, power windows, cruise control, and keyless entry, but it’s still a brand new car for just $10K in 2021.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Cheapest New Cars to Buy

Americans are not quite as lucky with the Spark LS manual starts at a price of $13,600 USD due to the fact it comes with air conditioning. That still makes it the lowest price new car on sale in America. With the manual, the Spark is rated at 29 MPG city (8.0L /100 km) and 38 MPG highway (6.2 L/100 km). With the CVT automatic, fuel economy improves in the city by 1 MPG.

Hyundai Venue – Low Priced Crossover

best commuter car on a budget

If the ride height and ingress/egress benefits of a crossover are important in choosing a commuter car, may we suggest the Hyundai Venue. Like the Toyota CH-R and Kia Soul, the Venue resides in that grey area between hatchback and true crossover. Starting at a price of $18,900 USD, the Venue SE comes standard with an automatic transmission, automatic headlights, and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

The Venue is another vehicle where Canadians can actually get it at a lower price, with the base Essential trim level starting at $18,100 CAD. That’s because Canadians get the option of selecting a six-speed manual transmission on the base vehicle; Americans are stuck with the CVT automatic only. And as a bonus, the Canadian Venue also comes standard with heated seats.

Fuel economy for this subcompact crossover with the automatic is rated at 29 MPG city (7.9 L/100 km) and 33 MPG highway (7.0 L/100 km)

Ford Maverick – Affordable Hybrid Pickup

best commuter car on a budget

If an open bed is a must in a commuter vehicle, then we suggest the Ford Maverick. A pickup truck appearing on a list for cheap commuter cars may seem unusual, but there is nothing usual about the this compact truck. The Maverick starts at a price of $19,995 USD ($25,900 CAD) for the entry level XL. That’s very affordable for a pickup truck, but when looking at the list of standard equipment, it’s almost unbelievable.

The four-door Maverick comes standard with a 191 hp 2.5-liter hybrid drivetrain. This allows the truck to be officially rated at 42 MPG city (5.6L /100 km) and 33 MPG highway (7.1 L/100 km). Also included for less than $20,000 are automatic LED headlamps, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and pre-collision assist with emergency braking.

Toyota Corolla – Affordable Hybrid Car

best commuter car on a budget

The Toyota Corolla has always been a darling of the commuter car world, and now it is even better. For $23,650 USD ($25,190 CAD) it is possible to get the Corolla Hybrid LE, which as the name suggests, gives all the ease of use and comfort we’ve come to appreciate in the Corolla along with the benefits of a hybrid powertrain.

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Although the Hybrid gives up power to its purely-gas-powered siblings, the point of a hybrid is to save fuel; and Corolla succeeds in spades. The official ratings for the Hybrid are 53 MPG in the city (4.4 L/100 km) and 52 MPG on the highway (4.5 L/100 km). That’s an improvement of 43% over the regular Corolla LE in the city, which should add up during stop and go traffic.

Kia Niro – Affordable Hybrid Crossover

2022 Niro
2022 Niro

The Kia Niro is another quasi-crossover that is more of a big hatchback than a rugged SUV. Available as a full electric vehicle, a plug-in hybrid, or a more conventional hybrid, it is the latter we are going to recommend as a commuter car. Starting at a price of $24,690 USD ($26,995 CAD), the Niro LX is one of the most affordable hybrid crossovers on the market currently.

Power comes from a 1.6-liter engine paired to an electric motor for a combine output of 139 HP and an impressive 195 lb-ft of torque. Unusual for this segment, the transmission is a dual-clutch six-speed automatic. Fuel economy is officially rated at 53 MPG city (4.5 L/100 km) and 48 MPG highway (4.8 L/100 km). Standard on the Niro are dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-inch touch screen infotainment system, and keyless entry.

Hyundai IONIQ – Affordable Plug-In Hybrid

best commuter car on a budget

If your commute is a short distance, but the ability to go on longer road trips is still required, the Hyundai IONIQ Plug-In Hybrid is a great choice. Starting at $26,800 USD ($32,649 CAD) for the SE trim level, the IONIQ is one of the most affordable plug-ins on the market today. It is capable to travel up to 29 miles (47 km) on a single charge, so if your office has ample changing stations, it could be possible to never need to use gas during a weekly commute.

When pressed into normal hybrid duty, the IONIQ Plug-In is rated for 52 MPG (4.5 L/100 km) combined fuel economy. The IONIQ comes well equipped even in the SE entry level, featuring dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlights, heated front seats, and proximity key with push button start.

Nissan Leaf – Affordable Electric Vehicle

best commuter car on a budget

Having an all-electric vehicle can offer some advantages when commuting, like HOV lane access and prime parking spots. For 2022, the Nissan LEAF features a dramatic price reduction and now starts at just $27,400 USD ($37,498 CAD). Yes, that price is before any potential tax credits as well.

This is for the less powerful, 147 hp 40 kWh version, that offers up to 149 miles (240 km) of range. That should easily cover most round trip commutes even if there isn’t a charging station at the workplace. Nissan still does offer the 214 hp 62 kWh LEAF that extends range up to 226 miles (363 km). Of course, it also extends the price to $32,400 USD ($40,098 CAD).

Subaru Impreza – Lowest Priced All-Wheel Drive Car

best commuter car on a budget

Not everyone has a nice sunny commute. Some spend half the year slogging through ice, snow, and slush. In stop and go traffic, especially when coupled with elevation changes, traction is important. Enter the Subaru Impreza. As the lowest price all-wheel drive car, the sedan begins at just $18,795 USD ($21,995 CAD) with a five-speed manual transmission or $20,095 USD ($22,995 CAD) with the CVT automatic.

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Besides all-wheel drive, the car comes standard with a 6.5-inch touchscreen and Subaru’s EyeSight active safety system if the automatic transmission is selected. For a fully gas powered, all-wheel drive car, the Impreza is quite efficient, rated at 27 MPG city (8.3 L/100 km) and 36 MPG highway (6.4 L/100 km) for automatic equipped vehicles.

Toyota Prius – Affordable All-Wheel Drive Hybrid

best commuter car on a budget

For a more efficient all-wheel drive commuter, we suggest the Toyota Prius Hybrid. Technically called an AWD-e system, the most popular hybrid in the world adopted all-wheel drive a few years ago by adding a small 5 kWh motor to the rear wheels. This provides enough power to the rear tires to aide with acceleration in slipper conditions. Total system power remains at 121 hp with the AWD-e setup, but fuel economy does take a bit of a hit, dropping 7 MPG in the city to an official rating of 51 MPG (4.5 L/100 km), and dropping 6 MPG on the highway to 47 MPG (4.9 L/100 km). Still, when compared to the Impreza, this is tremendous fuel efficiency.

The Prius can be had with all-wheel drive on the LE trim package for a price of $27,135 USD ($30,150 CAD)

Acura ILX – Efficient Compact Luxury Car

best commuter car on a budget

Maybe needing a hybrid or the least expensive car possible isn’t what’s needed. Just a fun, efficient, premium compact that doesn’t cost too much money will do. For this task we recommend the Acura ILX. With a starting price of $26,500 USD ($31,400 CAD), the ILX delivers good value as one of the more inexpensive premium compacts on the market. Standard equipment includes a power moonroof, alloy wheels, and Jewel Eye LED headlights. Inside is a heated, power driver’s leatherette sport seat, dual-zone climate control, and smart key entry with push button start.

Power comes from a 201 HP four-cylinder engine matched to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Fuel economy is respectable for a 200+ HP car, returning 24 MPG in the city (9.9 L/100 km) and 33 MPG (7.0 L/100 km) on the highway. There is bad news though, as premium fuel is recommended.

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