The Best Cars For Commuters 2014 – Forbes

Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Driving to work used to be a much simpler equation. In 1960, there were 74,431,800 registered highway vehicles in the United States, traveling on 1,230,000 miles of paved roads. As of 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available), 253,108,389 vehicles compete for space on 2,605,000 miles of paved roads. In fifty-one years, we went from 60.5 vehicles per mile to 97.2 vehicles per mile of paved road, according to statistics gleaned from the United States Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The impression that the roads are more crowded isn’t just an impression — it’s a fact that makes your choice of vehicle more critical than ever.

To help simplify your choices, we have put together a list of The Best Cars For Commuters 2014. Our selection is drawn from the Consumer Reports list of Recommended Cars. To be recommended, cars must deliver high scores in the Consumer Union’s “more than 50 tests, have average or better predicted reliability; and perform adequately if included in a government or insurance industry crash test.” Cars are rated on a scale of 1 – 100, with higher scores being best. Next Next, we examined gas mileage, as reported on the official source for fuel economy, Better fuel economy equates to bigger savings for commuters. Then we considered fuel capacity and range. Great efficiency without adequate range means more stops to refuel (or recharge) and lost time. We did not factor in purchase price into our selection. The base price range of vehicles this year was from $25,200 all the way to $69,900, with drivetrains ranging from conventional gasoline to hybrid gasoline/electric to diesel to pure electric.

We’ve selected two vehicles per commute for five different commuting needs: Short Commute; Long Commute; Summer Commute; Winter Commute; and Carpool.

A Short Commute is 10 minutes or less, and probably involves city driving. Small cars and hybrids are poised to make the most of a short ride. “Most of today’s hybrid vehicles are engineered to maximize fuel economy in stop-and-go conditions,” says Michael Harley,’s West Coast Editor. “While they are competent on the open road, their best efficiency is realized during short city commutes or when driving in heavy congestion.”

“A Scooter or a moped” would be the best choice according to Jon Alain Guzik, founder and CEO of RideApart and “Seriously, if you have a short commute, it all comes out in the wash as it won’t cost an arm, a leg and a few toes in gas.”

Guzik and Harley both agreed that diesel powered vehicles make great sense for a Long Commute. “You have power, you have efficiency and most of all, most of the diesels are really nicely-equipped sedans,” states Guzik.

“Diesel engines are optimized to deliver impressive economy and range during steady state cruising, plus they are very dependable. Most will also go 500-plus miles on a tank, which extends the interval between fuel stops,” Harley adds.

Summer Commutes need to take lifestyle into account. The pleasure of a warm weather drive in a convertible cannot be discounted, and including a sports car or convertible into your daily drive can turn every drive home into a mini-vacation. Winter Commuting can be made easier with the right vehicle. Consider an all-wheel drive crossover with ample ground clearance, and mud and snow will become less of a hassle. For the lucky drivers who share driving time in a Carpool, comfort is key — not just for the driver, but for passengers as well. Efficiency is also important.

Photo (c) Volkswagen

Photo (c) Volkswagen

The Volkswagen Golf TDI received high marks from Consumer Reports, and earns a slot as one of the Best Vehicles for a Long Commute by virtue of its diesel powertrain, outstanding fuel efficiency and long range. With a 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine that produces 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, the Golf TDI is capable of achieving 42 miles per gallon, good for a range of up to 609 miles between fill-ups.

Photo (c) Jason Fogelson

Photo (c) Jason Fogelson

Toyota’s newly redesigned Highlander Hybrid AWD makes a very good choice for Winter Commuting. Its high ground clearance and robust all-wheel drive system assure that winter road conditions won’t overwhelm its abilities, and the proven gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain provides excellent efficiency in the process.

Photo (c) Tesla

Photo (c) Tesla

Tesla’s Model S is the most expensive commuter on our list, starting at over $69,000, but it promises to coddle your carpool in luxury while reducing your gasoline bill to zero with its all-electric powertrain. Few carpoolers will complain about the quiet, smooth ride in the Model S — though they might balk at paying part of your electric bill.

Both AutoBlog’s Harley and RideApart/DriveApart’s Guzik are emphatic about finding a car that you enjoy driving. “While many shoppers become fixated on purchase price, I recommend finding a vehicle that the commuter is very comfortable driving and then selecting a trim level that fits the budget,” says Harley. “Remember, few regret spending a bit more money on a good pair of shoes.”

Guzik gets the last word. “A car is something you will deal with for the next 3-5 years. Choose wisely: The least expensive car isn’t always the best car.”


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