Need something efficient and reliable to get from point A to point B? These no-hassle vehicles will get the job done comfortably.
To compile our list of the best cars for commuters, we started with all 2010 new vehicles on sale in the United States, paring down the group by selecting only those labeled by Consumer Reports as "Recommended Picks" this year. Recommended Picks are models that have average or better predicted reliability and that meet Consumer Reports' safety standards; they also had to have performed well in accelerating, braking, handling, comfort and other user-oriented tests. It's worth noting that the recalled Toyotas on our list passed these tests.
Then we combined the highway miles per gallon for each vehicle with their front legroom and front headroom measurements, assigning one point for each mile per gallon and one point for each inch of space, for a total score. Of those finalists, the 10 vehicles with the best combination of highway fuel efficiency, legroom and headroom made our list.
We didn't put any price limit on the automotive contenders, since there are cars at any price point that can be great on a morning commute, but interestingly all of our finalists cost well under $30,000, and all the cars on the list without the added price of hybrid technology cost under $23,000.
The reason for that skew toward lower retail pricing is likely the emphasis we placed on fuel efficiency â€” most luxury sedans and crossovers weigh more than their less-glamorous counterparts, which decreases their average mpg. The hybrids, though heavier and more expensive than their conventional brethren, still achieved good enough gas mileage and reliability scores to make the list.
The other vehicles on our list show the importance of a time-tested fuel that has yet to convert the typical weekday driver in America: diesel.
According to the automotive research and analysis company R.L. Polk & Co., 40 percent of the cars in Europe are powered by diesel engines, most of which get up to 60 mpg. In the U.S. their presence is less than 2 percent even though their fuel efficiency is routinely 40 percent better than that of gasoline engines.
Besides their enviable efficiency (42 mpg and 47 mpg on the highway, respectively, after Consumer Reports tests), the $22,254 Volkswagen Golf TDI and $22,830 Volkswagen Jetta TDI offer features that make a commute more enjoyable â€” touch-screen navigation (in the Jetta), satellite radio and premium sound system with eight speakers, built-in MP3/WMA-capable six-CD changer complete with media device interface.
And Consumer Reports, in its write-up of the Volkswagen TDI technology, said the turbocharged diesels deliver performance comparable to a gas engine without the smell and noise of older diesels. The review said the new exhaust-system treatments, along with new ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, make the TDIs clean.
Indeed even Chris Royle, the director of global product strategy at R.L. Polk, says the next car he buys will run on diesel fuel.
It'll be a welcome change for his wallet, no doubt: Royle commutes 86 miles each day.