Best commuter cars for every budget

  • Nine cars ideal for the commute to work and back
  • Long distance commuting to urban crawling
  • Electric, petrol and diesel choices 

Whether work is a necessary chore or a fulfilling career for you, most of us spend an astonishing amount of time and money getting there. The TUC’s – Trades Union Congress – latest figures indicate we spend an average of 27 working days a year commuting to and from work, with more than three million people spending at least two hours a day in the car or on public transport. Drivers are by far the most committed commuters, facing the longest journeys in both distance and time. 

If you’re going to spend a decent proportion of your daily life inside a metal box, it might as well be a comfortable one. Below, we’ve put together a list of sensible and stress-free cars ideal for the daily commute. All have spacious, comfortable interiors, good seating and can average 50mpg or more on the combined fuel economy cycle. For more help choosing your ideal commuting companion, check out our leasing deals, this week’s best cash and finance offers, and our cars for sale section.

Long distance commuter cars

For those of you who live on the road, here are our high-mileage heroes; chosen to minimise costs and maximise comfort, they’re as much a place of work as a means of getting there.

1. Mercedes-Benz C-Class

The new C-Class is something of a triumph. Looking a bit like a miniaturised S-Class luxury car inside and out, it has a shiny new interior, more tech than you can shake a silicon chip at and especially if you spec the ‘Airmatic’ air suspension, it rides beautifully too. We’d pick the C220 d diesel – it’s not the most powerful option, but still feels plenty quick enough on the road – with the nine-speed automatic gearbox. The manual’s a bit vague and the auto ’box suits the car better.

New price: £30,850 – £78,383
Lease this car from new
Used price: £9,950 – £57,455
Our pick for engine and trim: C220 d auto SE
Parkers star rating for comfort: 4.6 stars
Average fuel consumption
: 65mpg
Power output: 170hp

Read our full Mercedes-Benz C-Class review

2. Audi A5 Sportback

A sleeker, far more attractive body than the A4 saloon but nearly as much headroom, four doors and a hatchback tailgate make the A5 Sportback the best of all worlds. A fresh design with class-leading interior, there’s an extensive range available including the high performance S5 and the eco-focused Ultra. We’ve chosen the 2.0-litre TDI S Line version, which is a rational choice for most needs; Quattro all-wheel drive is available, but we’d look at adding features like Traffic Jam Assist and LED or matrix headlights first. Massaging seats are an option well worth specifying for longer commutes, too.

New price: £34,760 – £56,795
Lease this car from new
Used price: £18,535 – £40,590
Typical used monthly cost: £457 – £1,001
Our pick for engine and trim: 2.0 TDI 190, S Line
Average fuel consumption: 68mpg
Power output: 190hp

Read our full Audi A5 Sportback review

3. Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport

One of the most significant cars in the fleet sector, the Insignia’s latest generation is lighter, more efficient and higher quality. A coupe-style fastback, the Grand Sport has been designed to counter the appeal of the predictable premium offerings while offering low P11D and BIK values.

One of the newest models in this roundup, the Insignia Grand Sport is available with active-matrix LED headlights and adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist. Vauxhall also include OnStar, a connected concierge service that incorporates an on board 4G WiFi hotspot. This intuitive system makes it possible to request assistance from a human operator with a simple press of a button – it is considerably better than other manufacturer or smartphone artificial assistants

New price: £19,945 – £38,260
Lease this car from new
Used price: £9,810 – £24,200
Typical used monthly cost: £242 – £597
Our pick for engine and trim: 1.6 SRi VX-Line Nav
Average fuel consumption: 65mpg
Power output: 136hp

Read our full Vauxhall Insignia review

Town and country commuting

Comfort, reliability and entertaining handling can make living in the country and working in town a breeze, and give the flexibility to enjoy the open road when traffic allows. These are our top choices for mixed conditions and minimal stress when your commute offers the chance to reach the national speed limit.

4. Honda Civic Hatchback

Dramatic looks disguise some high-technology, but surprisingly compact engines for the size of car. Claiming 56.5mpg, the real charm of the petrol Civic 1.0-litre Turbo EX is in the split personality it offers for city and country driving. Switch into sport mode and explore the well-balanced chassis, and bends become something to look forward to – though the CVT gearbox and relatively small engine do place the focus on cornering ability rather than power. Once onto dual carriageways, the eco or standard modes smooth the transmission and Honda’s extensive suite of driver assistants soothe the nerves, with subtle active steering assistance, responsive adaptive cruise control and easy stop-start traffic progress. Heated, widely adjustable supportive seats, a pleasingly large sunroof and advanced infotainment system with easy support for smartphones and built-in apps complete the package for an excellent all-rounder.

New price: £18,895 – £33,525
Lease this car from new
Used price: £495 – £32,995
Our pick for engine and trim: 1.0-litre Turbo EX
Average fuel consumption: 57mpg
Power output: 129hp

Read our full Honda Civic review

5. Ford Focus

Ford Focus

It’s really no wonder that more than 16 million Ford Focuses have been sold worldwide, such is the popularity of this hatchback.  The fourth-generation of the Focus provides a polished, all-round drive, as long as you don’t opt for the optional adaptive dampers. 

Outside styling of the Focus might have been diluted in this most recent iteration, but underneath the hood and inside the cabin is a car that will keep you safe and entertained on your drive to and from work.  There are eight engine types to choose from, although no hybrid or electic yet – although they are hybrid-compatible, apparently. 

New price: £18,305 – £29,655
Lease this car from new
Used price: £12,355 – £23,365
Typical used monthly cost: £305 – £576
Our pick for engine and trim1.5 EcoBlue Diesel
Average fuel consumption: 67mpg
Power output: 118hp

Read our full Ford Focus review

6. Toyota C-HR

Our Parkers Awards New Car of the Year 2018, the C-HR is dramatically stylish, yet entirely practical. The hybrid drivetrain is the one to go for if you spend a lot of your commute driving through town, when it’s at its most economical. There is the option of a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine if you prefer simplicity, too.

Exterior design is only part of the appeal. Toyota has taken that complex design language and translated it to an interior which appeals both visually and as a tactile environment. Mixed materials, including a bold aluminium signature in vibrant colours and textured surfaces hold the interest and make the C-HR feel futuristic. Practically, it is a little smaller in the boot, and a little claustrophobic compared to mainstream SUVs, but considerably more useful than a traditional coupe.

New price: £21,885 – £30,780
Lease this car from new
Used price: £13,340 – £26,030
Typical used monthly cost: £329 – £642
Our pick for engine and trim: C-HR Hybrid Dynamic
Average fuel consumption: 74mpg
Power output: 120hp

Read our full Toyota C-HR review

City commuters

If your commute is spent envying the cyclists whizzing by, electric power may be an ideal solution for you. Until full autonomy is possible, these are the nearest you’ll get to letting the car take the strain. For mixed commutes using rail and car, eco-friendly cars often qualify for discounted or free station parking, such as schemes run by London Midland

7. Citroen C3

Compact, but still more than spacious enough for families, the C3’s city-focused design extends to plastic Airbumps designed to shrug off minor contact.

Equipped with low-emission engines and generously padded comfortable seats, the Citroen’s driving tech isn’t as comprehensive as some rivals, but it has the basics of adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lane keeping assist. However, the stand-out feature for the cut and thrust of congested urban dual carriageways and roundabouts is the built-in dash-cam. Unobtrusive and linked to your smartphone, the ConnectedCam will record beautiful scenic drives on your behalf. It will also record any incidents you may encounter on the road when the contact does more than bounce off your Airbumps, which could save your no-claims bonus.

New price: £12,150 – £19,010
Used price: £5,690 – £13,390
Typical used monthly cost: £140 – £330
Our pick for engine and trim: BlueHDi 100, Flair trim
Average fuel consumption: 76mpg
Power output: 100hp

Read our full Citroen C3 review

8. Nissan Leaf

Not a small car, but a smart one – the Leaf’s combination of purely electric power and advanced driver assistance positions it as the perfect no-stress urban commuter car. ProPilot provides a suite of distance, lane- and hazard- sensing, and the unique feature of the Leaf is that it can often be driven with a single pedal. Release the throttle, and the car brakes itself using regenerative braking as much as possible, meaning you often don’t need to press the pedal yourself. Because the Leaf is a zero-emission electric car, it is also likely to benefit from free parking at railway stations and subsidies in some working environments. It also has one of the highest real-world ranges for affordable electric vehicles at around 200 miles, which could mean several days of commuting between charges.

New price: £31,495 – £40,295
Lease this car from new
Used price: £17,720 – £27,235
Typical used monthly cost: £437 – £672
Our pick for engine and trim: 2.Zero 40kWh

Read our full Nissan Leaf review

9. Ford Fiesta

Want to keep it simple and traditional? Ford’s Fiesta is one of the cleanest designs of supermini available, with high quality trim and the option of the stylish Vignale luxury edition. Go for Zetec trim as a minimum, and Ford’s excellent Quickclear heated windscreen saves vital time on cold mornings, safely defrosting without effort. A full driver assistance pack is a relatively inexpensive option – at £400 including adaptive cruise control and pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection.

Like most Ford models, there’s a wide range of trim and engine options to match most budgets; all are competitively priced and up to date. We’d go for the B&O Play Zetec if you appreciate music for your commute, as it has uprated speakers, or a regular Zetec with added driver assist pack. The 125hp 1.0-litre turbo Ecoboost engine with automatic transmission is perfect for relaxed cruising and painless city driving. If you’ve more A-road than roundabouts on your roundabout, the six speed manual makes for an entertaining combination though.

New price: £15,670 – £22,790
Lease this car from new
Used price: £7,315 – £18,480
Typical used monthly cost: £180 – £456
Our pick for engine and trim: Titanium 1.0 Ecoboost 125
Average fuel consumption
: 65mpg 
Power output
: 125hp

Read our full Ford Fiesta review


Cheaper commuter cars

Incredibly, for less than the deposit typically needed for low-cost PCP deals there are hundreds of appealing cars, so to narrow it down we’ve picked cars which can offer over 40mpg, have reasonable insurance, and are under 10 years old. Parts availability should be good, comfort levels acceptable and safety close to modern standards.

Here are five cheaper options, which should continue to make that long trip to work pain-free and affordable.

Skoda Octavia Estate 1.9 TDi (2005-2013): Load-lugging practical estate

2005 Skoda Octavia Estate

We cant escape the Skoda Octavia in our budget buying guides, with good reason – it’s a tough, reliable car with a great balance of comfort, equipment and style. The estate is a handy size for parking and driving town centre traffic, yet swallows up to 1,655 litres of luggage.

More to the point, it’s handsome and well made. Skoda really got into its stride with this generation of Octavia, and it’s a very easy car to live with as a result. The diesel engine is robust and easy to maintain for most independent garages, and can return impressive economy too. Our owners’ reviews rate it highly, with well over four stars on average.

Used price from: £795
Power: 105hp
0-60mph: 11.5s
Fuel economy: 47-55mpg
Insurance group: 14-23

View the latest Skoda Octavia Estate cars for sale

See also: Ford Focus estate, Mercedes C-Class estate, Jaguar X-Type estate 


Ford Ka Hatchback 1.2 Start Stop (09-16): Affordable urban economy

2009 Ford Ka

Solidly built and attractive to sit in, the 2009 Ford Ka shared underpinnings with the Fiat 500 – but offers a very different feel and driving experience. A tough little car with light, easy controls and good all round visibility, the Ka also came with start/stop technology, saving fuel in the urban crawl.

Space for passengers is also much improved over the original Ka, with a surprising amount of legroom in the back if your driver is of average height. Owners rate the comfort highly, even for long drives.

Go for the entry level model and cut potential repair costs further, with manual locking and windows; body colour bumpers and metallic paint look smart regardless of trim level.

Used price from: £1,850
Power:
70hp
0-60mph: 13.0secs
Fuel economy: 57mpg
Insurance group: 3

View the latest Ford Ka cars for sale

See also: Nissan Pixo, Citroen C1/Peugeot 107/Toyota Aygo. Renault Twingo


Fiat Sedici 1.9 MultiJet

An unusual four-wheel drive bargain

Fiat Sedici 4x4

It might seem unusual to recommend an older Fiat 4×4 that isn’t Panda-shaped, but the Sedici (Italian for 16, or 4×4 – get it?) is another one of those cross-platform wonders where one manufacturer’s skills have met another’s styling with pleasing results.

Underneath the Sedici lies a Suzuki SX4, with the Japanese brand’s four-wheel drive expertise, and the 1.9-litre MultiJet diesel – by far the easiest version to find – is the proven 8v JTD motor also found in models as diverse as the Saab 9-3 and Vauxhall Astra.

Avoid the 1.6 petrol front-wheel drive version, but our readers love their 4x4s.

This attractive little car is light and manageable for a 4×4, yet not as spartan as older choices like the Suzuki Ignis 4Grip. It also has decent economy, and will get you to work in the snow and sleet admirably. For this, we apologise…

Used price from: £575
Power: 122hp
0-60mph: 10.8secs
Fuel economy: 39-53mpg
Insurance group: 14-23

View the latest Fiat Sedici cars for sale (and if there are none, the Suzuki SX4 is worth a look).


Honda Civic IMA Saloon (2003-2005)

Urban Commuting win – a hybrid

2003 Honda Civic IMA

And the one that is a little too old to fit our targets but provides some food for thought.

An anonymous small saloon that manages to be as far removed from the high-tech image of hybrids, the Civic IMA is not common, but it’s worth seeking out if you spend a lot of time in the urban crawl and want to save money. It has a comfortable ride, decent interior space and traditionally good Honda fit and finish; although it’s a smaller car, it was a premium option at launch.

The Integrated Motor Assist concept is not capable of running as a pure electric vehicle, but uses the torque of the electric drive to improve the performance of a lean-burn 1.3 i-VTEC engine. It also provides regenerative braking and stop/start functions in traffic, cutting costs during the most frustrating phase of the commute.

Used price from: £1,999
Power: 88hp
0-60mph: 12.1secs
Fuel economy: 57mpg
Insurance group: 17

View the latest Honda Civic IMA cars for sale


Citroen C5 Tourer 2.0 HDi Exclusive (2009-2015)

Long distance luxury for PCP deposit money

2009 Citroen C5

When Citroen released the C5 in 2008, it improved build quality and interior design to catch up with credible competitors like the BMW 3 Series. On entry-level models the hydropneumatic suspension made way for conventional springs and dampers, with the fine blend of comfort and handling you’d expect from a Citroën still intact. Feedback from owners is positive, too.

An early well-equipped C5 Tourer can be picked up for less than £2,000 in good condition, look for 2.0 HDi 140 Exclusive models to get incredibly comfortable electric seats, a good audio system and double-glazed refinement plus 40+ mpg for long journeys.

Used price from: £1,399
Power: 140bhp
0-60mph: 10.9s
Fuel economy: 47mpg
Insurance group: 18-35

View the latest Citroen C5 cars for sale

See also: Ford Mondeo Estate, Alfa-Romeo 159, Peugeot 407


*Prices based on examples found on Parkers Cars for Sale and limited to availability. Similar examples may be on offer. Prices correct at time of publication. Pictures not representative of specific examples.

What to read next: 

Top 10 cars for under £20,000
Which of the UK’s favourite cars are best on fuel?

Ten great fast but economical cars

*Prices correct at the time of publication and are all subject to change.