The harsh Canadian winter is a test for any commuter car. Freezing temperatures and snowy streets can have an impact on efficiency and safety when you’re driving on the road to and from work. These are extremely important factors to consider when you’re finding a cheap commuter car to travel the distance comfortably.
Whether you’re searching for your first car or whether you’re in the market for a new or used replacement, factors such as reliability, emergency braking systems, comfort, and fuel-efficiency will likely be high on your list.
In this guide, we will explore the top 12 best cheap commuter cars based on the factors that matter to you most, helping you to make an informed purchase (please keep in mind that oftentimes, the higher the stated price, the greater the potential impact of car depreciation when you come to sell).
Best Cheap Commuter Cars - Sedan and Coupes
The sedan provides commuters with four doors (some sedan cars can have two doors) and a reasonably sized trunk, ideal for carpooling and for transporting things to and from the office. The sedan is also compact enough to have earned a reputation for being one of the best cars for students.
The coupe is a slightly sportier looking two-door version of the sedan, with some four-door versions available. Coupe-style cars still offer a generous amount of cargo space in the trunk, just like their sedan counterparts, but due to a lack of rear doors, coupes are perhaps more suited to commuters who don’t require frequent access to the back seats.
Due to the coupe’s sportier look, you may find that these cars are more expensive than their two or four-door sedan counterparts, which you may wish to bear in mind when searching for cheap cars.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $16,763 to $26,458
Fuel Efficiency: City - 8.6 L/100 km & Hwy - 6.4 L/100 km
When people think of the Ford Fiesta, they generally think of the world-famous hatchback version. However, the four-door sedan offers a fantastic fuel economy and an all-round superb city driving performance without compromising on size. The impressive infotainment system also gives commuters different ways to stave off any traffic jam boredom (Android Auto is available on some models). All at a low base price.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $26,620 to $41,590
Fuel Efficiency: City - 8.1 L/100 km & Hwy - 5.7 L/100 km
Recent upgrades to the Toyota Camry include all-wheel-drive capabilities, meaning you can benefit from extra power and grip - ideal for commuting through the often treacherous road conditions brought on by harsh Canadian winters. Hybrid versions of this midsize sedan provide commuters with a spectacular fuel economy. Also available with power windows.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $17,890 to $29,090
Fuel Efficiency: City - 7.8 L/100 km & Hwy - 6.2 L/100 km
The 10th generation Honda Civic comes with a much wider and lower stance, along with built-in Honda Sensing technology onboard. These improved dynamics and safety features mean that you could stand to benefit from a more fuel-efficient and safer way to get to work.
The Civic also comes with an impressive infotainment system, supporting Android Auto and wi-fi, all offered at a relatively cheap and budget-friendly base price.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $14,845 to $23,795
Fuel Efficiency: City - 8.3 L/100 km & Hwy - 6.4 L/100 km
The Kia Rio is known for its fun driveability, fuel economy, and refined yet sporty look. The car’s longer wheelbase and wider stance also provide you with a steadier and more balanced ride. The Kia Rio’s considerable all-around responsiveness, superb fuel consumption, and low ticket price make this car an ideal cheap option for commuters.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $27,998 to $35,998
Fuel Efficiency: City - 9.1 L/100 km & Hwy - 6.5 L/100 km
The sixth generation of Nissan Altima recently entered the market, delivering an all-wheel drivetrain and engine upgrade that makes this midsize sedan a natural choice for all-weather commuting. Although coming in at a slightly higher ticket price than other options in this list, the Altima’s excellent fuel-efficiency brings the car into contention.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $9,998 to $19,098
Fuel Efficiency: City - 8 L/100 km & Hwy - 6.2 L/100 km
The Chevrolet Spark sedan is perhaps more well-known in its counterpart hatchback version. The slightly larger yet still compact size of the Chevrolet Spark sedan means this car offers a comfortable interior while still delivering on manoeuvrability in built-up cities. The Chevrolet Spark’s excellent fuel economy also means you can expect this car to demand fewer trips to the pump.
Best Cheap Commuter Cars - Crossovers and SUVs
SUVs and crossovers provide commuters with a longer wheelbase and a heavier frame compared to sedans and coupes, ideal for maintaining road traction on exposed journeys. Additional benefits of choosing to purchase an SUV or crossover include fewer stops at the fuel pump, extra space, and increased comfort.
The main difference between SUVs and crossovers is SUVs are based on a truck chassis design, giving the vehicle more weight than the car-based crossover design. Therefore, the body-on-frame SUV design may be more appealing to commuters who face particularly difficult commutes through the harsh Canadian winter, whereas the unibody design of crossover cars is less heavy-duty and cheaper to run, making it the ideal choice between SUVs and smaller sedans or coupes.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $28,549 to $40,049
Fuel Efficiency: City - 8.6 L/100 km & Hwy - 7.1 L/100 km
Originally launched in the year 2000, the Ford Escape is known for its excellent efficiency ratings and impressive cargo space. Newer models are also available with all-wheel drive capabilities, Ecoboost, and Hybrid engine options, meaning you could benefit from a superb all-weather road performance and a fantastic fuel economy.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $28,090 to $42,790
Fuel Efficiency: City - 8.8 L/100 km & Hwy - 6.7 L/100 km
The all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 comes with dynamic torque vectoring, which redistributes the car’s power to the rear wheels as required, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Coupled with the car’s standout fuel economy, and taking the relatively low ticket price into account, the RAV4 represents an efficient, safe, and cheap vehicle for Canadian commuters battling harsh weather conditions.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $39,900 to $55,990
Fuel Efficiency: The listed gas mileage is 35 - 36 MPG (or 6.72 L/100 km)
The fourth-generation Toyota Highlander has been well-reviewed and praised for building on the reliability and safety of previous models. Although this is one of the slightly higher base price models to have made our Top 12 list, the Highlander’s impressive new hybrid engine delivers a truly outstanding fuel efficiency, which helps to offset the asking price for commuters.
The Highlander also comes with a host of onboard multimedia technologies, including a wi-fi hotspot.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $37,450 to $40,000
Fuel Efficiency: The listed gas mileage is 47 - 53.2 MPG (or 4.421 L/100 km)
The Lexus UX200 hybrid offsets the relatively steep expense of its high horsepower engine with a notably superb fuel economy, making this luxury car a powerful and reliable all-weather option that is cheap to run. The UX200 also provides ample cargo space, which you may wish to bear in mind if space is a factor in choosing your next car.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $27,021 to $36,969
Fuel Efficiency: City - 9.3 L/100 km & Hwy - 7.6 L/100 km
The Jeep Cherokee is often spoken about in terms of being one of the most capable and fuel-efficient midsize SUVs on the market. Multiple 4x4 wheel drive options are available, featuring a range of extras. For example, some Cherokees come with ‘snow mode’, ideal for commuting along exposed roads in the Canadian winter months.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): $26,898 to $37,498
Fuel Efficiency: City - 9.1 L/100 km - Hwy - 7.1 L/100 km
Emergency braking, lane departure, and pedestrian detection are just some of the commuter-friendly upgrades available on newer models of the Nissan Rogue. These safety features combine with the Rogue’s outstanding fuel economy (its conservative but effective 170 horsepower engine doesn’t guzzle fuel) to make this car a solid option for Canadian commuters.
No two commutes are the same. This means that if your commuting situation changes, either because you move house or you find a new role further or closer to home, you may have to rethink the best vehicle for your needs.
While sedans and coupes offer excellent value for money and a low fuel economy, their smaller size in comparison to SUVs and crossovers means that sedans and coupes are more suited to relatively short city-living or suburb commutes.
However, if your commute is considerably longer, and if you regularly face exposed weather conditions or offroad style driving (taking the Canadian winter weather into account), the reassuring size and all-around performance of SUVs and crossovers may represent a better option (the worse the weather conditions you are expecting to face, the more you may wish to narrow your search towards SUVs).