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Best cars for commuters 2012

Elon Musk could save the world. Or at least revolutionize your morning drive.

The Tesla and SpaceX founder released his $109,000 electric Roadster last year, but a new project, the Model S sedan, could be the perfect thing for eco-minded commuters:  its 85 kWh motor has a range of 300 miles on one charge and will go 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds, he says.

Best cars for commuters 2012

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Add in a plush Nappa leather interior, seven-speaker sound system and 17-inch center console (it looks like an iPad), and you might even start to look forward to those mornings spent enduring exhaust fumes on the 405.

Musk, for his part, says the car itself will be much more than just endurable.

"You want people to buy the car because it is the best car," he says. "You don't want them saying, I'm going to accept something else just because it's electric."

The best part about it? After tax rebates, the base version Model S will cost less than $50,000, with the performance version costing $79,900.

Unfortunately, it won't be available until later this year—and there's a considerable waiting list. Until then, consider the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, or Ford Fusion for weekday jaunts. Along with six others, they made our list of the year's best cars for commuting.

Behind the Numbers

Scion xD

Scion xD

To determine our list we started with new vehicles listed as Consumer Reports "Recommended Picks" for 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.

Then we selected from that group those vehicles that earned the "Most Reliable" distinction for this year—and crosschecked them with CR's "Most Fuel-Efficient" winners as well. Nine vehicles, including hybrids, sedans and even a couple SUVs, made the final cut.

One interesting note: We didn't put a price limit on the contenders, since there are cars at any MSRP that will facilitate a decent drive to work—and, let's face it, we'd all rather drive a fly ride than a bargain-basement beater. Interestingly enough, all of our finalists cost well under $40,000. And if you remove the hybrids, which carry a hefty premium for their advanced technology, they all cost less than $23,000.

In fact, hybrids are not necessarily more efficient than their conventional counterparts. Just ask Johan de Nysschen, the head of Audi of America. He says that discrepancy is precisely why Audi is pursuing diesel engines more fervently than hybrid tech.

"If we look at the A8, for example, today a gasoline-powered V8 4.2 A8 with 372 horsepower already offers better fuel consumption than the hybrid products in the same segment from Mercedes, BMW and Lexus," he says. "So if we now introduce our clean diesel technology on that car, imagine where it goes."

What's more, diesel engines deliver better performance than hybrid technology, especially when it comes to torque.

Toyota Prius V

Toyota Prius V

Of course, economy isn't everything (and besides that, you can't argue with the fact that more than half of the vehicles on this list are hybrids). The little stuff matters, too, because it adds up quickly over time: According to government data, more than 42 million Americans spend at least 30 minutes in the car on their morning commute. Seven million spend more than an hour.

The bottom line? Be honest about the particularities of your own commute and diligent enough to research which vehicle best fits that lifestyle. At the very least you'll need something spacious enough for comfort, efficient enough for decent gas mileage and durable enough to withstand the inevitable fender-bender. And you won't be alone.

Here are the nine cars (in no particular order):

1. Ford Fusion Hybrid
MSRP: $28,700

2. Toyota Highlander Hybrid
MSRP: $38,540

3. Lexus CT 200h

4. Scion xD

5. Chevrolet Volt

6. Honda Fit
MSRP: $15,175

7. Toyota Prius V

8. Subaru Forester
MSRP: $20,595

9. Toyota RAV4
MSRP: $22,475

Full List: The Best Cars For Commuters 2012