Extreme Commuting in the 2012 Chevrolet Suburban, 2012 Toyota Yaris and 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

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The 2012 Chevrolet Suburban and 2012 Toyota Yaris we tested for this edition of Extreme Commuting are two ends of the commuter-car spectrum. The large Suburban takes the comfort angle, while the tiny Yaris takes a more frugal approach. I also put the punchy Fiat 500 Abarth through my lengthy commute.
 
The Yaris is cheap and gets decent gas mileage, making it the more traditional commuter car. Not everyone is a fan, though; it finished midpack in our mileage challenge of $16,000 subcompacts earlier in the year. The SE we tested here is considerably more fun to zip around corners in than the base L model we drove in our Subcompact Shootout. A little bit of on-ramp fun was had before the inevitable bumper-to-bumper traffic buzz-kill. The Yaris over-delivered on its 30 mpg city rating with 33.3 mpg.

The full-size Suburban LTZ may not be cheap or fuel-efficient, but it has plush seats and a road-owning ride, making it a comfortable commuter. After 90 minutes in Chicago traffic, the resulting saneness of riding in silence and relaxation is almost worth its 15 mpg city rating. A faster-than-average commute returned 16.8 mpg. My passenger said, “It’s like we’re flying.” She was right; the Suburban has a soft ride and its higher ride height overlooks the roofs of dinky commuter cars like the Yaris and Fiat 500 (both could probably fit in the back of the massive Suburban).
 
Fiat’s Abarth is the hot-rod 500 with a 160-horsepower turbocharged engine and manual transmission. Considering the Abarth’s performance intentions, the surprisingly soft clutch and easy shifter made stop-and-go commuting a non-issue. Seating comfort is sparse, however, with a park bench-like front seat. The flat cushioning on the seat bottom and seatback made extended time in the Abarth a pain. Also, at highway speeds, the car shimmies uncomfortably when road surfaces change. I’d commute in the Fiat everyday … if I could haul it in the back of a Suburban.
 
Extreme commuting is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as someone who spends more than 90 minutes per day on the way to the office. Since Cars.com is based in downtown Chicago, my commute lasts that long and can bring out the worst — or best— gas mileage in the cars we test. We track our gas mileage to give drivers with similar commutes an idea of what to expect in these conditions.
 
My real-world commute averages 35 miles one way from the western suburbs to downtown Chicago. It takes 90 minutes on good days and up to three hours on bad days. Those are really, really bad days. Speeds average 22 to 25 mph.

Like in our mileage challenges, data is collected from the car’s on-board trip computer. As we've reported before, they are generally accurate, especially when calculating trips of this length.

Yaris_se

2012 Toyota Yaris SE

  • 1.5-liter four-cylinder, four-speed automatic transmission
  • EPA rating (city/highway/combined): 30/35/32 mpg
  • Time: 1 hour, 23 minutes
  • Trip mpg: 33.3 mpg
  • Trip miles: 36.6 miles
  • Average speed: 26 mph
  • Outside temp.: 55 degrees


Fiat_abarth
2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

  • Turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder, five-speed manual transmission
  • EPA rating (city/highway/combined): 28/34/31 mpg
  • Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
  • Trip mpg: 28.4 mpg
  • Trip miles: 36.8 miles
  • Average speed: 24 mph
  • Outside temp.: 58 degrees


Suburban
2012 Chevrolet Suburban LTZ All-Wheel Drive

  • 5.3-liter V-8, six-speed automatic transmission
  • EPA rating (city/highway/combined): 15/21/17 mpg
  • Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
  • Trip mpg: 16.8 mpg
  • Trip miles: 34.7 miles
  • Average speed: 30 mph
  • Outside temp.: 58 degrees

Related
Check out More Extreme Commuting Posts
More Automotive News on Cars.com
2012 Fiat 500 Abarth Review

Comments 

ForwardThinker

Another article tooting excess and waste. Funny how cars.com says that it tries to help people in the car buying decision. Hmm, apparently they ignore current economic trends. People who buy the Suburban for its "road-owning ride" are probably passive-aggressive jerks lacking in two areas. Not to mention in the current economy who can afford $4 a gallon gas or the expense of a mammoth SUV. It would be nice to see cars.com stick to their mission of giving 'good' advice.

Pt

Hold on a minute, Forward thinker...Properly equipped the 'Burban can seat twice as many people as the Yaris or Abarth. Suppose that the "wasteful" owner only wants one car that meets their commuting, family hauling, and towing needs rather than having one tiny commuter car, one car for family and cargo hauling, and another that can tow. Suppose also that the Suburban owner is a forward thinker and arranges to carpool, fitting seven others in their gas guzzling behemoth. Now, all of a sudden there's one less car on the road! I think one Suburban getting 16.8 mpg is better than two Yarises (Yari? ) getting 33. I agree that the Suburban is not the ideal choice for a single commuter, but single commuting is not the ideal choice for any car. Being a good steward of the environment and making wise choices with the resources you have is the best way to protect the planet. Not all who drive Suburbans are passive aggressive jerks...a little less knee-jerk judgmentalism, please, and a little more sensitivity!

ForwardThinker

I never said they all were passive-aggressive, I said anyone who buys a car for its "road-owning ride" is. Nobody owns the road, we share it. And personally, my experience with large SUV drivers is that they're unaware and dangerous drivers because their large vehicle lulls them into a false sense of security.

As far as the rest of your point, it would be good if people did do all that... but c'mon, you know as well as I do that the road is clogged with large SUVs with a single occupant.

FT,
We cover every vehicle for every type of buyer. If we only focused on small, economy models we wouldn't be "Cars.com" we'd be "smallcars.com"

That said, check out my recent Chevy Tahoe review where I point out repeatedly how the more efficient Traverse is the better option for folks needing the passenger capacity, but for towing there is great utility to be had. You can't take three kids to school and head to work in a Yaris so you need a mix of vehicle types and sizes.

As for current economic trends, there is actually an uptick in large SUV sales right now. Chevy sold twice as many Tahoes and Suburbans than Toyota sold Yaris' last month.

Bowrider

I never want to live in Chicago. That's what this article taught me. I would buy a Suburban so I guess I also learned that.

Bowrider,
Living in Chicago is great. Driving in Chicago is a different story. I have a 23 mile commute. Can take 90 minutes in the a.m.

ForwardThinker

I'm sorry but larger families than the ones we see now managed for generations without massive SUVs. Furthermore, fertility per woman in the US is right about 2; which has declined from an average of 3 decades ago. Families are getting smaller, not larger.

The mindset that each child needs a full captain's chair with enough space that each body part never touch another surface (with the exception of the behind) has to change. Most people in other countries don't have the luxury of worrying about whether their knees graze the backs of the seat in front of them, or whether they can fully stretch their wingspan in the vehicle.

But I will agree with you, the Traverse is superior in every respect to the Tahoe with the exception of towing. If you're going to rationalize a large car, at least get one that can properly handle and brake; and has a semblance of fuel economy.

Rockaby

My 15-mile commute takes me about 20 minutes...I'm going to stay right where I am thank you!

Bowrider

That commute is nuts to me, DT. Too much of my life spent in a vehicle means less time of my own and higher stress levels.
I say that and I live in DC right now. But, DC traffic moves, albeit slowly, and there are workarounds.

Highdesertcat

My wife's dad has a '73 Suburban 4X4 with the 454 and the THM400 which he continues to drive daily in spite of the fact that his best mpg is 6mpg going downhill with the wind at his back.

And in those honkers you needed to use Premium gas or they'd rattle and ping like crazy.

He also owns two modern 2WD Suburbans for the real estate business and one thing I noticed when riding in his Suburbans with him driving is that people get the hell out of the way and think three times before crossing the intersection when they see a Suburban coming.

I'm not sure that the Yaris or Abarth would instill the same amount of fear in other drivers.

The price of gas is but a small price to pay to arrive in comfort.

I'll take bigger anytime, even commuting in Chicago or Los Angeles or even NYC.

Usually these reviews use similar cars, I don't get the idea behind using a large suburban, a 4-door family hatch, and a sports hatch. It's pretty clear that in long journeys the Suburban would be the best bet. This is article is nonsense.

Michael

I just bought a 2012 4x4 suburban, fully loaded and I absolutly love it. Hey, "Forward Thinker" I have a very good job because I have very good work ethic. You and any more of your "liberal" buddies CAN NOT and WILL NOT make me feel quillty for enjoying "comfort,luxery,class" etc etc, If I want to spend $10 a/gal on fuel thats my business because its my money.
P.S. "Forward" when i pull up[ to pick up my kids from school, don't let me run over you in your "prius", my not see you down there..

Doug McLaughlin

Interesting article. I have another option for you all to consider....a used "Panther" platform Ford product, ie; Crown Vic, Town Car,Grand Marquis. In more than 500,000 miles of driving these "dinosaurs" I've averaged about 19 mpg in commuting, about 27.5 on a typical highway trip, and haul a 3200# boat with no headache at all. the only changes I make are to add progressive rear springs (about $200) and a tranny cooler (another $150). Here is the rub, these cars go about 350,000 miles with virtually perfect reliability. The most I've ever paid for one was $7500! Less than a new Yaris with decent towing capability and a nice comfortable ride. The only problem is I never wear the darn things out!

Mike Brownhouse

I'm a little late to the party, but I felt the need to counter "Forward Thinker's" regressive thinking. I and my ancestors didn't claw our way to the top of the food chain to drive ugly, unsafe junk, just because it fulfils some liberal's viewpoint that it's good for the earth because back seat passengers bump their knees on the back of the front seats. I also commute to downtown Chicago. I recently purchased a GMC Suburban 2500 4x4 with the 454 motor for the sole purpose of commuting. Why? Because I like to be comfortable, because I sometimes like to tow or haul stuff, because I have a job and therefore money for gas, and most importantly, because I like the road-owning ride. You better believe it's road-owning. Pull out in front of me in your 2,200 pound car and you'll learn just what it means to own the road, and what it means to be owned. The 454 makes the lesson a quick one. I'm a particularly conscientious and courteous driver, although I usually roll my eyes at the strange folks darting in and out of traffic who have given up any semblance of comfort or convenience to drive a limited-use novelty car that supposedly gets good gas mileage. The way I see it, it will take the average Yaris driver ten years to make up in fuel savings the price difference between their expensive new Yaris and my cheap-but-trusty old Suburban. Meanwhile, at least my Suburban is useful. I'll meet you back here in ten years when my Suburban has 120k more miles, and your Yaris is a pillar in a skyscraper in China.

English speaker

May I just make a point that the word liberal doesn't mean someone is Liberal (lowercase l v uppercase L).

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