10 Best Cars to Tackle Winter

November 29th, 2013

1991 Toyota 4Runner

As we saw this past week, snow and ice can be quite a drag when you need to get somewhere—especially when half the country does at the same time. With Winter Storm Boreas hitting just in time for the Thanksgiving travel rush, we got to thinking about just which cars we’d prefer to take out in extreme winter conditions. Some of them are practical, some are sensible, and others are downright nuts—but they’re all cars we’d love to be in when the white stuff starts falling.

A great winter car should have many attributes: all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, an engine in the front and heated seats are a good start (okay, that last one isn’t really a necessity, but it certainly takes off the edge on a cold winter’s day). However, all that technology will not automatically make the car perform well on a slick road. Winter tires are also hugely important and can help many cars perform quite well in snow (and will make the cars on this list perform even better). When you package all this up, you have the recipe for a car that should be able to get you to the mountain and back safely and comfortably.

2014 Chevrolet Suburban

10. Kicking off our list is an industry giant (in more ways than one): the Chevrolet Suburban. Put into production in 1934, the Suburban is one of Chevrolet’s most famous nameplates and has gained a reputation as a bulletproof SUV, capable of hauling almost anything almost anywhere. Weighing in at a staggering 5,820 pounds and getting power from a 5.3-liter V8, the Suburban just laughs as the snow starts to accumulate. While there are definitely other cars we’d prefer to drive in light snow, when inches start turning into feet, there are few we’d rather be in than the Suburban.

2014 Acura MDX

9. Next up is a relative newcomer to our lists: the Acura MDX. Redesigned for 2014, the new MDX is a huge improvement over the outgoing model and appears poised to shine as it approaches its first winter. Available with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, the MDX does a great job of staying glued to the road in adverse conditions while offering a smooth and luxurious ride during fair-weathered commutes. Add to that the plethora of luxury options that Acura offers and you’re likely to be too satisfied to even notice the snow coming down.

2014 Ford Fusion

8. In at number 8 is a shocker even we didn’t expect: the Ford Fusion. We’ll admit it, we had no idea the Fusion was a beast in snow—but that’s exactly what Fusion owners say. It makes sense—the Fusion is available with all-wheel drive and a few different engine choices, all of which (with the exception of the hybrid) seem to make Fusion owners more than at ease in the snow. While we’re taking Fusion owners’ word for it now (it helps when they said things about the Fusion like, “I think this is the happiest I have been (really love this car) owning a car in a long time“), we’d love to get the chance to see just how much the Fusion really “is a tank in the snow.

2012 Toyota 4Runner

7. If you live in a remote area that sees several feet of snow every year, you probably don’t need to look much further than the Toyota 4Runner. One of the last truck-based SUVs, the 4Runner has been in production for 20 years and has earned a rock-solid reputation over that time. One of the most off-road-capable SUVs on the market today, the 4Runner has steadily built up a (much deserved) reputation as being both extremely reliable and able to go anywhere. Buy the 4-wheel-drive version and you should have no trouble pushing through more than a few inches of the white stuff. That being said, the reason we can’t rank the 4Runner higher is that it does particularly well only in deep snow at slower speeds (and preferably off-road). On snowy roads you would likely be better off with some of our other picks.

2012 Volvo XC90

6. Our next pick comes from a country almost synonymous with winter: the Volvo XC90. Built in Sweden, one would hope that the XC90 knows a thing or two about performing in sub-zero conditions, and it certainly does. With a low center of gravity and lots of ground clearance, the XC90 is an excellent all-around bet for winter. A smooth ride, seating for 7 and plenty of room for cargo make the XC90 a great choice for a winter road trip, whether it be down to the Keys or up to brave the mountains of British Columbia.

2012 Jeep Wrangler

5. When you think of the Jeep Wrangler, what do you think of in terms of limitations? If you answered “None,” we’re with you. The Wrangler is simply an awesome vehicle capable of conquering almost any terrain. In the summer it’ll have no problem charging up a sand dune, and in the winter it won’t even bat an eye at plowing through a snowdrift. While the Wrangler may be lacking in the comfort category, it is more than capable of handling whatever mother nature can throw at it after the leaves fall.

2013 Audi Allroad

4. Batting cleanup is a car that is has recently returned to the U.S.: the Audi Allroad. Based on the Audi A4, the Allroad gains a few inches of ground clearance and comes in a wagon style, meaning it can get you more places than the A4 and haul more stuff while you’re getting there. Equipped with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive, the Allroad does a good job of staying stuck to the road. While you won’t necessarily be able to tackle a mountain trail, the Allroad should get you and your gear to the top of any mountain with a paved road.

Mercedes-Benz G-63

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

3. While the Mercedes-Benz G-Class may now be more commonly associated with bankers and rap stars, there was a time when it was known only for its extreme durability and ability to shine in horrendous conditions. Originally designed as a military vehicle, the G-Class made a transition to civilian life in 1979 and hasn’t looked back since. That being said, the car is still a favorite of many world militaries, and just this summer it was selected as the new off-road vehicle of the Swiss Armed Forces. Given the incredible terrain of the Swiss Alps (especially in winter), we can’t imagine a better endorsement of the G-Class’ abilities in winter.

2012 Ferrari FF

Photo courtesy of Midlands Limos

2. What seats 4, has 4-wheel drive and goes from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds? The Ferrari FF. Equipped with 6.3-liter V12 pushing out 651 hp, the FF is nothing short of a blast in the snow. In fact, the car is so great in the snow that Ferrari had World Rally Champion Markku Alen unleash it on a snow-covered track in Sweden. While most Ferrari owners would never dream of doing the things Alen does with the FF, the fact remains that driving an FF in the snow would bring most of us plain, simple and pure joy.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

1. How do you top a Ferrari? The answer is simple: with a Subaru, almost any Subaru. Take a trip around New England, Colorado or the Northwest, and you’ll be hard-pressed to turn around without seeing the Pleiades. What do these regions all have in common? Snow, snow and more snow. With a lineup featuring almost exclusively all-wheel-drive cars (the lone exception being the BRZ), Subaru has carved a niche for itself as the go-to brand for anyone looking for a safe, reliable car that will excel at winter driving. Although the entire all-wheel-drive lineup has earned accolades for its abilities in the snow, there is one particular Subaru that has caught our eye: the XV Crosstrek. Based on an Impreza wagon, the XV Crosstrek was developed with Europe in mind but proved to be an instant hit in the U.S. Sitting a few inches higher and with a bolder style than the Impreza, the XV Crosstrek takes the best of the Impreza and makes it just a little more versatile, able to handle higher snowfalls and slightly tougher terrain (although still not much). With heated cloth seats, heated mirrors and a windshield de-icer standard, the XV Crosstrek takes all that Subaru does best and puts it in one small, affordable package. For that, there is no other car we’d rather find ourselves in on a snowy day.

What would you like to drive in the snow this winter?

-zwaller

Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Chevrolet Suburban
Used Acura MDX
Used Ford Fusion
Used Toyota 4Runner
Used Volvo XC90
Used Jeep Wrangler
Used Audi Allroad
Used Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Used Ferrari FF
Used Subaru XV Crosstrek

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  1. Colin
    January 3rd, 2014 at 10:59 | #1

    Last year I had a 03 Jeep Liberty Renegade Edition and it handled snow like a beast even though it had balled all season tires that i could get to break loose into a power-slide in fall rain. This year I upgraded myself to a 2011 Subaru WRX and i swear that is the best thing ever in the snow with my snow tires. It is a car that’s traction outdoes its clearance, so i don’t even have to shovel a foot of snow to leave my driveway. As well as It’s super sporty in the summer with my potezna’s. I have often gone 40-50 mph on 20 mph off-ramps.

  2. Daniel
    January 2nd, 2014 at 12:37 | #2

    This is my first winter driving a Subaru Impreza wagon. So far I’m very impressed and happy with my choice. Although I loved my Mazda 3 hatchback for beach trips up and down the New England coast when winter snow came I had zero reliability in the vehicle and absolutely did not want to be driving alone during a winter snow storm. Yikes! Love ya Mazda 3 but the AWD Impreza wagon beat you hands down.

  3. Randy
    November 30th, 2013 at 10:45 | #3

    A good used vehicle you missed was the Chevy Trailblazer 4WD. I first started using them years ago driving between the Detroit area and our winter test site in Northern Michigan, and I was immediately impressed with the Trailblazer’s balance, snow grip ability and handling in heavy snow. Opt for a 2006 or later model with Stabilitrac stability system. It’s one of GM’s most thoroughly developed vehicles with many years of production and mine has been very reliable and with only routine maintenance.

    A caveat about large, heavy, long wheelbase trucks like the Suburban. It’s hard to get it to start to yaw, but once it does, you are done for the day. Simply too much mass and moment of yaw to control with the stability system. The weight and long wheelbase can work against it as well in heavy snow.

    Not so the Volvo XC90. I’ve got hundreds of hours in an XC90 doing winter testing, and it’s a superb snow and ice vehicle. Like the Trailblazer, the modest wheelbase helps the stability system work. It’s also a relatively aggressive stability system, which makes it ideal for spouses who may not have advanced winter driving skills.

    Other great choices you mention are Subaru, a favorite here in Michigan, along with jeeps. forget those lightweight crossovers like Audi and Acura and especially skip cars. When the snow gets deep enough to hit the floor plan on these vehicles, you are stuck, no matter how many wheels you are driving.

    And the ultimate joke? The Ferrari, of course. You could probably outfit it to be a boat, too, but that doesn’t mean anyone would seriously take one out. That’s the kind of dumb publicity stunt that shows like Top Gear like to pull.

  4. DistiIIer
    November 30th, 2013 at 09:16 | #4

    I have a 1991 Toyota 4runner, Pretty much the exact model in the cover picture. And I can attest to it’s outstanding off road / winter driving capabilities. One of my favourite vehicles I have ever owned.

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