Everybody loves the sight of a winter wonderland … until you have to try to drive around in one. Snow, ice, freezing temperatures and low visibility can quickly turn that dreamscape into a nightmare. Fortunately, there are a host of features in modern vehicles that make driving in snow and adverse conditions much more convenient and, most importantly, safe. While most vehicles have these features available, some put more of an emphasis on safety than others, making them the best cars for winter driving.
Great Cars for Winter Driving
Nearly all Subarus are great for winter driving. Not only is the marque well-known for scoring high safety marks, every model in its lineup, with just one exception, comes standard with its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. This system sends power to all wheels simultaneously for maximum traction and acceleration. In slippery conditions, that power is distributed to the wheels with the best traction. This helps the car maintain a firm grip on the road.
Some of the Crosstrek’s other features add to its case as one of the best cars for winter driving. Most notably, the compact SUV has nearly nine inches of ground clearance. This makes driving on snow-covered roads much easier. The spacious storage room and raised roof rails should be enough for all your cargo if you’re going on an adventure. Add it all together and the Crosstrek is the perfect vehicle to get you through the winter.
If there’s a car manufacturer you can trust to build suitable vehicles for winter driving, its one that has to deal with winters in Sweden.
Much like Subaru, Volvo is renowned for vehicles that are both extremely safe and snow-friendly. And much like the Crosstrek, the V90 Cross Country comes with all-wheel drive, extra ground clearance and spacious cargo room.
The car’s Off-Road mode recalibrates responses to make driving on rough terrain easier. It comes with adaptive headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, collision avoidance systems, road-sign recognition and blind spot monitoring. Heated seats are also available.
Jeeps are known for their ruggedness, so it’s natural to find one on a list of best cars for winter driving. The Grand Cherokee comes available with the Quadra-Lift suspension that lowers the car at highway speeds and raises it for off-road driving. Also available is the Selec-Terrain Traction Management system that adjusts how power is distributed to the front and rear wheels. This enhances traction and handling on snow and other slippery surfaces.
What really distinguishes the Grand Cherokee from Jeep’s other models when it comes to great winter-driving cars is its comfort. It easily fits five adults along with ample amounts of storage space. Add in available heated seats and steering, and the Grand Cherokee is a cozy oasis from the winter cold.
The Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road trim includes Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive, which enhances responsiveness and stability by distributing more power to the wheel that needs it.
But you don’t have to go to the top trim level to experience the best the RAV4 has to offer. Standard on all models is Multi-Terrain Select. Drivers can choose between four modes – including Snow — for enhanced traction. The system works by sensing slippage and then regulating wheelspin as needed.
The SUV also comes standard with the Toyota Safety Sense. This program includes a host of driver assistance features including pedestrian detection, lane departure alert and automatic high beams.
Boasting top safety awards, gas and hybrid trim options, and a reasonable price tag, The CR-V is one of the top compact SUVs on the market. It comes standard with front-wheel drive, but Honda’s Real Time all-wheel drive, which responds to adverse conditions, is available. Considering how inexpensive the base model is, tacking on additional features still shouldn’t break the bank.
Honda Sensing – a suite of safety features including adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist system – comes standard in all trim levels. For additional safety help, blind spot monitoring and LED fog lights are also available.
While all the cars on this list have ample storage room, the CR-V takes it another level. The SUV’s fold-down 60/40 split rear seatback creates an adaptable cargo space of more than 75 cubic feet.
The Top Car Features for Winter Driving
Once the first snowfall of the year hits, the discussion on the need of winter tires begins. Our experts agree that if you live in a cold climate and regularly drive on snow during the season, you’ll want to invest in winter tires.
Winter tires have two specific features that distinguish them from all-season tires: material and tread pattern. The rubber compounds of winter tires stay flexible in below-freezing temperatures. Additionally, their unique tread patterns and deeper tread depths help channel and expel snow and reduce snow buildup.
All-wheel drive works by delivering power to all of a vehicle’s wheels instead of just two. Most of today’s best systems drive the front or rear wheels continuously and engage the other set automatically as needed. This is critical when driving on the snow because if one or two tires lose traction, power can be diverted to the other tires to help the car stay in control.
Advanced Safety Features
The same systems that keep drivers safe under normal conditions are even more important when adverse conditions arise. Features such as anti-lock brakes and stability control are required by law. Others, such as adaptive headlights and forward collision avoidance are almost always available. All these features can drastically improve vehicle control and visibility on wintery roads.
Heated Seats and Steering Wheels
Heated car seats and steering wheels may seem like more luxury features than safety features. But being comfortable and alert is critical to operating a car safely. These add-ons can go a long way toward getting a person prepared to drive.
Sedans can have as little as four inches of clearance from the undercarriage to the road. If you get a major snowfall, the car isn’t going anywhere regardless of the other features. SUVs however, can surpass eight inches of clearance. The more space, the easier it is to drive over the snow.
Regardless of the car your drive, stay safe on the roads this season by brushing up on our winter driving tips.
17 Thoughts on “5 Great Cars for Winter Driving”
Volvos are good in winter but unfortunately their dealers are prone to gouging the customers on service repairs and maintenance and such is seemingly condoned by the manufacturer (complain to Volvo corporate and their response is—each dealer is an independent business entity, we can’t do anything) so they are better leased while under warranty period and not owned. At $170 per hour for labor, it gets really expensive, especially for so many glitches. You need to be able to do some maintenance and repairs yourself.
I think it would be more accurate to say “these are the best selling cars for winter driving” (though I haven’t researched that either). There are lots more cars that are equally as good in the snow, from makers like Audi, BMW, VW, and essentially any vehicle with some version of all wheel drive.
Sadly, these selections only work in areas in which the community is diligent at cleaning. In Canada in many locations, people buy trucks because the community doesn’t have the budget to clean. And the budgets to clean are going to get less rather than more over time. I still drive a Jeep for winter, not summer and certainly not great gas mileage, and mostly because it has over 16 inches of ground clearance because there is the day when you have an appointment and the snow the night before still resides in your back lane. In our community, they do not clean residential streets unless their bus service gets stuck. And often the cars in this list are stuck in the residential streets, but those with trucks or Jeeps pass them.
It is too bad that the ‘car gurus’ who looked at winter driving cars didn’t include any of the Audi’s. From the Q’s to the Allroads they hug the road and have the most recent technology than any of the other cars mentioned. (Volvo uses the older Audi technology) I have had 10 Allroads, yes 10! I live in the Northeast and the only problem I have ever had, is that one can get a little too confident in these cars as they hug the the road so well in all types of weather.
how about 4 door sedans?
Hi Pam, thanks for reading and for the questions. After doing some quick research, these cars appear to be some of the best sedans for driving in the snow: Ford Fusion, Subaru Impreza and Audi A4. Thanks!
While 4 wheel drive will get you “unstuck,” it won’t stop you safely at a slippery intersection. The answer is snow tires. Better on cold dry pavement, too. I see more 4wd SUV’s on the side of snowy roads. False sense of security.
Dear Mr Sheldon,
I am appalled that you feature 5 cars, all SUV’s, as great vehicles for winter driving for the Seniors. We never would buy a SUV for the simple reason that it is not economical.
These cars are gas guzzlers and pollute the environment.Why in this day and age of global warming do you not recommend electric cars.
Forget about the Subaru Crosstrek, Volvo V90, JeepGrand X Cherokee, Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-5. Show some concern for the environment and come up with a better solution
Hi Marianna, thanks for your comment. This article was meant to list a number of vehicles that perform well in the snow, not be a complete list of the only cars that perform well. Generally, SUVs handle rough terrain better than sedans. You are absolutely right about the need for more green vehicles. Fortunately, all but one of these vehicles are available in hybrid models that use just a fraction of the fuel of a traditional gas-powered car.
Actually, my Nissan Rogue (an SUV) gets far better gas mileage than many of my friends get with their smaller cars and since it is all-wheel-drive it is great in the snow. You might want to check your facts before talking about environmental impact too. While an electric vehicle in itself is non-polluting, keep in mind where the electricity comes from to charge the batteries unless you have solar at your home. In most cases the electricity to charge the batteries comes from natural gas or even coal fired power plants and that does not even come close to the environmental impact of mining the lithium used in the batteries. Until more people are able to go full solar going to electric vehicles does not help the environment at all.
I find it hard to believe that the Honda, Toyota or Volvo you mention would outperform a Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Explorer or Dodge Durango in the winter
Hi William, thanks for the comment. You’re right, there are certainly other vehicles that perform well in the winter. This list was not meant to be exclusive, just to highlight cars that a good choices for winter driving.
You mentioned in the article that one Subaru model doesn’t have Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. Which Subaru model does not include Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive?
Hi John, thanks for the question! Only the Subaru BRZ does not Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive.
such as where in new cars where to place your hands while driving. I always use the 8 to 2. I will now change to 9-3.
all very good information. I did learn some things already such as where in new cars where to place your hands while driving. I always use the 8 to 2. I will now change to 9-3.