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 them than others, making them the best cars for winter driving.
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 all 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.
The Best 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-Drive II system that creates excellent traction on almost any road surface. 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 was completely redesigned for the 2019 model year and continued its evolution as an excellent winter vehicle in 2020. Most notable in this calendar year is the introduction of the TRD Off-Road trim. This model includes Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive. The system 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.
The CR-V is one of the best compact SUVs on the market. With top safety awards, a four-cylinder engine that gets 28 mpg and a more than reasonable price tag, it’s not hard to see why.
The CR-V 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.
Regardless of the car your drive, stay safe on the roads this season by brushing up on our winter driving tips.