Our earth’s axis of rotation is tilted.
We realize that probably isn’t news to you, but it means that much of North America will soon be engulfed in freezing temperatures for the next several months. With summer ended and fall now well underway, we thought that now might be a good time to talk about that powdery, frozen white stuff that occasionally falls from the sky over much of the continent: snow.
Driving in the snow presents unique challenges, as it impairs tire traction to a far greater degree than, say, rain. The seasoned snow driver knows to brake earlier, be more gentle with throttle application, and observe longer following distances in traffic. All of this can go a long way toward preventing an accident, but naturally, some cars are better suited than others to trudging through slick winter conditions. Below are our picks for the ten best cars and crossovers for snow driving currently available.
Dodge Charger AWD
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that all-wheel drive is a necessity for effective snow driving; it isn’t. It is, however, quite nice to have, and its availability on the current-generation Dodge Charger elevates the sedan from fair-weather muscle car to year-round daily driver.
There are two distinct Dodge Charger models available with AWD – the 292-horsepower SXT, and the 300-hp GT – giving buyers options with regard to what level of equipment they want, and how much they spend. The AWD system itself only supplies torque to the front wheels when conditions call for it, otherwise operating in RWD mode for superior efficiency.
Given the Charger’s predictable handling and relative heft, the chassis is an ideal companion for this system, resulting in one of the best snow driving cars one can buy.
You had to know this list would include at least one Subaru.
The Japanese automaker has become something of an expert in balanced, capable AWD vehicles, and the Subaru Outback mid-size crossover is a terrific example of the company’s keen understanding of how to engineer such a car.
Like all U.S.-market Subarus (save for the BRZ sportscar), the Outback comes standard with the automaker’s lauded Symmetrical AWD system, pairing a flat “boxer” engine with full-time all-wheel-drive. This gives the Outback excellent traction over most every loose surface, and a minimum ground clearance of 8.7 inches makes it difficult to get stuck unless you’re trying.
Nissan Altima AWD
We’re as surprised as you to see a Nissan sedan on our list. Well, okay, not really; we did write it, after all. But with its all-new design for 2019, the Nissan Altima began offering all-wheel drive as optional equipment, and that helps make it a strong contender for “best car for driving in the snow.”
The Altima’s is a part-time AWD system, only engaging the rear axle as needed when wheelspin is detected or there is sufficient steering input. At all other times, it runs in FWD mode, making for predictable handling in inclement conditions. What’s more, continuously variable automatic transmissions have been a mainstay in Nissan’s product lineup for quite some time, and their nice, smooth power delivery means there are no abrupt changes in wheel torque to upset the car while it’s struggling to find traction.
Jeep Grand Cherokee AWD
That a Jeep managed to make our list of the best current vehicles for snow driving should come as no surprise; Jeep has been building rugged, off-road-capable vehicles longer than just about anyone.
To be honest, there are plenty of other models in the brand’s current portfolio that are every bit as confident in the snow, but the Jeep Grand Cherokee pairs that winter-weather capability with copious amounts of comfort at a reasonable price. With a 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat, acoustic glass in the windshield and front door windows, and available heated seats and steering from the base Laredo trim up, the Grand Cherokee is about as cozy a winter ride as you could ask for. Pair those things with capable AWD and a smooth Quadra-Lift air suspension, and you’ll never have reason to fear another blizzard again.
Volvo V90 Cross Country
If there’s any car-producing country on Earth that should know what it takes to produce a sound winter driver, it’s Sweden.
Volvo’s reputation for safety is legendary, but just as legendary is its penchant for turning out some of the best snow-friendly vehicles on the planet. The Volvo V90 Cross Country is a sterling example, with standard AWD, a raised ride height (relative to the non-Cross Country V90), and a spacious station wagon body style.
Volvo Cars itself bills the Cross Country as a car “designed for all roads and all weather,” and they’re not just blowing smoke. It features copious ground clearance for a car – 8.3 inches, to be exact – and is as smooth, controllable, and premium-feeling as one would expect from a company of Volvo’s prestige.
Acura RDX SH-AWD
The Acura RDX is the compact luxury crossover offering from Honda’s premium brand, and it was completely redesigned for the 2019 model year.
The most notable change for those concerned with winter-weather handling is the inclusion of Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system (SH-AWD) – a system not featured on the previous second-generation RDX. This SH-AWD system operates full-time, and it can vector as much as 70% of the available torque to the rear axle, where 100% can be sent to either rear wheel, depending on where it will do the most good.
In plain English, what that means is supremely confident handling in snowy conditions, as the car can send as much twisting force as needed to each rear wheel individually to help the driver through a turn. A so-called “Integrated Dynamics System” with a dedicated Snow mode makes the RDX even more adept at conquering the white stuff, and standard heated front seats with an available heated steering wheel and heated outboard rear seats keep things well heated even while ambient temperatures are frigid.
BMW 3-Series xDrive
Whether BMW can still be said to make the “ultimate driving machine” is a matter of debate. But at the least, the German automaker’s engineering prowess and fanatical obsession with weight balance results in some very nicely behaved vehicles.
Couple that with BMW’s full-time xDrive all-wheel-drive system in a mid-size car package and you end up with a seriously competent vehicle for snow driving: the BMW 3-Series xDrive. As modern, high-tech AWD systems go, BMW’s xDrive is excellent, maintaining a slight rear bias by default for good agility, and using electronics to vary the front/rear torque split as warranted by driving conditions.
Granted, it being a BMW, the 3-Series is a bit on the steep side, but you get what you pay for. In this case, that includes three-zone climate control, 14-way power adjustable front seats, and superb build quality even on the base 330i xDrive.
We told you Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system was good. In fact, it’s so good that it’s earned the Japanese automaker a second spot on our list.
The Subaru Crosstrek premiered a brand new nameplate when it arrived for 2013, although underneath the sharp bodywork and rugged cladding, it’s really little more than a raised Impreza hatchback. That’s not a bad thing; the Impreza is an agile, responsive car, and giving it an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance only adds to its utility on snow and other uneven terrain.
Plus, being a Subaru, safety is virtually a given, with Symmetrical AWD and Brake Assist coming as standard equipment on all trims.
Audi A4 Allroad Quattro
Audi was among the first global automakers to embrace all-wheel drive in its road cars, specifically for the drivetrain’s benefits for winter driving.
Decades later, here we are, and the Audi A4 Allroad Quattro is a brilliant car for trudging through the snow. Based on the A4 Avant station wagon, the A4 Allroad is another “SUV-like” car, featuring standard AWD, a raised ride height, and even a wider track width than the standard A4. A standard adaptive damping suspension and drive-mode select with Offroad mode make the A4 Allroad all the more competent at handling adverse winter conditions, while standard heated front seats, three-zone climate control, and available heated rear seats and heated steering keep things cozy.
Toyota RAV4 AWD
Toyota’s RAV4 was completely redesigned for the 2018 model year, and pedestrian though it may be, it makes for an excellent winter companion when optioned with all-wheel drive. The highest Adventure and Limited trim levels feature a torque-vectoring AWD system, capable of sending more or less torque to each of the rear wheels depending upon what’s called for.
The result is great, confidence-inspiring driving dynamics in the snow. There is also a multi-terrain knob that allows you to dial-in the powertrain for whatever conditions you’re facing, and the RAV4’s abundant space and thoughtful mix of creature comforts make for a comfortable, accommodating ride, no matter where you’re headed for your next winter getaway.