When searching for a vehicle that will perform in winter, there are key features you want to ensure the vehicle is equipped with to ensure snow and ice performance.
We rounded up some of the best vehicles for snow and winter driving below. And read on for advice on how to choose between all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive, plus a list of the top safety features you should look for when choosing a winter vehicle.
1. Subaru Crosstrek
The Subaru Crosstrek is a hatchback crossover SUV that shares many similarities with its relatives the Subaru Impreza and Subaru Forester. The Crosstrek has a full-time all-wheel-drive system and is equipped with Subaru's EyeSight safety technology. EyeSight technology provides the Crosstrek with lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and automated emergency braking. The Crosstrek is offered with a 152 horsepower (HP) engine producing 145 lb-ft torque through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
For the 2021 model year, the Crosstrek has a fuel economy rating of 27 MPG city and 33 MPG highway. Base model Crosstreks start at $23,710 and are compatible with both Apple Car Play and Andriod Auto. The Crosstrek performs well in crash tests and received a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and was named a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
2. Audi A4 Allroad
The Audi A4 Allroad uses Audi's Quattro AWD transmission as a standard feature and is equipped with a 248 HP turbocharged four-cylinder engine taking on winter conditions full force. The A4 Allroad has pricing starting at $45,000 for a base model and has trim levels that can take that pricing to $53,900 for the Prestige trim. The interior of the A4 Allroad is luxurious and has standard features such as leather seating, panoramic moonroof, a power liftgate, and adaptive suspension.
The range-topping Prestige trim gives you access to more comfort features, like heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and a Bang & Olufsen audio system. The A4 Allroad has safety features standard as well as lane-departure warning, ABS, Brake Assist, and Stability Control. Optional safety features include cross-traffic alert, rear parking aid, and blind-spot monitoring all come as optional. The A4 Allroad has a ground clearance of 6.5 inches which is not the best for deep snow but paired with the Quattro AWD system the A4 Allroad will get you from point A to B in winter.
3. Toyota Avalon AWD
New for 2021 Toyota now offers AWD for their famous Toyota Avalon. Toyota's engineers utilized the same AWD system used in the RAV4 to create the AWD system for the Avalon. The Avalon XLE is the most affordable trim level with a starting price of $36,9700. The Avalon uses a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder 205 HP engine that is paired with 8-speed automatic transmission.
Included in the Avalon standard are LED headlights and taillights, heated mirrors, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, front-collision warning, and front-emergency braking. Standard features that mix both safety and comfort make the Toyota Avalon AWD a great snow vehicle.
4. Jeep Grand Cherokee
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a five-passenger midsize SUV that has AWD and 4WD drivetrains offered in all trim levels. Jeep has made a name for itself by displaying off-road durability in the majority of their lineup. Jeep does offer a few front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive-only vehicles, but primarily Jeep is known for its 4WD capability.
The Grand Cherokee is a great example of a winter weather vehicle as it is equipped with 8.6 inches of ground clearance and individual brake lock differentials which manage the speed of each wheel helping prevent the dreaded winter slide. Starting price of an AWD base model 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee is $37, 715, and has a top-end model the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk equipped with 4WD and 707 HP for over $87,000.
5. Dodge Durango SXT AWD
Dodge is a part of the Chrysler group of vehicles and utilizes technologies found in other Chrysler-owned brands. Dodge Durango SXT is the base model offering of the Durango and starts at $35,170. The Durango has as many engines and trim options as the famous Dodge Charger, but is built bigger and more durable for winter usage. The AWD Durango has a great defense against slippery roads through its integrated 3.6 liter V6 outputting 293 HP and 8-speed automatic transmission. The Durango has a curb weight of 4,823 pounds, making it stick to the road a bit more than lighter SUV options.
The Durango is comfortable on the inside and seats five to seven passengers depending on the trim level options. The infotainment system in the Durango is both Apple Car Play and Andriod Auto capable, and the Durango has a ground clearance of 8.1 inches, making it ideal for deep snow driving.
6. Kia Telluride
The Kia Telluride is offered in both front-wheel-drive (FWD) and AWD across all of its trim levels. The Telluride has three rows of seats, allowing for a seven or eight-seat configuration dependent on trim. Offered in only one engine choice, a 291 HP 3.8-liter the Telluride has a fuel economy rating of 19 MPG city and 24 MPG highway in the AWD format. An entry-level AWD Telluride LX pricing starts at $33,415.
With eight inches of ground clearance, remote start, heated mirrors, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitor, and rear cross-traffic alert all standard on the base trim, the Telluride is an SUV built for winter driving. Optional features include heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, a surround-view camera, automatic high-beam headlights, and up to six USB ports throughout the cabin.
7. Volvo S90
The Volvo S90 is a luxury midsize sedan that has a lot of space on the interior and seats five. The S90 is great for snow driving due to its standard AWD system, and 316 HP 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder engine paired with 8-speed automatic transmission. Standard features include adaptive LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front-collision mitigation support, heated front seats, remote start, and a slippery road alert.
For an additional $750 to the $51,550 base price, you can purchase Volvo's climate package, which includes heated rear seats, heated windshield washers, and a heated steering wheel. The S90 has six inches of ground clearance and is a great luxury sedan comparable to the BMW 3 series.
8. Acura RDX SH-AWD
The Acura RDX does not come standard with AWD, so similar to other car manufacturers Acura charges an additional $2,000 to the base price of the RDX to make it AWD. This addition of AWD brings the base price of the RDX to $41,225 The AWD system found in the Acura RDX is similar to that found in the Honda CR-V as they share a parent company, Honda Motor Co. The SH portion of the name stands for Super Handling-AWD which explains Acura's addition of a clutch pack, and an accelerator added to the driveshaft between the axles to increase AWD capability. This Super Handling additional allows the RDX to send as much as 90 percent of its torque to a single rear wheel.
The creation of the SH-AWD system allows the RDX to be a real contender in the winter and off-road-able market. Every RDX is equipped with a forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, LED headlights, and heated front seats. The $2,900 Technology package adds features such as a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
9. Mercedes-Benz GLA Class 4Matic
The Mercedes-Benz GLA Class is the entry-level SUV option from Mercedes-Benz. The GLA is offered in AWD which is the 4Matic moniker added to the name. Taking a GLA from the base model to 4Matic costs an extra $2,000, but is well worth the cost if you drive in any type of snowy weather. The GLA 250 4Matic has a starting price of $39,280 and has standard features such as heated mirrors, cross-wind assist, front-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitor, LED headlights, and taillights, rain-sensing wipers, and heated windshield washer nozzles.
The GLA 250 4Matic is powered by a 221-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine joined to a direct-clutch 8-speed automatic transmission. The GLA 250 4Matic has enough power and the right drivetrain to make it a great luxury winter vehicle.
10. Subaru Outback
The Subaru Outback is equipped with a full-time AWD system standard and has a ground clearance of 8.7 inches which is comparable to the ground clearance level of the average pickup truck. The Outback is outfitted with a snow and mud X Mode transmission setting allowing the AWD computer to preset your vehicle's response to the terrain you are driving on. With built-in Subaru EyeSight technology, the Outback comes standard with pre-collision braking, and adaptive LED headlights.
Blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert are available in the Premium grade trim level, and the winter comforts of heated front seats and rear seats are found in the Limited trim levels. The Outback is running from a 182 HP flat 4-cylinder engine paired with a CVT automatic transmission creating a powertrain built for all seasons. The Outback is a mixture of SUV and wagon body style and can seat five with cargo space measuring 32 cubic feet. 2021 Outback pricing starts at $27,845 and climbs up from there based on trim level and options.
For winter driving there are two main drivetrain options. Both drivetrain options differ in their performance and ability in snowy conditions and are divided into subcategories of their own.
An all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicle can be purchased with either a part-time AWD system or a full-time AWD system. A four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicle can be found in 4WD, 4WD High, and 4WD Low.
To understand the subcategories of each drivetrain option one must first understand the way each system operates on a base level. An AWD drivetrain system functions by sending torque to all four of the vehicle's wheels automatically. In a part-time AWD system torque is sent to either the front or rear axle of the vehicle when the AWD system dictates that extra traction or power is needed for that specific axle. In a full-time AWD system torque is sent to all four wheels of the vehicle 24/7 and when a slip occurs the AWD system figures out which wheel needs more torque to balance your vehicle.
A 4WD system takes traction to a different level. A 4WD system still sends power to each wheel according to power needs, but the difference between a 4WD and AWD system is that the 4WD drivetrain also locks the front and rear axle so that they spin at the same rotational speed. This locking of axles, limits wheel spin when on ice or in deep snow providing more traction. The majority of vehicles equipped with a 4WD system operate in rear-wheel-drive (RWD) on a normal basis and have 4WD as a part-time option.
When a vehicle is equipped with a 4WD high (Hi) option, there is a driver-accessible lever, dial, or button to place the vehicle into 4WD Hi. The 4WD Hi range is best for snowy conditions or on off-road trails that are easy to moderate terrain. The high range of the 4WD system provides more traction off-road than that of AWD and can be used at higher speeds than 4WD low. The 4WD low option on a 4WD capable vehicle is built for extremely deep snow or challenging off-road environments.
4WD low can only be used at low speeds due to the 4WD low system utilizing a lower gear ratio and sending peak torque to every wheel. The 4WD low feature of a 4WD system is meant to slowly crawl over an obstacle or out of deep snow. To use the low range of your 4WD system you usually have to stop the vehicle to select 4-low. New cars, however, are an exception to this as most new cars can change transmission modes while in motion.
Most situations do not call for using 4-low and can be handled by the 4-Hi option but when descending a steep icy road, 4-low can help control your descent.
When deciding on either an AWD or 4WD vehicle, you want to purchase a vehicle that meets your needs as an individual driver. The majority of people are better off with an AWD vehicle as the AWD system does the work of balancing power and slip by itself no matter the road condition you are driving in. AWD also has the least effect on the miles per gallon (MPG) rating of your vehicle.
Top Safety Features For Winter Vehicles:
When looking to purchase a vehicle that operates well in winter, you want to look beyond the drivetrain system. The drivetrain system plays a major role in the performance of your vehicle in snowy conditions, but there are other safety features to consider when comparing vehicles. Below is a list of features to consider when looking for a winter vehicle.
- High ground clearance, the more the better
- Winter tires
- Traction control
- Anti-lock brakes and stability control
- Emergency braking
- Heated mirrors
- Blind-spot monitoring
- LED headlights and taillights
Outside of winter safety, there is also a desire to be comfortable when the winter weather turns frigid. For winter comfortability also seek a vehicle that comes equipped with heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and a remote start. None of these features are life-saving safety features, but they will make your winter mornings more tolerable.