Any car can handle dry pavement, but only certain vehicles can keep on going when the snow starts falling. Four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive is a must, and that used to severely limit options for buyers living in wintry climates.
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Today, however, there are a wide variety of vehicles available that can easily handle winter driving, and the old standbys have gotten more versatile, too. Below are some of our favorite cars for navigating snow-capped terrain, and they’re exactly what you need to keep Old Man Winter at bay.
Why should you buy this: It will get you where you need to go, regardless of the weather.
Who’s it for: The winter weary.
How much will it cost: $21,795+
Why we picked the Subaru Crosstrek:
Virtually any Subaru is a good winter car. With the exception of the rear-wheel drive BRZ sports car, every model in the Japanese automaker’s lineup currently comes standard with all-wheel drive. In particular, we think the Crosstrek hatchback is a good all-around package for winter driving.
The Crosstrek is based on the all-new Impreza body shell, meaning it has a more solid foundation than some of the older models in Subaru’s lineup. Subaru plans to use this same basic platform for most of its other models in the coming years, which should tell you something. Note that the Crosstrek is basically an Impreza hatchback with extra ground clearance and plastic body cladding meant to mimic the styling of SUVs. The Crosstrek isn’t an SUV though; it proves that you don’t need one.
All-wheel drive allows the Crosstrek to handle all sorts of nasty weather, and the extra ground clearance can be helpful on dirt roads and the like. But the rest of the time, the Crosstrek drives like a car. The Subaru’s more compact proportions allow for more responsive handling and acceleration than a comparable crossover. The Crosstrek itself is also a well-executed package, with handsome styling, a spacious interior, and available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. What more do you need?
Read our Subaru Crosstrek first-drive impressions
Volvo V90 Cross Country
The best luxury car for the snow
Why should you buy this: It’s a masterpiece of Swedish design.
Who’s it for: People who want a car with more snob appeal than a Subaru Outback.
How much will it cost: $52,300+
Why we picked the Volvo V90 Cross Country:
Volvo has been building its Cross Country models in one form or another since 1997. They’re station wagons (and sometimes sedans) with SUV-like styling cues, including plastic body cladding and taller ride heights. It’s an effective way to sell eminently practical wagons to style-conscious car buyers looking to give off that “active lifestyle” vibe.
The V90 Cross Country would look great even without the extra body cladding — just look at the basic V90. But if you want a non-Cross Country V90 in the United States, you’ll have to special order it. At any rate, the Cross Country’s available all-wheel drive turns it into a true winter warrior, and you get everything that’s good about every other recent Volvo, including an ergonomic interior with high-quality materials and a slick portrait-oriented touchscreen display.
In keeping with Volvo’s drive toward efficiency, the V90 Cross Country is available only with four-cylinder engines. All-wheel drive models get a 2.0-liter unit that is turbocharged and supercharged, generating 316 hp. That makes for brisk acceleration, but the Cross Country’s real forte is relaxed cruising. It’s perfect for, well, crossing the country.
Read our Volvo V90 Cross Country first-drive impressions
Tesla Model X
The best electric car for the snow
Why should you buy this: It’s one of the only electric cars with all-wheel drive.
Who’s it for: Tech-savvy motorists.
How much will it cost: $79,500+
Why we picked the Tesla Model X:
What hasn’t been said about Elon Musk’s electric cars? The dual-motor all-wheel drive system available on the Model S and standard on the Model X is a handy way to give both Teslas all-weather traction, but it also helps performance. The base Model X 75D will do 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, according to Tesla, while the top-of-the-line P100D will make the run in just 2.9 seconds. Not bad for a family crossover.
The Model X has plenty of other gee-whiz features, too, including roof-hinged “Falcon doors,” an expansive panoramic windshield, and Tesla’s signature 17-inch touchscreen. Not everything about the Model X makes sense, but it gives you that “future car” feeling like few vehicles can.
Charging infrastructure has come a long way over the past few years, but it can still be as big an obstacle as the weather. The Model X offers a range of 237 to 295 miles, depending on the model. Drivers can also access Tesla’s network of Supercharger stations to make anxiety-free road trips a reality.
Read our full Tesla Model X review
The best performance car for the snow
Why should you buy this: It’s a performance car that foul weather can’t stop.
Who’s it for: Snowbound speed freaks.
How much will it cost: $26,995+
Why we picked the Subaru WRX:
If the Crosstrek is a good all-rounder for winter driving, then the WRX is a performance-focused smile machine that plays well in slippery conditions. Like the Crosstrek, the WRX is a derivative of the Subaru Impreza compact, but it’s based on an older body style. That’s not the difference that really counts, though.
The WRX packs a turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer-four engine, which produces 268 hp and 258 lb-ft (Subaru also offers a WRX STI with a 2.5-liter, 305-hp engine). All-wheel drive allows the WRX to keep going when most other performance cars would be spinning off the road and into snow banks. Torque vectoring channels power side-to-side, helping to turn the car into corners. That’s something you’ll appreciate even on dry pavement.
All-wheel drive isn’t the only thing that makes the WRX a practical choice. Underneath the boy-racer hood scoop and quad exhaust tips, it’s still a practical four-door sedan. A reasonably sized interior and trunk, as well as good road manners, make the WRX a performance car you’ll actually want to use every day.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
The best SUV for the snow
Why should you buy this: It’s a family SUV for the Rubicon Trail.
Who’s it for: Outdoorsy types.
How much will it cost: $30,595+
Why we picked the Jeep Grand Cherokee:
You’d think all SUVs with four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive are equally good in the snow, but some are simply better than others. Jeep’s off-road capability is more than just marketing hype, the venerable automaker really does pack a remarkable amount of hardware and tech into vehicles like the Grand Cherokee.
The Grand Cherokee offers four-wheel drive, naturally, including an available Quadra-Drive II system that can send all of the engine’s power to one wheel if necessary. Jeep also offers a Selec-Terrain system with five drive modes (Snow, Sand, Auto, Mud, and Rock) that adjust different vehicle parameters for different types of terrain. With that tech onboard, you can bet the Grand Cherokee can handle a snow-covered road.
But the Grand Cherokee isn’t just a stripped-down Wrangler. It’s still a large SUV with plenty of space and creature comforts, plus tech features like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ ubiquitous Uconnect infotainment system. Most people will never fully exploit the Grand Cherokee’s abilities, but this SUV is a competent daily driver no matter what your commute looks like.
Read our full 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee review
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.