The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts that this winter is under the effect of several forces including El Niño, which will bring wetter (and snowier) than average conditions across many parts of the country, as well as a colder South and East Coast.
Winter weather is on its way. And unless you’re a Scandinavian rally driver, icy roads covered in a pile of snow are fun only on days when you don’t have to go anywhere. But for many of us, a daily commute is inevitable.
Here are five of the best and potentially most-rewarding cars to get you through the slippery, snowy roads of winter. Obvious cars, such as monster 4×4 pickups and large SUVs, didn’t make the list; instead, the contenders were practical, sometimes unexpected, and fairly affordable.
1. Subaru WRX STI
Subaru makes some of the best cars for mountain roads and winter conditions, and the Subaru WRX STi is as close to Subaru’s pedigree of winter rally car as it gets in a street-legal version. The WRX STi’s 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 305 horses and 290 pound-feet of twist, paired with tuned suspension and Brembo brakes — making it a fun drive in all conditions. The symmetrical all-wheel drive system comes with a center differential that drivers can use to change the torque sent between the front and rear wheels, up to a 50/50 split. This Subaru is designed for a driver ready to command the snow with a six-speed manual transmission as the only option. Rally car co-pilot optional.
2. Toyota Sienna AWD
If the Subaru is too much driving work for you, let’s check out the other side of the spectrum. Lowered, AWD, sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch wheels, side skirt body elements, and smoke-look sport trim… These details refer to a minivan — that is snow-equipped. The Toyota Sienna minivan is comfortable, roomy, and ready to go without much effort. What makes it snow-worthy is the fact that it’s the only minivan available with an AWD option. The brakes are responsive, ensuring that stopping doesn’t require advance notice a quarter-mile back. An additional outdoor package adds mud flaps, all-weather floor mats, and door sill protectors. On icy days, the Sienna will pass skidding cars with style and ease — and with half of the school hockey team in tow.
3. Volvo Polestar S60 Sedan/V60 Wagon
This beautiful, sleek set of siblings come from the land of fjords and winter tundras. They’re fun to drive in snowy conditions, and the rest of the year. Though modest-looking, the engines put out an impressive 350 horsepower and 369 pounds of torque. But the best part of the Polestar models are the 18-inch alloy wheels and sport suspension, which make for an effortless drive through the crustiest of winter stuff when paired with all that power.
4. Dodge Charger AWD
No, you didn’t read that wrong. The 2015 Dodge Charger AWD makes the list as a beyond capable and thrilling drive for deep snow — especially if the kids aren’t watching. The AWD option is only available with the 292 horsepower 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 engine, outputting 260 pound-feet of torque tuned to destroy any snow and slush in its way. On a wintry day, an all-wheel-drive American muscle sedan is snow joke.
5. Buick Regal GS AWD sedan
This is not your grandma’s Buick — possibly your mom’s — or maybe yours, with the right upgrades. Buick has undergone a redesign in the hopes of capturing a younger market. The AWD model’s handling is capable and steady thanks to the sport-tuned suspension. Add the GS package for a styling and performance upgrade, and you can probably rock a Buick without too much hell from your friends. We actually loved it.