Sleigh Ride: 9 Best Cars for Snow That Aren’t SUVs or Trucks
Best cars for snow driving highlights:
- Wagons, whether lifted ones like the Volvo V60 and V90 Cross Country, Audi A4 Allroad, and Subaru Outback Wilderness or used ‘regular’ ones like the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen, make great snow cars
- Performance cars like the Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, FWD and AWD hot hatches, and full-on sports cars like the Porsche 911 Carrera 4, can be good in snow, too
- Regardless of what car you drive, though, you need to get a quality set of winter tires
Whether you think winter weather is frightful or delightful, snow usually drives buyers to SUVs or trucks rather than cars. But driving safely through the snow doesn’t require a big, heavy, thirsty vehicle like that. There are plenty of passenger cars that can serve you well even as ice and snow blanket the road. And the best cars for snow described below will leave you laughing all the way.
The Volvo V60 and V90 Cross Country prove wagons are some of the best cars for snow
Volvo is practically synonymous with station wagons in the US. Though its wagon selection has shrunk, it hasn’t abandoned them completely. And two of those left, the Volvo V60 and V90 Cross Country, are some of the best snow cars you can buy.
The ‘Cross Country’ part of those names lets you know that these wagons have extra ground clearance (8.2”) and protective body cladding. And they come standard with AWD. But while both the 2022 V60 Cross Country and V90 Cross Country have 2.0-liter turbocharged engines, the V90 gets an extra supercharger. Still, while the V60 ‘only’ has 250 hp to the V90’s 316 hp, it’s more than enough for some snowy shenanigans.
Because they’re wagons, the Volvo V60 and V90 Cross Country have lower centers of gravity than SUVs, even with the extra ground clearance. So, their handling is “more reassuring,” Autoblog notes. And they have more rear cargo space than most sedans. Plus, because they’re luxury cars, they have comfortable seats, high-quality materials, and smooth rides.
So, who needs an SUV with wagons like these?
The Audi A4 Allroad also makes a great steed on snowy days
Volvo wagons make some ‘Swede’ snow cars, but they’re not the only snow-approved wagons on the market. For roughly $1000 less than the V60 Cross Country, you can step into a 2022 Audi A4 Allroad instead.
With the upgraded version of the A4 sedan’s powertrain, the 2022 A4 Allroad makes 261 hp, so it’s slightly more powerful than the V60. And like the Volvo, the Audi wagon has standard AWD. With only 6.5” of ground clearance, it does ride lower than the V60 Cross Country. However, that’s still enough clearance to tackle most snowdrifts. Plus, the lower ride height means the A4 Allroad should be even better at pulling off snow drifts.
But the 2022 Audi A4 Allroad isn’t one of the best cars for snow just because of AWD and ground clearance. It handles just as well as the A4 sedan, e.g., like a car rather than a big truck, with plenty of grip. And thanks to its adaptive dampers, it rides just as well as it handles, Car and Driver says.
Compared to the Volvo wagons, the A4 Allroad’s interior is a bit more austere, and its rear cargo area is smaller. But even though it’s smaller overall, the Audi has almost as much rear legroom as the V90, Car and Driver claims. And its interior materials are excellent overall.
All in all, a great choice for dashing through the snow.
You won’t need an SUV with a snow car like the Subaru Outback Wilderness
Sticking with the lifted wagon theme, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is one of the newest kids on the block. One MotorBiscuit senior writer has already demonstrated why the Subaru wagon is one of the best snow cars you can buy today.
Firstly, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness has more ground clearance than the Audi, Volvos, and even the Forester Wilderness. Also, unlike the V60, V90, and A4 Allroad, the Outback Wilderness has a dedicated Snow Mode for its standard AWD. Furthermore, it pairs the extra ground clearance with a front skid plate and redesigned bumpers.
Admittedly, those last few features are more important on a rocky trail than a snowy street. But it should make for some extra peace of mind whilst you drive over chunks of snow and ice. And with standard water-repellant upholstery, there’s less need to worry about salt-coated boots and coats.
Plus, having sat in both the Forester Wilderness and Outback Wilderness, I can assuredly say that the latter has better rear visibility. Advanced driver-assistance features don’t always work well in heavy snowfalls, so small blind spots are still vital. But with a wagon like the Subaru Outback Wilderness, winter driving should be ‘snow’ problem.
It’s not lifted, but that doesn’t stop the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen from being a solid snow car
Don’t worry, this list of the best cars for snow doesn’t solely consist of wagons. Nor does it only list new cars. If you want to save some cash without compromising practicality, the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen is an excellent winter car.
Discontinued after 2019, the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen also had a lifted sibling, the Alltrack. Although the Alltrack has more ground clearance, the regular Sportwagen “is more than capable of tackling a snowy commute,” Car and Driver says. And while the optional AWD boosts acceleration and grip, the standard FWD wagon’s slightly forward-biased weight distribution benefits traction even in winter.
In addition, while the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen isn’t a luxury car per se, it’s based on the last-gen Golf. So, it has excellent fit-and-finish, especially for a sub-$30K (original) car. It also has a composed ride and plenty of space. Plus, you can pick up one of these great snow cars for $10,000-$15,000 today.
Whether they’re FWD or AWD, hot hatches are some of the best cars for snow
Moving on from wagons, there’s another subset of cars that work hard and play hard when the snow falls: hot hatches. And they don’t even have to be AWD ones.
Although they’re often seen with performance summer tires, hot hatches make a lot of sense as winter drivers. Firstly, some of them, such as the Ford Focus RS and Toyota’s GR Yaris and upcoming GR Corolla, have genuine rally car roots. And if there’s one thing rallying prepares cars for, it’s tackling unpaved, low-traction terrain. Secondly, these ‘hottest’ hatches often come with AWD for performance and traction reasons, which can help in snowy conditions.
However, a hot hatch doesn’t need AWD to be a great snow car. With most of its weight up front, a FWD hatch like the Ford Fiesta ST has good traction even on slippery roads. And speaking of the Fiesta ST, MotorTrend deliberately tried to break its long-term one on a snow-covered winter rally stage; it failed.
In addition, while not every driver wants to take their cars ‘to the limit,’ being able to confidently control your car in low-traction environments is vital in winter. Hot hatches aren’t the sharpest sports cars, but they’re generally more capable and handle better than their standard counterparts. Thus, you’ll feel more in control if and when your car starts to slide, whether accidentally or deliberately.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo was made to conquer winter conditions
Rallying didn’t just help hot hatches spread, though. It also gave us one of the best cars for snow: the iconic Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
Admittedly, the Lancer Evo isn’t the most refined sedan in the world. Even the last, more ‘refined’ Evo X models had cheap plastics, firm suspension, and questionable fuel economy. But when the snow comes down, there aren’t many cars that can keep up with an Evo. Note the present tense.
Thanks to an advanced AWD system—some versions had two limited-slip differentials—the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo is “a blast” in the snow, Car and Driver reports. The grip it provides, combined with the Evo’s quick steering and sporty suspension, gives it phenomenal reflexes. And with almost 300 hp from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, even early Evos are still appreciably quick.
Every time I’ve gone to a winter rally like Michigan’s SnoDrift, I’ve never failed to spot at least one Lancer Evo. And I don’t just mean as a competing vehicle, either.
New or used, the Subaru Impreza WRX shines when the snow falls
As capable as the Lancer Evo is, it’s becoming a desirable collector’s car. But there’s another rally-inspired car that’s just as good in the snow and still in production: the Subaru WRX.
Redesigned for 2022, the Subaru WRX still rocks its long-running recipe of AWD and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. But that recipe now comes with extra safety and convenience features such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Subaru’s EyeSight ADAS suite. However, though the WRX has gotten a little more civilized, it hasn’t lost the sure-footed handling that makes it one of the best cars for snow days. And the upcoming WRX STI should be even better in that regard.
If you don’t mind a little less refinement, though, older Subaru Impreza WRX models are just as much fun in the winter. Admittedly, they have some quirks and niggles, but well-maintained WRXs can slide through years of snow, no problem. And if you want a touch more luxury, try hunting down a Saab 9-2X Aero.
A Porsche 911 Carrera 4 proves that sports cars can make the best cars for snow
Some drivers might balk at the thought of taking a sports car out on a snow-covered road. However, several MotorBiscuit writers either own or have owned RWD sports cars and driven them throughout the winter, snow days included. But there is a way to have your sports car cake and eat it in the snow: a Porsche 911 Carrera 4.
As the AWD 911, the Carrera 4 packs all the handling prowess of Porsche’s iconic sports car and adds some extra sure-footedness. Although the benefits are largely undetectable on dry roads, in slick conditions, it genuinely makes a difference, Car and Driver says. And it’s likely the rumored factory 911 Safari—I mean, Dakar will use Carrera 4 hardware.
Admittedly, while it’s one of the best snow cars, a 2022 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 isn’t exactly cheap; prices start at $108,500. But older models, including the desirable 996-gen Carrera 4S, offer similar thrills with more mechanical sensations at more affordable prices. And if you’re worried about slides, Porsche offers a winter driving school to get you acclimated.
After all, who said sports cars had to sleep when the snow comes down?
The best snow car is a well-maintained one with proper winter tires
So far, almost all the snow cars described here come standard with AWD or offer it. However, as noted during the hot hatch discussion, AWD isn’t always necessary. And not only do you not have to buy an SUV or truck to drive in the winter, but you also don’t necessarily need to buy another car, either. What you do need, though, even if you own one of the cars on this list, is a good set of winter tires.
Remember, AWD can’t create grip where none exists. It multiplies traction somewhat, but anything times zero is still zero. It also doesn’t help you stop or turn, especially not in a hurry. But you know what does promote grip and improves stopping and turning? Well-designed tires. On good winter tires, even a Porsche 911 doesn’t need AWD to be fun and controllable, Car and Driver reports.
In addition to well-reviewed winter tires, make sure that your winter car doesn’t have any open recalls or lingering maintenance needs. Trying to wrench or wait for a tow truck in the cold isn’t enjoyable. Do that, and you’ll have a solid sleigh to ride.
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