By on March 14, 2008

2007171002lr-unimog-pix-4.jpgToday's question comes from Luke Procter. It's about snow. I saw snow once. It was cold, I didn't like it. So, just listen to Luke, as I have no idea. "Cars in snow suck. They get stuck. And the engine overheats. And they get stuck. And with Mother Nature (that bitch) dropping another half meter of the white shit on us Canadians (and northern Americans), I've been thinking about getting a different vehicle. I've currently got an ‘01 Impala. It only got stuck three times last night. Snow tires or not, the damn thing gets hung-up on snow over four inches deep. So, the question is, what's your favorite current or fantasy vehicle for driving through the snow and showing Mother Nature's who's boss? Right now, I've been given a real solid bitch slap." I'll just say Unimog, cause they look neat. You?

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41 Comments on “Question of the Day: What’s the Best Snow Vehicle?...”


  • avatar
    beetlebug

    Well…having grown up in Western New York the answer was always a good ol’ USA 4×4. However, I find that it’s usually not the vehicle but the driver. I always find that the idiots who think that all wheel drive makes them invincible in the snow wind up in a ditch. My early 90′s Wrangler did well in the snow as long as you understood to drive cautiously. Actually, I think my WRX is better than the Jeep since I’ve taken it through some godawful blizzards and smiled at some SUV owners who got themselves stuck.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    @beetlebug – I was in western NY for years. Awful winters there.

    I’ve driven through snow in all manner of vehicles with front and rear and all wheel drive, with high performance summer tires and snow tires and in between. My choice would probably be a Subaru Legacy Outback if I had to deal with loads of snow every day.

  • avatar

    Dog sled or Sno Cat.

  • avatar
    jrlombard

    Hmm, depends on use mode. Are we talking max traction and safety? Or sheer hoonage?

    For our Colorado winters, we got by rather well in an E36 M3 with Blizzaks. Plenty of traction when you needed it, plenty of hoonage potential when you didn’t. ;-)

    I certainly passed my share of “safe” front-wheel drive vehicles as they were stuck on inclined roads, front tires spinning away in search of traction.

    In the snow, it’s AWD or RWD for me. YMMV.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Who needs 4wd? I never got stuck once in my rear-engine RWD Corvair and VW Beetles. And I used to go looking for the stuff.

  • avatar
    crc

    Jalopnik recently had a video of a Subaru Justy that had tracks instead of tires. I imagine that would be pretty good in the snow.

    For normal rides though, I have to say that I have only seen a major deterioration in driving dynamics in the snow when the tires are not up to the job.

  • avatar
    incitatus

    Could be anything with enough ground clearence as long as it’s a manual transmission. All-wheel drive is a plus but not necessary. I agree with beetlebug most of the times is not the car is the driver that makes all the difference. The best snow car/truck outthere will not save your ass if you drive like an idiot.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Well, I’d want something with great front and rear visibility, a bit of ground clearance, AWD, and a lot of safety.

    I’ll go with a Volvo XC70 that has the optional Climate and Collision Avoidance Packages

  • avatar

    Weight is also a consideration; while it’s nice when digging through snow for traction, it really sucks when you want to stop or turn, which leads to getting stuck.

    Count me in the Subaru camp. Never been stuck, in Vermont, with my OBS on Blizzaks. Unstoppable.

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    For where the plows run on a regular basis a Subaru Forester, Legacy or Impreza with studded snow tires is the gold standard.

    Cars with the Audi/VW AWD system is a close second.

    For the unplowed secondary roads a 4X4 with a manual transfer case and tall, narrow tires to dig down to terra firma. Most of the modified pickups put on giant bigfoot inspired mud-bog tires and just float on top of the snow.

    I agree that you can over drive most any car for conditions. It is usually folks in late model SUVs and modified 4WD pickups who think that physics don’t apply to them that you see spun out in a ditch. They are 80% of the wrecks & spin outs in my very informal survey of what I see on the mountain roads of Northern NV and CA.

  • avatar
    i6

    Any car can get you stuck in snow, while no car can get stuck in any amount snow when it has a shovel and a brain on board.

  • avatar

    There is a Tatra factory video showing near the end a T603 in deep snow. It does amazingly well.

    I went along on a deep snow (2-4ft deep) 4×4 trip a while – amazing how tough it was for even modified trucks to get through. For that you need good ground clearance, 4×4, decent tires and locked diffs (last point painfully obvious in the stock Jeep I was in).

  • avatar
    DearS

    My 88 325is did pretty well this winter. It was stuck only once. I’ve had snow tires in my trunk since last summer too, I only used them in the summer, lol. The LSD really helped a bunch. My relatives E36 and E46 without LSD did a bit worse. I really like RWD in the winter, although an Audi seems nice as well. RWD has its limits, like starting from a standstill.

  • avatar
    pfingst

    Mercedes C280 4Matic. Seriously.

    Winter in Wisconsin this year as been awful snow-wise. I’ve taken the Merc through 8-inch deep snow and it never flinched. I’ve driven SUVs that weren’t as good in the snow.

  • avatar
    joebar32

    I’ve had two cars that were excellent in the snow.
    1982 Toyota Starlet, rwd and 58hp make for great traction with 100# of sand in the hatch and almost no chance of spinning the tires. BONUS-I could always pick it up and move out of a drift if necessary

    1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, manual transfer case and good tires meant I could do just about anything I wanted and stay out of trouble

    My current 2003 Silverado does fine, but it’s not nearly as forgiving or fun as the Jeep was.

  • avatar
    1981.911.SC

    I’ll agree with the all wheel drive Subaru.

    But maybe a more fun question is what is the worst. When I met my wife she had a 1980(ish) Mustang that once was stuck on a frosty driveway.

    But this is the same woman that swears she got stuck in the snow, on the railroad tracks, while taking her driver’s license test. In a Gremlin no less. And she claims she passed.

  • avatar
    cjdumm

    If you don’t mind having your innards shaken to bits, it’s just about impossible to get stuck (in less than three feet of snow) in a raised 4WD with locked hubs and differentials and full chains on all four tires.

    If you’re not Ivan “Iron Man” Stewart, however, anything with AWD, traction tires, manual transmission (preferably), and a little extra ground clearance is a more comfortable and practical choice.

    If you’re stuck with the car you’ve already got, don’t forget the tires; studs or Blizzaks, by themselves, can turn a steel hockey puck into workable winter transportation.

  • avatar
    Ruinedeffigy

    My 1999 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS is the vehicle I feel safest in while driving in the snow… However, if you keep the stock Potenza RE92′s on, you’ll wish you weren’t driving in the snow. I think most of the credit goes to the AWD system and my Yoko Avid V4s… Best tires I’ve ever owned.

    Other than that, I’d take a Jeep any day over a FWD sedan, obviously. The Rubicon makes it alot of fun.

  • avatar
    miked

    If the roads see a plow then my Legacy GT was awesome. But now, I have 5 miles of infrequently maintained dirt road between me and the beginnings of civilization. When I get 18″ of snow overnight, nothing beats my CJ-5 with all 4 33′s chained up. Since it’s so light on the footprint of 33×1250′s it just floats on the Colorado powder. Haven’t gotten it stuck yet.

  • avatar
    DrBrian

    Pisten Bully 600

  • avatar
    dolo54

    My old integra was great in the snow. But the safest handler in the snow I ever drove was an audi quattro a4. I couldn’t get it to skid and believe me, I tried.

  • avatar
    DWB

    Right now I have a Subaru Outback AWD with all season tires. It does OK in the snow but not any better, and maybe a bit worse, than my previous Honda Prelude with Blizzaks mounted on wheels narrower than stock. Both had manual transmissions which I generally prefer but I really like for the snow. Either car will go anywhere as long as I’m not pushing snow with the bumper.

    I think that the most important thing learn to drive in the snow. Second is to have good tires.
    FWD vs RWD vs AWD is less important unless you are in the country where the roads aren’t plowed well or often. Even then, a a good driver can do a lot with a crappy car.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    I currently drive my Volvo with snow tires anywhere. Never ever do I get stuck.

    If you want to see something funny, get someone who is used to driving RWD in the snow and put them in a FWD car. Hilarity always ensues.

  • avatar

    I live in the Canada and have seen a ton of snow. Many weekends we get into the mountains of BC to ski, which means dodgy weather, snowy and icy roads and drastic changes in weather depending on altitude.

    The best car I know of for my purpose is a Subaru. I have a 2003 WRX wagon that kills. Lots of weekends we mount the ski rack on the roof and 4 of us head for the slopes. I have never been stuck on the highways or backroads. The car just goes through everything.

    I remember coming back from a day fishing and snow so accumulated so deep on the roads that it was coming over the hood. We had the wipers on Panic just to keep sight of what we thought was the road.

    And then when the roads clear you can really wind it up.

    My brother rode along on many trips over the years and this year bought his own WRX to keep up. If that’s not a vote of confidence I don’t know what is.

    I’ve used both all seasons and snow tires and both can work, though the snow tires make it feel like you’re not even on snow. You don’t get any play in corners or light steering. So I stick with the all seasons (Yokos!).

  • avatar
    davey49

    The best in snow are any of those fine vehicles with names like Arctic Cat, Polaris or Ski-Doo
    Cars? snow? huh?

  • avatar
    autoacct628

    Audi Quatro’s rule. So there.

  • avatar
    shiney

    There was a freak snowstorm in Bellingham, WA, maybe 12 years ago. The snow drifts were literally level with the trunk of the MB 450se I was driving then, and we were essentially house bound. Even the big 4X4 trucks weren’t moving. I was standing on my porch admiring the amazing silence of total snow cover, when I hear this heavy slow “chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga” noise approaching. To my complete astonishment, an early 70s Cadillac came crawling down the street! It had chains on, the trunk was held open and crammed with what must have been 2,000 pounds of firewood, and the nose was sticking 30 degrees up in the air and plowing the snow aside like the bow of an icebreaker. That was the best snow vehicle I have ever seen!

  • avatar
    jaje

    I somehow survived many Chicago winters driving a 2500lb Honda Prelude with cheapo tires.

    However my 2 favorite vehicles in heavy snow (even > 1′ deep) were a Honda Element AWD and a 2500HD 4×4 (outside of off roading) any snow on road and most icy conditions were no where near as hairy as in most of my cars.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Another Western NY prospective from a former & current resident:

    For regular snow-belt driving in the hills, nothing beats a 4×4 with winter tires. For that, give me an Exploder. Although a manual shift Xterra is tempting spec wise.

    But any front driver is fine with good tires and a shovel (and the willingness / ability / common sense to use it before you wheel-spin into a rut).

    And a shovel is a must if you parallel park before a major snow fall and then the street gets plowed.

    For moderate snow, give me a WRX. Or any Scoobie product, if on a budget.

  • avatar
    Cyril Sneer

    3 myths about snow driving, all completely untrue:
    – large trucks and SUVs are ideal for winter use
    – any AWD/4WD system is than 2WD
    – FWD is better for winter than RWD

    Many people don’t realize that winter driving is all about handling and braking once underway, not initial traction.

    Large 4X4s are horrible in snow/ice because of the lack of feedback (traction limit?) and excess weight fighting the available traction (cornering, etc).

    AWD/4WD systems (car or truck) are NOT created equal and many are worse than the 2WD version of the same vehicle. All of them add unnecessary(?) cost, complexity, and weight.

    FWD has good initial traction due to engine weight over drive wheels, but becomes a complete liability once underway.

    My RWD/LSD E36 M3 with only winter tires has done a wonderful job this winter, including getting me to the ski hills in the mountains of BC. And still fun in dry conditions.

    My AWD Talon Tsi never let me down, in the worst conditions Ontario could through at me. With great hoonage potential in snow, but too much traction in the dry.

    When I’ve been up in the mountains where the plows (and electricity) don’t go, I’ve found out where all the mid-80s Toyota 4×4 wagons have been put to use. And all the trucks and SUVs are parked.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    All right you posers! I learned to drive in Win-ter-peg and now live in Ottawa where we have received more that four ahem metres of snow this year. Do the math – that’s more than 13 feet of snow!

    So now that I’ve established my street cred with y’all here’s my ideal snow ride:

    A 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Police Package Vehicle. Don’t like the unfashionable gaps between the tires and the wheel wells? Well guess what – they don’t clog up with snow. Don’t like the way it handles – this pursuit-rated police model aint your father’s Tahoe. Tired of salt stains on your interior carpets – this thing has a full vinyl floor, just hose it out in spring. Heck you can even option a locking rear diff.

    Plus a suspension just tall enough to clear deep snow with a seating position to see above the windrows left by snow plows. Just make sure that you equip it with four Nokian winter tires.

    Starts and stops every time – especially for gas stations…

  • avatar
    Andy D

    heh heh, My wife was one of the last cars down Rt 128 before the Blizzard of ’78 shut the road down. She was driving a bug. My brother and BIL rescued me from Quincy driving a 69 Chevy C10 ballasted with a dozen surveyor’s bounds. We got stuck a few times but managed to dig the Chevy out with shovels. I keep the Grand Wagoneer going just in case of a blizzard. They go fairly well in snow and have great heat and defrost which no bug ever had. Generaly, driving in snow isn’t the problem. Steering and stopping is.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    I’ll join the chorus of anything with good ground clearance, a manual transmission, the right tires (or just go retro and put some chains on, if your not driving in the stuff all the time), and the right driver.

  • avatar
    SAAB95JD

    I am hard pressed to choose between Subaru and Audi. We have an A4 that will not get stuck EVER, and an AWD Chev. Equinox company car that is HORRIBLE in the snow. The Saab 9-5 does well on it’s FWD. I guess I would honestly go with the Scooby

  • avatar
    Cyril Sneer

    @ Austin Greene: That is the exact vehicle I took up into the unplowed mtns – with Nokian tires even. The Toyota 4X4 wagons kept going after the Tahoe Canyonero reached its limits.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    Forester 2.5XT 5M, obviously.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Cyril Sneer: I agree with most, except for the FWD vs RWD…

    The reason for FWD over RWD is not necessarily the starting from the snow (greater weight distribution), but forgiveness when you screw up.

    Too much gas on the RWD and the back end turns around and you drift into a snowbank. Too much gas on the FWD and the wheels just spin.

    Given how bad most drivers are in general, and on the snow in particular, you want them to believe FWD is better, because for their skill level, it is.

  • avatar
    black turbo

    I have a Saab 9-3 with brand new Blizzaks. I don’t think it handles very well in the snow at all, however I have the presence of mind to keep it on the road.

    On the other hand, my father has an old 900 with Gislaveds. I have driven the car quite a few times in some bad storms, and I’ve never been able to get the thing to slide, no matter how hard I tried.

    Tires are a big deal, however the driver is an even more important part of the equation.

  • avatar
    Subifreak

    Subaru Forester with winter rubber.

  • avatar
    gfen

    I may be biased as its the only AWD car I’ve owned, but my Honda Element with the “real time AWD” is a little champ in the snow. Its definatly more surefooted than the in-laws assortment of Chevy SUVs.

  • avatar

    and OLDE Jeep Cherokee 4.0 – that thing is a tank.


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