By on October 16, 2012

TTAC Commentator Horseflesh writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

Winter is coming. Like any true Seattle suburbanite, I dread the debut of the white stuff. We’re so scared of snow up here that the local insurance company even aired commercials teasing us about it.

I have to admit, the truth hurts, and I am a big snow-baby, choosing to stay off the roads as much as possible. But sometimes, you have to drive. And here’s the question: I need a hand from the Best & Brightest on selecting a snowy steed, because I just don’t have enough experience to know which of our vehicles is best suited to the job.

Option One: 2010 Mini Cooper Clubman, with manual transmission and Michelin Ice-X snow tires. This car is front wheel drive, obviously, including an automagical “dynamic stability control.” Sometimes the DSC light on the dash comes on under hard cornering, so you can be sure that something is happening… but how helpful is the system behind the dashboard light? I have no idea.

Option Two: 2000 Impreza RS, with manual transmission and all-season tires. This is a normally aspirated sedan, with AWD 50/50 power split and a limited slip rear differential. It has no form of electronic stability control. Surprisingly, the Scooby only weighs about 100 lbs more than the Mini. Lastly, if it makes the difference in the Snow Day Showdown, I’ll put on snow tires.

Option Three: 2003 E350 cargo van, with automatic transmission and all-season tires. Weighing more than the other 2 cars put together, and featuring the refinement of a coal train, I cannot see this being a good choice. Also, it is glacier white. The inevitable wreck would therefore be well-hidden from first responders.

What say the B&B? Does a FWD car with stability control and snow tires beat an AWD car without either? If the AWD car gets snow tires, does that change the outcome? There is likely at least one long, snowy drive ahead of me this winter, so I very much appreciate any input.

Cheers!

Steve answers:

It’s a good thing you’re thinking about it. As a former resident of upstate New York, let me clue you in on a few things.

First off, both the Mini and the Impreza will be perfectly fine in the snow. Although I would favor the Mini due to the snow tires and the electronic stability control. All wheel drive will not save your bacon if you don’t have any traction for the wheels. Snow tires make that difference in real world driving.

Front wheel drive is fine for most regions (which is where by the way?).. Snow tires are even better. Electronic stability control is one more strong plus.

The Impreza would offer a bit more ground clearance if you have to commute in an area where the snowfall is near Buffalo levels and the public services are near Detroit levels. All things being equal, I would stick with the Mini. If you really want to improve your snow driving prowess I would encourage you to strike up a few local conversations and watch some Youtube videos.

Sajeev answers:

Aside from LSX-FTW, tires have the most impact to a car’s performance: various sizes, inflation pressures, tread designs and rubber compounds are in play.  The Econoline might be okay with a ton of ballast in the rear, but it’s the worst choice. The best is the rig with the snow tires.  Plus, it’s front wheel drive!

The MINI is the only choice, total no brainer. Unless you sell it and get a Panther with the aforementioned ton of ballast in the trunk.  I only say this because my first car (1965 Ford Galaxie, automatic, open differential) lived in Palouse most of its life, with snow tires and a couple of sandbags in the trunk for ballast. And if my relatives could tough it out (as if) in a Galaxie for decades, why not treat yourself to a Panther?

I’m just sayin’…who else could make this question all about Panthers???

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81 Comments on “New or Used: Seatown, not Snowtown!...”


  • avatar
    krhodes1

    It snows in Seattle? Really? Real snow, or the sort of dusting that shuts down Atlanta for days at a time? I kid, I kid.

    In areas that don’t get enough snow for the population to have a clue of how to drive in it, the only sane answer is STAY HOME. Heck, I follow that rule here in Maine the first snowstorm or two of the season. You can be driving a SnowCat and it won’t make a bit of difference when some airhead in an all-season shod Tahoe who doesn’t know what that “4wd” button does slides into you at warp speed.

    But if you HAVE to venture out, drive the car with snow tires. AWD helps you go in the snow, it does not help you stop, and it is marginal in its ability to help you steer. And it breeds a wonderful false sense of confidence. And for that reason, I prefer a 2wd car with snows over a 4wd car with snows for normaly plowed winter roads. YMMV if you have to climb mountains or deal with unplowed roads. In those cases you won’t be going fast enough to get into trouble.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      Ahh, ignorance from a northeasterner.

      Yes, it does snow in Seattle (and Portland) although not very often. And when it does, the whole place freezes over. There is a difference though, they don’t plow and there are hills and mountains. I’ve been stuck in Seattle on business before when it snows, the entire place shuts down because emergency crews can’t get anywhere, transit can’t get anywhere and everyone sits for hours, even days. Look up Snoqualmie Pass sometime, it’s the main artery across the state of Washington.

      Same goes for alot of the northwest. I do agree that FWD with snows is as good as AWD. However, my Subaru with all-terrains beats the heck out of my in-law’s SAAB and Volvo FWD vehicles with snow tires. All 3 having manual transmissions. This is for Idaho, again not like Maine where the ground is relatively flat.

      Back to the question at hand, for the few days it does snow in Seattle, use the Mini or stay home. For the rainy days, use the Subaru.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        Just wait a day or two, the inevitable rain will melt the “ice” and “snow”

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Oh boy, the “we have hills,” argument coming from Seattle resident.

        Hey, so does Worcester, Massachusetts, so does Boston, so does Sioux City, Iowa for that matter. I don’t mean rises and dips, I mean hills – serious ones. As steep as Queen Anne and with the occasional closures.

        So the we get wet snow that freezes up on hills so Seattle is worse argument holds no sway with me. Been through both – from the Blizzard of ’78 back east to the 2006 Monday Night Football storm that ended up looking like the movie, “The Day After Tomorrow” with local residents abandoning their cars on I-5 and I-405 and walking off the highways.

        The snow driving ass hattery I see around here is mind blowing to me. Seattle drivers have no concept of the following:

        a) Don’t abandon your car in the middle of the damn road. I’ve never seen this anywhere else in the country. Seattlite can’t get past a point on the road, and so they give up, and just park their car in the middle road – no rolling back to the curb so they don’t block the travel lane.

        b) Momentum, momentum, momentum. Getting started is the biggest challenge in winter driving, once you’re rolling it is easier to keep rolling. I can count how many people I’ve been behind that their tires start to spin, they panic, and instead of easing off the throttle and applying more gas, or letting the traction control do its job, they slam on the brakes. I just drive around them. These are typically the same driver who then resorts to “a” above.

        c) You know, I’m so happy you bought your Audi Quattro or AWD Subaru or Chevy Suburban, but AWD/4WD is not a substitute for steering, braking, and brains. SLOW THE HELL DOWN.

        I will give you this, having lived in both. When it snows in Seattle it can be serious snow. Like in December 2007. You’re also correct that if you live off a mainline, the snow removal plan is the sun comes out, it melts the snow, snow removed. The reality is when we get our severe cold snaps here that snow turns into ice, and can last for days. Toss in some steep hills and the above noted idiot drivers and it becomes a nightmare.

        But my head just wants to snap off my neck when the “Seattle has hills” whine comes out when east coast and west coast drivers start comparing their nail holes. Driving in the snow is no fun.

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        I don’t live in Seattle, I live in Idaho.

        Ironically, the MNF game you mentioned was one of times I was there and screwed…couldn’t get home, couldn’t do any work (transmission line siting), all I could do was hang out at the hotel. Flights were cancelled, ended up driving back to Hailey in a rental XTerra.

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        For some reason, I couldn’t edit the comment above.

        I do agree that many PacNW drivers can’t deal with snow, ice, or even rain (ironically). And they’re just as bad on I-5 when it is dry. My grandparents live in Anacortes and I now pay more to fly into Bellingham to avoid I-5 between SeaTac and Mt Vernon.

      • 0 avatar

        Manual transmissions help. On icy roads, a second-gear start can be your friend.

      • 0 avatar
        djn

        Dude, good advice stay home. I also live in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Washington. My car never goes out when it snows. Its to easy to get hit by a sliding bus or a Patty Murray wannabe driving her SUV drinking a latte plowing into the side of your Mini, Subaru or whatever.

      • 0 avatar
        onyxtape

        “Soviet Socialist Republic of…”

        Even the conservative Tax Foundation says Washington state has the 6th best business tax climate in the country. Even better than New Hampshire and Texas for crying out loud.

    • 0 avatar
      Wade.Moeller

      I lived in the Seattle area for a couple years in the mid 90s and I moved there after growing up in Iowa and South Dakota. Most of the winters in Seattle had one or two “snowfalls” of just enough to make it all white. Until the next morning when it all melts. But one time there was a wet heavy snowfall of 4-6 inches. Several covered boat docks sank, dragging the boats down with them, under the weight. Chaos reigned for 2 whole days before it melted completely away.

      I was one of the few to make it into work and all I was driving was a late 80’s Civic with all season tires. It made it up the hills, around the corners, and through snow ruts without issue.

      What you drive is much less important then how you drive. If you didn’t grow up driving in the snow, don’t bother trying to actually get somewhere the first 5 years you are in a snowy area. You’ll just end up sleeping the night in a snow bank while those that know how to drive in the snow have to slalom their much less capable beaters around you.

      Especially if your snowy area is one where any snowfall that lasts for more then 2 days is an actual sign of the apocalypse. Just wait it out.

  • avatar
    dragoniv

    I grew up in Syracuse, NY, driving a mid-80s G20 Chevy Sport Van with all-season radials. If you can figure out how to snow-drift, you have it made. Sort of. Stopping is still kind of challenging.

    I will admit that now that I’ve grown up, I do run Blizzaks on my G8 and Nokian NRWs on my minivan. Those both handle infinitely better than that old full size van in the white stuff. Worry not about the color, my G8 is white as well. Just keep your lights on in the winter if you don’t have DRLs.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    Tires, tires, tires, tires, tires, tires…oh and tires. Watch the numerous videos of 4WD and AWD vehicles sliding around like hocky pucks on the Seattle hills for evidence that what wheels have power makes little to no difference. You have to be able to stop and turn and AWD/4WD will not help you do that, snow tires will. I lived in Seattle for 3 years and it snowed so rarely that I just waited for it to melt before I ventured out. Snow tires would be a waste unless I regularly had to traverse the passes. Being from the midwest, I was quite amused at the circus that Seatle became when an inch or two the white stuff came down.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    If any individual doesn’t take the time to learn to drive in the snow, and all that it involves, they shouldn’t look to buying a 4WD vehicle as a band-aid for it. It makes them even MORE dangerous.

    • 0 avatar
      Windy

      This is so true.
      I Recall being taken to the cemetery as a youngster for lessons in snow driving and skid recovery… see if any organizations in your area offer lessons in slippery conditions with access to either a skidpad or perhaps driving on a frozen pond.

      I have lived in deep snow country for more than 60 years and I have driven everything from a 1955 300SL gullwing to 1961 Lincoln Continental to a 70s GrandWagoneer to an 89 Range Rover to my current rides a 04 MINI CooperS and a 1948 Jeep CJ2-A that my Dad bought the year I was born and that I have been driving since I was about 10 off the road and on since I was 16 and took my drivers test in it (the tester was impressed with my double clutch downshifts that were due to bad syncros on 2ed gear
      of all those cars that I have driven in heavy snow, and about several dozen more not mentioned, the MINI with good full snow tires rates up near the top as long as the snow on the road is not being plowed by the front spoiler.
      In the very deep on unplowed back roads sort of stuff the Range rover with heavily studded snow tiers and in the worst conditions chains on all 4 as well as a load of sandbags would win the contest though hitting deep drifts would call for getting out the shovel and or using the winch.

      the MINI is very good in the snow. but I would put learning the skills even above fitting snow tires and all wheel drive comes last as here in Maine where I now live the advent of Snow sees more 4×4 drivers off the road than their % of the auto population would call for… the drivers have a false sense of confidence and drive faster than either their skills or their tires should dictate

      (And Yes the 300SL Gullwing was a a real handful in slippery conditions)

  • avatar
    dts187

    From my experience, snow tires make all the difference in the world. A FWD car with snows will get you most anywhere you want to go in most conditions. That is especially true inside a major metropolitan area. The only times I’ve seen AWD or a 4×4 be extremely helpful in the snow is when climbing steep mountain roads that have never or will never see a plow.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    First of all, 4WD go does not mean 4WD stop. Slow down, if the weather’s nasty a few other people are gonna be late too. When I lived in the Midwest, I had a couple of large hills on my commute. I had a 4WD macho he man truck. It was great having 4WD traction. However, when I was going up the snow covered hills I was moving at the speed of the person in front of me in their economy car and $25 all season radials. Just chill and relax, your cubicle and your house will still be there.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      “4WD go does not mean 4WD stop”

      During snow storms I see a lot of rolled over full size 4WD pickups and SUVs driven by people who don’t understand that concept. Or didn’t. Now they do!

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Not that I know anything about snow driving, but it seems like for the rare occasions he would even need to drive in snow, wouldn’t it be cheaper to get snow tires for the Subaru? That way he gets the best of both worlds (AWD and snow tires > FWD with DSC and snow tires??), the rim size should be smaller than the Mini, and it should even be easy to find a set of cheap steelies so he can swap out as needed. I imagine you do not want to drive around on snow tires when there isn’t snow, so I don’t know if he already has a snow tire setup for the Mini, I guess that would negate my idea.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      Another option is the Nokian WR G2. It is all season tire that is snow rated so no need to swap.

    • 0 avatar

      > Not that I know anything about snow driving, but it seems like for the rare occasions he would even need to drive in snow, wouldn’t it be cheaper to get snow tires for the Subaru? That way he gets the best of both worlds

      I mentioned in the question that I’m willing to pop for snow tires for the Scooby, if that makes it the superior choice.

      > (AWD and snow tires > FWD with DSC and snow tires??)

      That’s really the question that prompted me to write in.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Yes I thought maybe you did, but all of the comments seem to be about what “should work fine” as opposed to “what is the BEST option”. Not to mention all the extremely helpful ppl suggesting you don’t drive in snow (covered in your OP) and that you learn to drive in snow so you can drive anything (not really the point).

        Like I said, I live in FL and have only driven very rarely in snow, and always on well-plowed roads, so what do I know? But it seems that common sense would suggest that putting snow tires on an AWD Subaru (and IIRC the old-school mechanical diff 4WD on that model?) would trump snow tires on a FWD car with ESC, esp if said ESC is tuned for performance driving and not winter driving. I know the ESC in the VW is almost worthless in slippery rain situations.

      • 0 avatar
        rwb

        For moving forward, snows on a Subaru are better than snows and software with half as many drive wheels. A Subaru with all-season tires will usually move through heavy or deep snow better than a FWD car with snows anyway, but of course will not be ideal when the road curves or you need to stop.

        For stopping, everyone else is correct that you just need to be careful.

        You can completely ignore everyone who talks about how they drove through four feet of snow in a 2wd pickup with bald tires in the 70s.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        Four drive wheels with snow tires is going to provide more traction in a driving/propulsion mode than two drive wheels (front or rear) with snow tires. Four wheel drive is twice as good as two wheel drive when more traction is needed; that is why military and off road equipment is generally at least four wheel drive, and in some cases six or eight wheels.

        The ability to stop/slow/brake is not really relevant to a discussion about how many drive wheels the car is able to engage, as is discussing when to stay off the roads.

  • avatar
    Lemmy-powered

    Winter tires trump AWD, unless you’re just looking to win stoplight drag races.

    Also, 2WD gives you a lot of valuable feedback on road conditions, which you just don’t get in an AWD. Whether you consider that an advantage or not is purely up to you.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Why would you consider snow tires and AWD as mutually exclusive choices?

      And if your AWD vehicle doesn’t give you feedback, you’ve got the wrong AWD vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        I’m willing to sacrifice a little motive traction for full-time steering which is why I prefer RWD with the best winter tires I can get. The problem with FWD/AWD is that once the fronts start to lose grip because of wheelspin, you immediately lose steering as well.

        In my opinion, anywhere where you have snow, you need a dedicated set of winter tires. Mine (Blizzaks) are permanently mounted on a second set of rims and go on each November. So-called “all-season” tires represent a poor compromise in all seasons.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Fully agreed on proper snow tires (I have Michelin Pilot Alpin PA3s), though I prefer AWD myself. In 15 years of AWD winter driving (on snow tires) I have managed to retain steering even in low-grip conditions.

      • 0 avatar
        Lemmy-powered

        “Why would you consider snow tires and AWD as mutually exclusive choices?”

        I don’t. My car has both. But the choice in this piece is one or the other.

        “And if your AWD vehicle doesn’t give you feedback, you’ve got the wrong AWD vehicle.”

        Mine’s a Subaru Legacy. The system works well. But in a 2WD car, I get far louder feedback on how slippery the roads are.

        Friend, you’re talking to a Canadian from a snow belt who’s done time ice racing and whose year-round daily driver used to be a Gislaved-shod Miata. I’ve slipped, gripped, spun and white-knuckled through everything from Kootenay dumps to the extreme dry cold of the James Bay Road.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    If you ever want to see how much difference tires make, take an awd vehicle like the subi & put performance summer tires on them. Then try them with snow tires.

    I could NOT turn left in my 2005 STi with a very light dusting of snow at sub 10mph without sliding. 4 * 0 traction = 0 traction.

    Now I have dedicated winter tires for the same car.

    During our big snow 2 feb’s ago, it was 4 hours in from airport to downtown on the interstate (10 miles). going home from work (30 minutes) I took sheridan (unplowed, mostly) in my STi with winter tires & could drive at or just under the speed limit comfortably.

    30 miles in 70 minutes > 10 miles in 4 hours any day of the week.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    If you ever want to see how much difference tires make, take an awd vehicle like the subi & put performance summer tires on them. Then try them with snow tires.

    I could NOT turn left in my 2005 STi with a very light dusting of snow at sub 10mph without sliding. 4 * 0 traction = 0 traction.

    Now I have dedicated winter tires for the same car.

    During our big snow 2 feb’s ago, it was 4 hours in from airport to downtown on the interstate (10 miles). going home from work (30 minutes) I took sheridan (unplowed, mostly) in my STi with winter tires & could drive at or just under the speed limit comfortably.

    30 miles in 70 minutes > 10 miles in 4 hours any day of the week.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    In order of importance:

    1 – STAY HOME! No combination of tires and drive wheels will help you avoid getting whacked by foolish drivers, especially those with totally undeserved confidence in their tires and drive wheels in lieu of driving skills. Watch the weather forecast and be prepared to stay in as much as possible until conditions improve. I believe that snow conditions often only last a day or 2 in the Pacific NW.

    2 – Do NOT use the van in bad conditions. RWD without substantial weight over those wheels is asking for trouble when roads are slick, especially if you don’t get regular practice in those conditions.

    3 – FWD with good tires are usually better than AWD. AWD engenders over-confidence, and if conditions are too bad for FWD with good tires, see point #1.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      +1 for 1 – STAY HOME!

      The main reason I didn’t venture out in the snow in Seattle even though I was a veteran of snow driving is because of other inexperienced drivers. Also, the city didn’t plow and we lived on a very steep hill.

      • 0 avatar

        Last year I stayed at home for 5 days, without complaint. I’ve seen the circus our streets become!

        But there are occasions when we must make a drive in the snow. Those usually end up being trips over the passes, not drives in Seattle *metro* snow.

        So, on a plowed but still snowy mountain pass… Does FWD + ESC + snow tires beat AWD + LSD, or AWD + LSD + snow tires?

        So far in the comments the Mini seems to be ahead by a mile.

        It also has a decade newer safety equipment should there be a collision…

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        True, you do get more modern safety features in the Mini, but as you said, you are only driving this in emergency situations, so to me its more about which option would get you to the grocery store or office in a pinch when its really bad out. And if drivers in Seattle are as bad in the snow as you say, there is a better chance you will get in a minor fender bender as opposed to a high speed collision, I personally would rather have the old Subaru taking the damage than the new Mini.

      • 0 avatar
        rwb

        The Mini is only ahead here because for some reason everyone is framing this as FWD + snow tires VS AWD on bald Chinese tires, when AWD + snows will get you moving forward in the snow better than any other combination, especially uphill.

        Put snow tires on the Subaru, and don’t drive too fast to stop.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      I disagree slightly. Slow down and leave more room. Seems like the roads are relatively safe when they are covered by snow and everyone either drives slow or stays home. The roads become much less safe when the snow is partly melted and average speeds go up. Hitting ice patches while traveling fast is a scary combination.

  • avatar
    92golf

    Of course the old joke applies…

    Q. What’s four-wheel drive good for?

    A. Oh, it means you get farther into the field before you’re stuck.

    I’ve never had an all-wheel drive vehicle but have been very happy with front-wheel drive and snow tires. I would never go back to all-seasons by choice. As a commenter above noted – as long as you’re not plowing the road with your front spoiler you should be fine.

  • avatar
    stuart

    I have an E-350 passenger van, and I was driving it in WA during the snowstorm a few Christmases ago. ‘350s have one-ton chassis, and require real truck tires (“load range E”), so tire choices are kinda limited.

    While the E-350 has commendable ground clearance, it’s hard to imagine a more incompetent vehicle in the snow. My van was unable to climb a 5% grade in an icy parking lot. I recall a few parking lot incidents where the van slid *sideways*, totally helpless and uncontrollable.

    I suspect my van would have behaved better with some weight in the back. Unladen, it had no useful traction.

    My very limited experience with snow driving suggests that front-wheel drive with reasonable tires is more than adequate for the occasional snow in Seattle (I drove a FIAT 128 through a fierce snowstorm once; it did great). But I can say with authority: avoid the big rear-wheel drive vans. They’re hopelessly unsafe in the snow.

    stuart

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Yes it does snow in Seattle:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhZCyQ3emQg

    Like Vancouver 3 hours north, snow in Seattle can mean a layer of black ice underneath. Tires first… awd is nice, but you’re not the only car on the road. No sense in going out if you can go but everybody else is sliding.

  • avatar
    Duncan

    As another commenter has mentioned, Seattle covered in snow is very different than most cities. “Learn to drive” and “AWD only helps in drag races” doesn’t apply.

    When a traffic light changes and makes you stop on a 10% incline hill covered in snow, AWD or even RWD makes a big difference in getting you started again when the light turns green. Bad technique will certainly make things worse, but great technique is unlikely to overcome the tremendous disadvantage physics places on a FWD that has to stop on a hill.

    I agree that the Mini with snow tires would be very safe for driving, but I think the Subaru is a lot less likely to get you stuck on an incline where you have no options other than to slowly back down and either take another run at the hill for park the car and walk.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      The problem with AWD is it is pretty much useless the other 363 days of the year and just wastes fuel. People make the mistake of buying a car based on the worst case scenario instead of on the conditions they will see 99% of the time.

      I am not sure what you are talking about that a FWD somehow would have a harder time stopping on a hill as a RWD/AWD vehicle. If anything, the lighter FWD vehicle will have an easier time stopping. Other than added weight, the drive-train has no effect on the stopping distances.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        I think he means that if you have to stop on a hill in a FWD car, you will have a much harder time getting going again.

      • 0 avatar
        Cavendel

        30 mile has it correct, and it is a big concern in snowy conditions. I’m north of Toronto, and get my share of sloppy conditions. Avoiding crashes doesn’t require AWD, but does require snow tires. Not getting stuck is where AWD helps out.

        I used to have a Subaru Forester. Equipped with all-seasons, it slipped all over the place in that heavy slushy snow. Add some snow tires, and the improvement was large. Still easy to slip and slide, and even with the snows, some conditions are just too much.

        My favorite car in the snow was my old RX-7. Never had more fun driving than with that car in the snow.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    A FWD will do fine, sure… until the first steep hill you come to.
    A AWD is far better, not just in the snow, but in the rain which Seattle has plenty of. Also- a real AWD car (most CUV’s fail to qualify) offers engine braking to all 4 wheels. It is inherently better at slowing down than a FWD car, which will swap ends if you lift off the throttle.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      So much nonsense in this discussion. I swear AWD is the most misunderstood and overrated “safety” feature in cars. It doesn’t matter if it is the engine or the brakes slowing down the car, it is the tires friction with the road that causes a vehicle to stop. If anything a heavier AWD vehicle will have a HARDER time stopping than a lighter FWD vehicle. Funny you mention a FWD car swapping ends when it is Subaru’s that are notorious for their tendency of lift-off over-steer. So much for the “safety” of AWD.

      • 0 avatar

        FWIW, in this particular showdown, the weight of the cars is almost identical.

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        Only certain 05-07 Outbacks are “notorious” for lift-off oversteer, and those that have been modified with a stiffer rear suspenion. But of course, that must mean all Subarus are notorious. Making blanket statements is fun! My 07 2.5i MT is, however, not one of those. And that is without having DSC, the full-time AWD is nice, especially on the dirt and gravel roads.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        No, it isn’t just the 05-07 Outbacks. CR noted it in the Legacy, Forester, and Impreza. The later models with DSC helps some but is generally late to the party. I could care less. My argument is that AWD does not make a car inherently safer.

        FWIW- I own an 06 Legacy and have experienced the over-steer, especially in slippery conditions. It is very counter-intuitive to try to stay on the throttle and not lift off when things start to go hairy. A FWD car is much more predictable for 99% of the drivers out there. I have also narrowly avoided collisions when I couldn’t stop in snow with the OEM all-seasons…not fun. Thankfully, the ABS allowed me to steer off the road to avoid the collision.

      • 0 avatar
        icemilkcoffee

        “It doesn’t matter if the engine or brakes are slowing down the car” until it does. Like I said- you lift off the throttle mid-turn on a FWD in the snow and you get a fast snap oversteer. I haven’t heard of Subarus’ being prone to this- and even if you provoke this situation, it will be much more catcheable in an AWD car.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Lift-off over-steer is not unique to FWD cars whether you are familiar with it or not. Obviously, all thing being equal (tires), the AWD car will generally be superior to the FWD in snow. My point is that the number of times it will actually matter is far outweighed by the, higher cost, maintenance, complexity, and impact on fuel economy over the life of the vehicle. AWD is not a replacement for the type of tire or the meat behind the wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        AWD Subarus don’t snap oversteer when you let off the throttle. I had one for 5 years and if they actually did that I’d have stuffed my car into a ditch many times.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “It is inherently better at slowing down than a FWD car, which will swap ends if you lift off the throttle.”

      What we have here is somebody who used good tires on the front with poor tires on the rear of a FWD vehicle, and is now blaming the drive configuration for the resulting scary driving dynamics. What he describes would happen to any vehicle with that tire setup, regardless of drive configuration. It will not happen with a matched set of tires.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    So, the real reason to get true snows (e.g. Blizzaks) vs. all-seasons is that they stop dramatically better on snow, ice or any nasty combination thereof!

    That said, given some of the hills in downtown Seattle, there is practically nothing short of a snow cat, or a caterpillar tractor that is going to climb them, or stop on the way down, if there’s untreated snow or snow+ice. Remember that the worst kind of snow is snow when the temperature is right around freezing. That snow will be wet, it will pack down instantly into a greasy semi-icy surface with a thin layer of liquid water on top. That’s the kind of snow you’re likely to get in Seattle, which is why staying home is good advice.

    In all but deep snow conditions, FWD + snow tires will get you anywhere. In really deep snow (12″+) I have seen plenty of 4wd vehicles (Jeep Cherokees and the like) stuck because they had all-season tires. Meanwhile, I was chugging along in my AWD mini-van with Blizzaks.

    Finally, in snow (unlike in mud) you do not want fat tires, you want narrow tires.

    Regarding the van, absolutely not. Weight is not your friend in snow. I had a first generation Honda Accord (probably smaller than today’s Civic) that was absolutely terrific in snow, even with all-seasons, because it was light and had skinny tires.

    • 0 avatar

      My wife’s Honda Fit, with skinny winter tires, does not match the traction I get with my Honda Accord, with much wider winter tires. It’s not even close.

      It might be the tires (Yokohama Ice Guards on the Fit, Nokian Hakkapeliitta RSis on the Accord) but I suspect my Accord has more weight per square inch/centimetre of contact spot, despite the wider tires.

      • 0 avatar
        srogers

        On ice, I’ll take more (winter) rubber on the road. In snow, higher weight/contact might be better up to a point. It’s always the tire’s contact with the surface that provides all the friction or mechanical interlock to move you forward, so bicycle tires aren’t going to be the magic fix to get a Suburban through the snow drifts.

  • avatar
    bud777

    I guess everyone has different experiences, but for me, the Subaru is the best choice. I used to do a lot of consulting work in Alaska and would rent a car in Anchorage do some work, then drive to Valdez for another client. From October to May, that is 300 miles on ice and snow through two mountain ranges. It is a good idea not to get stuck unless you were prepared to spend the night at -40. For some reason, the cars rented in Anchorage did not have studded tires, I am not even sure if they were snow tires.

    Driving the Subaru was a dream, I routinely made it to Valdez in 4 hours and 20 minutes, averaging about 70 and never going over 75. Most of the time this was done in the dark. For my money, there is not a better car in the snow than a Subaru

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Personally, I’ve found that Panthers are great predictable and sure footed cars in the snow. Of course you need to put good tires on it, but I’ve never found extra ballast in the trunk to be needed in snow that wasn’t well past ground clearance.

    If you live in an area that is patrolled by snow plows, a RWD or FWD car will be fine with good tires on it. I would consider AWD or 4WD if you live in an area where snow drifts multiple feet quickly or where snow is rarely plowed.

    If you live in the city or a suburb, just get a RWD or FWD car of your liking (that is a good deal) that isn’t slammed to the ground and put good tires on it.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    And people- please stop saying “just put snow tires on a XXXXX”. It doesn’t snow enough in Seattle to warrant investing in 4 bulky wheels and snow tires, or the labor to put them on and take them off. Just accept the fact that an AWD car will be ideal in this application. I know you grew up driving a Ford Pinto in Wyoming etc, etc. Good for you. But an AWD car really is better.

    • 0 avatar
      Robstar

      I’ll take a good set of snow tires and fwd or rwd over awd with bald/summer only tires any day of the week.

    • 0 avatar
      Windy

      The requester that when they need to drive in snow it frequently involves trips over the passes.

      A set of steel wheels in a smaller size (in my case the performance summer tires are 17″ and the snows are 16″ but that is because the 16″ wheels were available and cheap)and Blizack snows are quite reasonable if you buy them in the spring and it costs nothing to store them in the back of the garage or in your basement. As to paying someone to swap them… I am in my 60s overweight and out of shape and I have no problem swapping them myself… I did score a proper floor jack from a yard sale which made the job a lot easier than using the jack that came with the MINI. But I made the swap three times before I got lucky with the $50 floor jack.

      But I not making a snarky learn to drive comment nor do I think others were. Driving in slippery conditions with comfort and confidence is greatly benefited by getting some practice in a safe area and even going to a professional instructor with access to a proper skid pad. Contacting a road safety outfit like the AAA might be the best way to find someone like this in your area.

      If that is not an option then perhaps you could seek out an empty parking lot with either fresh snow or ice and spend some time trying different maneuvers in an environment where spinning out will cause no damage. Concentrate on braking and avoiding maneuvers around arbitrary spots in the parking lot. The parking lots of places not in use at the time such as sports arena and the lots of places that are closed may need to be located

      Places like large mall parking lots frown on the use of their property for this sort of thing unless it is as a part of an organized safety session put on by an organization like the AAA.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    The best option is snow tires on the Subaru. Don’t drive that van in snow. Ever.

    No clue about what is better between Mini + snow tires vs. Subie + all seasons. Probably depends on how much tread the all seasons have left.

  • avatar
    Mark_Miata

    I live in Southern Oregon, and the best thing we ever did car-wise was to buy a Subaru Forester and put snow tires on it with dedicated rims. After driving FWD cars with snows for years, the Forester was a revelation. Stopping was the same, but getting going on any kind of slope was far better. I also like the ground clearance of the Forester – makes those plowed-up ridges much less intimidating.

    Do yourself a favor – put snow tires on the Impreza and be done with it.

    On the other hand, if you want some fun, get a Miata and put snow tires on it – that’s what keeps me amused in the winter when the snow is not too deep.

  • avatar
    mcs

    When it comes to hills, rwd is superior to fwd. A balanced rwd with snows is a better choice than fwd with snows if you live in a hilly area.

    It’s basic classic physics. When you climb a hill, the weight shifts to the rear. Rwd traction increases, but you lose drive wheel traction with fwd. I live in a hill and have both types of vehicles, so I’ve had first hand experience.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Having driven a Mini Cooper in the snow, I can say that DSC is unlikely to help when all four of your wheels are off the ground because the body will surf on little more than 5 inches of snow. I used to have a ball in the snow with small FWD cars like a Festiva, a Horizon, a Spectrum, a Sundance, a Mazda GLC, and a Rabbit, but the Mini Cooper’s lack of ground clearance made it useless. For that reason I’d think the Subaru is the clear choice.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Always remember that 4WD helps it go, but it does not help it stop, or turn.

    Tires and anti lock brakes are way more important.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I’d take Option 1, but with the electronics disabled. Option 2 with winter tires would be way more fun though, but be careful because the AWD may give you the feeling that you have more traction than is actually available, and without studs you’ll still have very poor traction on the really slippery stuff: wet ice.

  • avatar

    All wheel drive helps you start. Winter tires help you stop.

    To me, winter tires are a no-brainer if you get cold weather and snow. Transport Canada is now recommending winter tires be used anywhere where temperatures are falling below 10 C (50 F). That happens for extended periods even in Seattle, and if you leave the city eastbound, you’ll definitely be hitting snow and cold at times in the higher elevations.

    I’ve been running winter tires now for about ten years (I live in Saskatchewan). I’ve only gotten stuck once in that span. With all season radials, it was more likely once or twice in a winter that I’d get stuck.

    There are downsides to winter tires. They run noisy by comparison to all-seasons. They have less favourable high-speed performance and cornerning characteristics, if you like to push your car to its edges (which is difficult to do in winter anyway). They also wear relatively quickly, especially in warmer weather. Still, you probably have a certain time of year where using them would be smart. Bear in mind that all season radials that are useless in the snow due to their wear may still be just fine on wet roads, so you can typically use your all-seasons for a much greater total distance than if they would ever see snow.

    One other thing that might be relevant in Seattle is that the deep siping of winter tires makes them terrific in the wet. The water keeps them cool and the siping removes the water from your way with great efficiency. I’ve never made my car hydroplane while running winter tires (although I haven’t pushed it terribly :) ).

    As for vehicle choice, AWD and 4WD add complexity and reduce gas mileage, but at times are useful. Personally I’m happy with front wheel drive, but the farther you delve into the boonies and off major roads, the more useful having four powered wheels can be.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    I live 17 miles from Seattle, we have 3 AWD vehicles. They cope fine even with the wet slushy snow we get round here. I also have a set of studdies for my Ranger for when it gets really bad.

    If you go the snow tire route, invest in a spare set of rims or steelies.

    Unless you install them soon once there is a threat of a snow storm on the local TV you will never be able to get an appointment to mount/ dismount them.

    Also note that tires like blizzaks are great but won’t last too long on dry roads. Think 5-10,000 useable miles.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I live less than 10 miles from the city of Seattle and have driven a 1998 Subaru Outback and a 2012 Mini Cooper in the snow.

    The Mini with Blizzak snow tires is excellent in the snow. It is a base model with higher ground clearance than the S and has no issues getting through 5 to 6 inches of Seattle snow. The electronics aren’t too intrusive and only kick in when you really need them to.

    The Subaru was only driven with all seasons. It was great at accelerating and climbing hills but not great at cornering and stopping. I drove that thing over Snoqualmie and Stevens passes in horrific conditions. Haven’t done that yet with the Mini but it will probably see a few ski trips this year.

    I’d drive the Mini in the snow, as I’d rather have the updated safety features of a current generation Mini over a first generation Impreza if some idiot in a beater Crown Victoria with bald tires plows into me.

  • avatar
    audipardner

    i live in maine and have driven in every kind of weather in every kind of vehicle. from snow and ice on a motorcycle in april to rwd, fwd, awd cars to trucks of all sizes up to 18 wheelers. it’s tires and common sense that make the difference. if you can, get studded snows for the subaru. that way you can go no matter what. the mini will probably do fine, too, but you cannot beat awd and studded snows. as for stopping and turning, that’s where the common sense comes in. SLOW DOWN and maintain momentum. also head on a swivel to see the idiots without common sense who will be careening toward you. best of luck.

  • avatar
    scrappy17

    Keep the Mini with the snow tires. Sell the RS to me!! :devil: :serious:

    I live 15 miles from downtown seattle.

  • avatar
    JREwing

    I honestly don’t understand why you’re struggling with this question.

    Your Mini is still worth something substantial. The more it’s exposed to other terrible Seattle drivers and road salt and sand, the more beat up it will be. Therefore, the Mini doesn’t go out in the snow. Period. End of discussion.

    For obvious reasons, neither does the Ford van. End of discussion.

    Therefore, the twelve-year-old Subaru wins by default. Put snow tires on it, and if you get a fender-bender, it’s not a major loss. Not having stability control is not going to make a big difference, because the all-wheel-drive will help keep it stable, and because you’re going to drive it SLOWLY and carefully.

  • avatar
    onyxtape

    Don’t know about the Mini, but I got my 08 Outback just in time for that nasty storm in 08 when the entire downtown was shut down as it was the year prior to when they decided to salt the roads. All the steep hills were covered with fresh powder, and it was fun just driving up and down the hills like in a car commercial (and there was absolutely nobody on the roads at the early hours – not even buses). The handling was great, even with the craptastic OEM Bridgestone Potenzas.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I’ll echo the sentiment that snow tires (either on the MINI or Subaru) trump anything. Experience is good too – find an empty lot and do your best to start sliding around, familiarize yourself with how whatever choice you make handles the snow. Plus, you know, fun to hoon around a snowy lot.

  • avatar
    kkt

    Seattle winter weather works like: Day 1, wet slushy snow. No problem. Day 2, front passes by, freezes at night, creating ice next day. This is when it gets interesting. Sometimes the snow can stick around for up to a couple of weeks, because they do minimal plowing and no salt at all. However, it does not stick around for months, so unless you love swapping your wheels or you’re in the mountains a lot, it’s not really worth swapping for snow tires.

    Since the snow doesn’t stick around long, Seattle drivers don’t get enough practice to get good at it. A lot of the time, yes, it’s gone in a day or two, but other times it sticks around for weeks. Also, the hills do make it harder; if you learned to drive in eastern Washington or in the Midwest it’s a whole new set of skills. Yes, Boston has hills too, but they plow and salt aggressively.

  • avatar

    I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for all of my adult life, and most of that has been in the Puget Sound area. Now I live in the mountains of Central Oregon, where winter driving is a fact of life. Here I have dedicated steelies and Les Schwab studded snows (and a lift at home to swap them when required.) I deal with ice, snow, blizzards, a daily 60-mile commute, and a trip to the ski area every weekend. Never had an incident – driving a FWD Jetta TDI.

    But Seattle?? The best advice so far is the “stay at home” line of thinking. Seattle-area snow isn’t like any other snow in the country. It is slick as snot, wet – with an undercoat of solid ice. In all my years in Seattle I always made a point to get home before the arctic fronts arrived, and stayed home until it melted. Telecommute and don’t become the background footage while Danger Jim Foreman is on-the-scene with King 5 News in his North Face Gore-tex.

    People from other parts of the world have no frikkin’ CLUE how bad driving in Seattle can be after a winter storm has arrived (LEAST OF ALL SAJEEV!!) The whole damn city shuts down, so there’s no need to be out there anyway. Just don’t wait too long to bug out – when the flakes start to fly GET HOME ASAP.

    Going skiing up in the Passes is different. For that, just get chains and use them as needed.

    The best tires for Seattle are those designed for WET, not snow – because 99% of the time it is WET.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Back in the winter of ’06 I had the pleasure of owning both an ’01 Impreza 2.5RS and an ’05 MCS. Both were on all seasons and I felt the MINI was better in the snow. The traction control works near perfectly on the MINI while the Impreza has nothing to offer but how well you could modulate your right and left foot. I clearly remember following my wife uphill out of our driveway and she pulled right out in the MINI while the RS tires spun and I started doing the “all slipping, gravity wins” motion when I tried to pull out initially. Both vehicles were manual transmissions with her having the optional LSD and having only been driving a stick for <2 years while I had been driving a stick for nearly 8. The 195 width tires probably helped her over my 215 width tires, too.

    I'm debating if I buy snow tires for the MINI or the Prius this year. The 4Runner is great in snow, so it will be first choice, but what do I drive when the wife has the 4Runner? The Prius is claimed to be awful in the snow but I doubt many people put snow tires on them before making that claim. No room for a baby seat limits the usability of the MINI and I'd like to keep the MINI happy in the garage during the winter now that it is our "weekend" car. "Stay at home" might be the most cost effective and safe solution.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the detailed reply, I appreciate it.


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