By on January 8, 2014
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I live in a small, genteel, Southern colonial home that comes with all the local goodies.

An over-sized ceiling fan in every room. A little front porch that offers a palatial view of the rolling prairies of Deliverance country.

Throw in a mint julep, homemade lemonade, and the belting baritone of Paul Robeson, and the world becomes my oyster.

Except not right now. It’s too damn cold outside. Which got me to thinking…

What would you say is the best car for cold weather?

Part of me would say that the Swedes would have this wrapped up. Volvos from the 850 on forward have offered heating systems that are warm enough to tend to the most delicate of Southern frailties after a few minutes of cold.

Whenever I used to take my family from their comfortable bucolic life of North Georgia, to my brutal native land of Northern New Jersey, I would take a Volvo along for the ride. Great heat. Wonderful leather seats. A nice balance of good outdoor visibility and a cocoon-like interior. A lot of folks don’t have a lot of love for the 850/S70 Volvos for their long-term cost and reliability issues, but I have always enjoyed their balance of safety, good heat, and solid fuel economy.

I like SAABs as well for many of the same reasons. Great seats, nice heat, livable fuel economy, and packaging that strikes the right balance of sight and safety when visiting the cold strange ancient lands that are no longer my home. The fact that older GM based sleds, like the more recent SAABs, tend to offer outstanding heat, also helps balance off some of the quirkiness of these vehicles.

Still, I wonder on a day like this whether there are other rides that are even better choices? Does a Jeep Grand Cherokee offer a better cold weather package than a Ford Explorer? Would a Lincoln Town Car be more safe and splendorous than a Cadillac Escalade if you had to do your daily commutes in the coldest of cold winters? Small heating area favors the smaller rides. But then you have to worry about everyone else on the road.

So my question for you is, if you had to survive with cold weather, snow and ice for twelve months of the year and had, say, a $30,000 budget for anything new or used, what would be your choice?

Oh, and a one way ticket to a country that plays limbo with the equator does not count. Please consider this a chance to spend $30k on something that would almost make that trade of temp worth it.

 

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117 Comments on “Hammer Time: The Cars Of The Cave Bears...”


  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Hmmm….Probably a grey market diesel Mercedes G-wagen with enough left over for spare parts and good tires. Military grade durability, 3 locking diffs to blast through the deepest snow, and plenty of space.

    • 0 avatar
      Feds

      Nope. I’m nursing a diesel through this cold snap. Does not make heat unless making boost. Stuck in traffic? You’re going to be cold.

      Gassers are better for cold weather.

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        Do you have a winter front or could you buy/make one? They do help on diesels. I haven’t purchased one yet for my 2012 TDI because it has an auxiliary heater that brings heat a lot quicker. But if you have an older diesel, a winter front can make life much more tolerable in the cold.

        Back to the original question – any car with heated seats. Heated seats are great in the cold and help your back even in warm weather (just crank the A/C if you get too hot).

        And I remember watching part of Clan of the Cave Bear years ago, I think I was 10 at the time and didn’t know what to make of it.

        • 0 avatar
          HeeeeyJake

          You are right. When I worked at a dealership, hands down the best car to go out and start dead cold sitting for a week when it’s 5 degrees out is a BMW X5 3.0i.

          Here’s why:
          -Heated Seats (optional but common)
          -Heated Steering wheel (optional but common)
          -low capacity, high flow/reverse flow cooling system (warms very quickly)
          -heat shielding in the engine compartment that retains heat in a manner that flies in the face of thermal osmosis
          -climate control goes to 91, and you have a ton of adjustments
          -rear wiper/washer
          -headlight washer (+1 for jet not wiper)
          -awd (for excellent unplowed pavement traction)
          -better ground clearance than a wagon
          -stability control, abs, etc.
          -light on its feet and more fun to drive than a lot of vehicles

          Very easy to hop in and get moving within about 2 minutes, as long as the glass is clear and the touch surfaces are warming…

          +1 on heated seats and AC in the summer…only way to travel and keeps you relaxed and smooth

      • 0 avatar
        Slow_Joe_Crow

        You just need the right accessory. The top of the line Eberspacher and Webasto auxiliary heaters have timers and remotes to prewarm the cab and engine and keep your diesel toasty warm as long they have fuel.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    There’s two kinds of cold weather. There’s cold weather, and then there’s cold weather with ice/snow and hazardous driving conditions.

    For the first type, you want a heater that heats quickly. My Miata does that. In the amount of time it takes me to drive one-mile to the train station here in Northern New Jersey, it emits heat.

    For the second type with sloppy roads, it doesn’t matter what you drive as long as you have good tires. Traction control helps. Last Winter, after picking up Mrs. Panhard at the train station on one inclement Friday, the locals got stuck at an icy intersection. So I got out to push. A Subaru with off-brand all season radials was stuck. The driver couldn’t figure out why he was stuck, even with four-wheel drive. A front-wheel drive minivan, also with crappy off-brand tires, also stuck. After 15 minutes of pushing 10 different cars out of the intersection, it was finally our turn. After five minutes, somebody finally let us in the lane, and we motored through without incident, on the same large patch of unsalted ice.

    So my advice: Drive whatever you want. Just don’t skimp on tires. And leather seats? They cause manly shrinkage when the temps drop around 10. Seat heaters take time to warm up, even in European cars. Go with the cloth. Even without the seat heaters, they’re manageable.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Heh, a detriment in the summer but a plus in the winter is the supercharger on my car. Its heats up pretty quickly with that huffer squeezing the air going into the engine.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      You overlook one other factor in snow-worthiness: weight. Your Miata weighs considerably less than the vehicles you mentioned that were having difficulty in the snow notwithstanding AWD. It’s my experience that light weight cars have a lot of advantages in the snow, so long as you don’t ask them to act like snowplows. That was one of two factors that led to the snow-awesomeness of the VW Beetle — it weighed about 2000 lbs — the other being rear-engine RWD (which beats front engine FWD any day in the traction department). Put a set of snows on the rear wheels of a Beetle and you have an awesome snow machine. Cabin heat . . . well that’s another matter.

      • 0 avatar
        eManual

        My front wheel drive 1992 Voyager mini-van with a manual trans is also very good in the snow. Like the VW, it has relatively skinny tires (195/75 R14) with weight over the drive wheels. However, it does have good (front) cabin heat. The manual transmission is key for winter driving!

      • 0 avatar

        I had the same experience. My rwd ’77 Toyota Corolla, which tipped the scale around 2000 lbs, did great in the snow. And I always had cheap, crappy tires on that car.

      • 0 avatar
        claytori

        My first car was a 1968 VW type 113. It was equipped with an (apparently rare) integral gas heater. This added heat to the normal engine exhaust heater box system. I recall it generated ankle frying heat within about 2 blocks from startup. Another unique feature of that car was a “Silver-Cobalt” battery. That was so good that I to this day only blip the starter. This leads to some repeat tries. I only kept the car for about a year and a half, so I never had to fix the heater. The bug had only summer tires, but the weight distribution was good for snow handling. The big thing with the rear drive rear engine layout is that you have no weight on the front wheels, which means lots of understeer. So you have to be really good at inducing oversteer, then catching it before it goes around too far. The handbrake and the Scandinavian flick are your friends – followed of course by counter-steer.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I have to disagree on the leather. While they initially feel colder than cloth, after a brief warm up I find mine much more comfortable than cloth as they seem to hold my body heat better. The same applies in summer. While hotter than cloth at the beginning, I find them more comfortable over the long haul.

      • 0 avatar
        musicalmcs8706

        I agree about the leather. I’ve had leather in my last two cars and my mom has had leather in her last three. I’m much more comfortable on leather seats than I am on cloth. What I notice is when getting in and out of a car with leather, I often slide into place. When I try to do that with cloth, it doesn’t work!

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          Another vote for leather. I can’t sit still and leather lets me squirm in my seat. Cloth grips and tugs at the clothes. Cloth also has a guaranteed static shock every single time you get out of the car when the air dries out in the winter.

          Seat heaters are nice with leather seats though. I’m always amazed at how many cars lack that option – even premium cars. Why do people spend >$40k on a car and then skip the $400 seat heaters? This only makes sense to me in southern Florida.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            You’ll see many used Cadillacs on Ebay in the south with no seat heaters. Domestic brands will still let you have them as an option on high-level models, whereas foreign marques force them on you.

          • 0 avatar
            dastanley

            Another vote for leather. And leather won’t absorb and hold onto air biscuits like cloth seats do.

  • avatar
    radimus

    I’ve been quite happy with my 97 GMC Yukon in the winter mess, equipped with BF Goodrich All-Terrains and a G80 locking rear diff.

  • avatar
    dude500

    The Chevy Cruze has the fastest engine warmup time of any vehicle I’ve ever driven. It takes only 1 minute from a cold start in 30F temperatures, for the engine to be at operating temp and the HVAC to blast very hot air. Not saying it is the best winter vehicle, but the quick heat is appreciated!

    • 0 avatar
      troyohchatter

      Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, my 2002 Ford Ranger 4cyl. Brand spanking new until present day, the thing takes FOREVER to heat up.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      1.8 or 1.4T? Given the supercharger comment above I’m wondering if it is the turbo.

      • 0 avatar
        dude500

        I believe 1.8L, since it was a rental (Alamo) and didn’t have much low-end power. I’m guessing the quick warmup is engineered to produce decent MPGs. I got 35mpg in mostly city driving, during my week with the Cruze.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Unless it was the base LS trim—which is easily identified by its wheel covers in lieu of actual alloy wheels—it was the 1.4-liter turbo. With compact and economy cars, larger chains will often configure the vehicles to be at least one step above the base trim. (I rented Cruzes three times from Hertz, and they were all 2LT models, one of them even including the RS Appearance package). This is because wheel covers often crack or fall off, and certain features aren’t available on those bare vehicles, I don’t, for example, believe that the Cruze LS is even available with cruise control. And upgrading from the LS to the 1LT is not expensive at all. Furthermore, the Cruze is quite a heavy car to be motivated by such small engines, so the fact that you didn’t find very much low-end grunt in your rental doesn’t necessarily eliminate the 1.4-liter turbo as having been the powerplant in question.

          • 0 avatar
            dude500

            You may be right on trim. It definitely had cruise control but I don’t remember the wheels. I thought I saw covers when I took out air (why are rental car tires always over/under-inflated?) but I’m not 100%.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            I don’t know about 2014 Cruzes, but on 2011 units, at least, the alloy wheels were optional on the 1LT, so that you could still end up with an LT that had wheel covers. However the 1.4-liter turbo is standard as soon as you upgrade from the LS.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          Naah, quick warmup is done for emissions purposes. The usual method is to have a valve that cuts off coolant flow through the head until a certain temperature is reached.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Nothing used. Unlike southerners us Yankees tend to buy new, or at least late model, for the primary driver because a breakdown means being stuck out in the cold, not pushing the car off to the side of the road and taking a stroll.

    New Subaru Outback Premium Wagon 6MT (you want the MT control for snow): $25,795

    Five snow tires and wheels from TireRack: $1,128.95

    And because I’ve heard you can’t trust your mechanic to put on your snow tires in time:

    Two post lift from Northern Equipment: $2,499.99

    Ingersoll Rand Impact Wrench (Northern Equipment): $139.99

    Total: $29,563.93

    • 0 avatar
      ellomdian

      The only people who can’t ‘trust’ their mechanic to put tires on in time are the people who pull into said mechanic the night before it snows, or even the morning after.

      If you live in a cold-weather climate, you should really put the tires on when the temperature drops, not when the white stuff starts falling. I could wander over to the tire shop across the street pretty much any time in October or even early November and have a walk in appointment, but if there is a storm coming in (or again, the morning after) there is a line out of the parking lot.

      Having said that, I would still grab the lift and do it myself – oil changes while standing will change your life.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      How much for the compressor?

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        DeWalt or Milwaukee cordless electric for the same money.

        • 0 avatar
          3Deuce27

          Studded Winter tires, all around. Electric 1/2″ impact… Harbor Freight $39.95 on sale, and we haven’t busted one yet. Add too that, their aluminum floor jack for $69.99 on sale and with discounts, cheaper. And your talking a 15-20 minute job to greatly increased Winter safety. And think of the peace of mind… priceless!

          Apply a 20% or 25% discount coupon to either of these, and it is a bonified steal.

          You know, I learned years ago ‘That if you think you better do it.’ ‘You, damn well better do it’. Or it will bite you when you least expect it, and certainly don’t need it. And then it is down to ‘If only’… well past ‘to late’.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    As much Subaru as I can get, winter package which includes the heatesd wipers, mirrors, and seats. Automatic gets you the true symetrical AWD but MT gets you, well, it gets you an MT. All preference really .

    Oh, and a set of Michelin xICE-3’s all the way around.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      My 07 LGT wagon has not wanted to start these last few mornings. It did, but you could tell it would have rather not. And yesterday it made a horrendous whining sound upon firing up.
      I will say that as terrible as the auto climate control is in the summer, it works brilliantly in the cold. And the butt warmers get warm very quickly.
      The heated wiper setup doesn’t work as well as you would hope with enough snow coming down.
      I may not be able to see where I’m going, but the AWD will not be stopped.

      • 0 avatar
        wmba

        My ’08 LGT has always complained at being asked to start when the temp drops below about 8F. It does start immediately but if it were sentient life, it would turn over and hide under the blankets in protest. Plus, as you say, it makes weird noises. On the highway it sounds from the inside as if the exhaust manifolds fell off.

        Apparently, I need to get new gaskets for the intake manifold to head connection. The originals leak due to their inelasticity when cold according to LegacyGT.com. Since my Subaru mechanics are incompetent and cannot even get the tire pressures correct, the thought of those doofuses “having a go” at my intake manifold has prevented me from getting the upgrade done.

        Mine takes at least five miles to warm up, and the floor heater duct – do you know where it is? All I can find is a hole in the lower dash pointed loosely at my shins.

        Not a car I’d recommend for toasty winter warmth in all honesty.

        • 0 avatar
          TEXN3

          Agreed, my (wife’s) 12 Accord and old 90 Integra (both with Michelin X-Ice snow tires) were way better than our 07 Outback 2.5i 5MT with winter pack (and Geolanders). I’ve only lived in snow for 13 yrs between Utah and Idaho but the Subie while more “fun” in snow did not instill any more confidence and took along time to get warm.

          My ideal winter family vehicle would be a Pilot with winter tires and some big fog lights. The AWD starts out 50:50 from a standstill.

      • 0 avatar

        My 01 outback h6 can be described exactly as above
        Starter sounds like hell below 20 degrees
        climate control great in winter sucks in summer
        heated mirror and seats ( needs a heated wheel thou)
        and pretty good in the snow

  • avatar
    Johannes Dutch

    Lada Niva. A compact and old-school 4×4 with a Siberia-proof heating system as standard equipment.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Steve, we let the car warm up while Fido does his business. Take dog out, start car, dog does his business, put Fido in house, set alarm and lock house, get into warm vehicle. Back to the question; 30K? Used 4wd truck with snow tires.

  • avatar
    musicalmcs8706

    My 2005 Impala LS with the 3.8 and snow tires has been fantastic in the winter and started every time. But if I had $30k to spend, I’d probably go with a Volvo wagon (okay, or sedan) but not the XC90 with a set of snow tires. As long as it had heated seats and remote start!

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I don’t know what the trick is, but there’s nothing I’ve owned that warms up as quickly as my Saab 9-5. I guess it has to do with the volume of coolant inside the engine.

    BTW, diesels are not what you want if you want quick heat and lots of it in the winter. Diesel engines are thermally more efficient than gasoline engines and throw off less waste heat, so, unless you load them up pretty quickly, you’re not going to get lots of cabin heat (which is waste heat from the engine). And the worst thing you can do is let them idle to try and get heat. Actually, Ford, I believe includes an electric heater in its diesel-powered Super Duty pickup to deal with just this problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Frank Galvin

      Amen. My father had a 900 Turbo, and a 9000 CDE. Nothing beats the feel of a Saab in winter. Its the Swedish DNA. The car is designed to operate with gloves on. Door handles, the best steering wheel in the business. God, I miss those rides.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      Never owned a diesel car or pickup, but I did operate a diesel-powered scraper for a couple of months one winter. I took the heat shield off the exhaust pipe, which came up through the hood about 18 inches away from me, but it didn’t give off enough heat to make any difference at all. I wore insulated coveralls and still froze.

    • 0 avatar
      Johnster

      One of my crazy extended-family relatives, a New Jersey Republican relocated to the Rockies, has never quite recovered from the death of Ronald Reagan or from Saab going out of business. After a years of different Chevys she graduated to a 900 in the early 90s, followed by first generation 9-3 which was totaled when she drove into a moose. After that she bought one of the Opel-based 9-3s which she loved and subsequently totaled when she took a corner a little too fast one wintery day and the car slid off the road into a ditch.

      Auntie showed up at the former Saab dealership, hoping there might be a leftover Saab there and came home with a used late-model BMW 328i xDrive and she says that it is a very good car. But not as good as a Saab.

      She also says that she really regrets not getting a new BMW with the optional winter package because she really misses her Saab’s heated steering wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Must be either not THAT new of a 3-series, or Auntie has the M-Sport package, because otherwise the heated wheel was standard on 328i’s even without the winter pkg. weirdly enough. At least 2009 on. M-Sport got you the sexy thick steering wheel but no heat for it.

        And all 9-3s (and the older NG900) were Opel based, just different generations of Opels. My ’08 Combi was good in the winter, but my RWD 3-series is better. Better steering, better handling, better stability control system, not much worse traction with 48:52 weight distribution. Same Dunlop snow tires on both cars.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    There’s cold, and then there’s the -25 F with wind chills down to -50 F that we’ve had in MN. I like the way V8’s crank out the BTU’s, and I prefer the V8’s to reside in a full sized pickup. A very comfortable way to get through winter. I will say though, that my Sonic with the 1.4T engine heats up pretty quickly. I would also attribute that to the water cooled turbo. Acts like an extra water heater. By then end of the freeway on ramp, we have heat.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Much as I love my Golf TDI, it takes an eternity to warm up on a very cold day. It’s the only bad thing I can say about the car. I’ve read that the 2015s have improved this. We’ll see.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      Mentioning diesels, what I used to do with my 2004 TDI was start the car, put the A/C on full blast COLD, then go back inside for a few minutes. The A/C compressor would load the engine enough to warm it up, and when I got it to drive, I’d twist the thermostat over to full heat, and have enough warmth to thaw the windshields and get going. Hilarity would ensue when I sat at stoplights and could literally watch the temp gauge drop until I began moving again. I can’t say if it was good for the car, but it did last until its final owner ran into Bambi in December 2012.

      I just loved that puff of smoke when it turned over on cold days though. I’d smirk at the people who thought something was wrong with the car. And I’ve always found diesel exhaust to be a really pleasant smell.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I’ve got this pretty well covered. For brutal cold this week, I have my e91 BMW wagon. Heated seats, steering wheel, mirrors, washer nozzles and probably stuff I am forgetting. And high performance winter tires, so it drives great on sub-zero pavement, and does OK in snow too. The fancy computer controlled electric water pump and thermostat means it warms up faster than any other car I have ever experienced. And it has the Rest Heat feature so it can keep the cabin warm for a while after you shut it off – nice when shopping.

    For nasty winter roads, my ’01 Range Rover has AWD, 4 wheel traction control, a trick center diff, a heated windshield (amazing), headlight wash/wipe, and best of all, skinny snowtires. Goes on snow like it is dry pavement, and stops too. And I don’t really care that much about it, so if some idiot slides into me I will take the money and buy Porsche parts, just like I did with the Grand Cherokee it replaced.

    • 0 avatar
      dude500

      The Rest Heat is awesome. I thought it was a gimmick when I first saw it, but I’ve been using it every day while waiting for the train.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I miss REST heat. My ’98 540 had it. It seems later E39s did not. My ’03 330i does not have it. Anyone know why it was removed from the later E39s, or is it part of the cold weather package and just hard to find?

      BMWs do make decent winter cars. Mirrors, washer nozzles, and door locks are heated on all models regardless of equipment packages. I believe this has been the case going back to at least the E36 (1992?). Both that I have owned heat up quickly too.

      The conditions Steve describes are a bit worse than the Boston area though. For 12 months of snow and ice, I have to go with a WRX with heated leather seats. $30k is a generous budget Steve. You made this question too easy.

      • 0 avatar
        photog02

        The locks, mirrors, and washer might be heated, but the windows will still freeze up. It wasn’t fun having to get out of the car to pay the airport parking attendant. I’ve also noticed that both my E36 and E46 chassis cars’ LCD panels all seems to become very slow to respond when it gets around 20-F or lower.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        e9x 3-series had the rest heat function until ~2009 (LCI). Then the button changed to ALL, which causes the driver’s side temp knob to control the heat on both sides of the car. Supposedly this was due to complaints from US owners about having to set the temp twice. The rocket scientists in Der Vaterland evidently could not figure out how to make the same switch do one thing when the car is running and something else when it is turned off, which seems like the obvious solution to me. Are e39s the same way, with rest heat having changed to ALL? I believe that European models still have the rest heat function as standard.

        Some may recall that I have an ’11 3-series, yet I have the rest heat function – the magic of coding! I turn rest heat on for the winter, and put it back to ALL in the summer. Laptop, software and appropriate cable work wonders on these cars all sorts of interesting things you can configure to taste. :-) Been meaning to order the knob with Rest on it instead of ALL, just because.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          E39 replaced it with a MAX button, which basically changes the air source to recirculate, and makes the AC go nuts. This is with the ignition on.

          Interestingly, I had always thought MAX replaced the REST functionality. I just stumbled across a forum post claiming that with the ignition off, pressing MAX still activates the REST functionality.

        • 0 avatar
          mypoint02

          Early E39s had a Rest button – my early post-facelift ’01 has it. 02-03 have the Max button in its place. I believe the two are interchangeable though. The Rest button on mine also functions as Max AC and I think the Max button functions as Rest on the others.

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    I am actually shopping for a new to me car to replace the trusty Alero. An 05-09 Legacy GT or SPEC B (manual trans) with Nokian Hakkapellita tires is tied for first with an 08 Accord coupe V6 6MT with same said tires.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      We got a taste of Alberta weather this week in Detroit. You can keep it next time. I promise I’ll still come and ski in the Kananaskis area in the winter and come to the Stampede in the summer. I don’t need to see -40 wind chills anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        Ha, Calgary is the balmy paradise of the prairies. You got some Winnipeg weather.

        I was in Winnipeg for Christmas. I was there for two weeks and the average day time high, before the windchill factor, was -26 Celsius. There were three days where the day time high never got over -30 Celsius. Home sweet home…While it was a slightly colder than average December for Winnipeg, its just a cold place in winter.

        Next time you head west to ski, swing by Calgary for a beer.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Will do. I’m better at drinking beer than skiing anyway.

          Calgary is a great city. It amazes me how much its changed in fifteen or so years. My uncle had a tech company that was headquatered in Calgary. I was privledged enough to go to shareholders meetings every year for about ten years. I miss those annual trips.

    • 0 avatar
      Roadie73

      +1 for the Nokians.

      Had a set installed on my 93 Civic hatch – between them, light weight and a manual trans, that little thing was a beast in the snow…

    • 0 avatar
      olddavid

      Dave from Portland via Cardston this month, so enjoying the winter weather I managed to survive for many years while working in StampedeLand. I had to cover everything from Flin Flon to Penticton, so the extremes were a given for me when putting 1000 miles weekly on whatever sled ChryCo or FoMoCo had me driving. I toyed with the idea of switching to my wife’s front drive Cadillac for the trip, but managed to hike up my jock and winterize my Mk.VIII for the trip. Four Blizzaks, a block heater, battery blanket, coolant flush and 50/50 replacement DexCool was the ticket for my peace of mind. Then, the first night in Montana I managed to break the door handle while merely opening it. A notorious weak spot on these cars. However, a small chinook wind has greeted Alberta’s lost son so plus temperature is on the horizon. Heading up for a Flames game sometime this month. A beer at the Keg? In my days, it was on the corner of Electric Avenue, where we’d eat before tearing it up that night. The Mark has a remarkable balance, and is absolutely docile in the snow, hardly ever calling on the crude traction control. I’m certain that the tires are a large part of this equation, but the car’s combination of tall final drive with decent front rear weight balance makes managing the conditions much easier. I suppose an Expedition with studded tires would allay any fears, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, although Stevie Y. took the safe route by naming Kunitz to the Olympic team, we Canadians aren’t always erring on the safe side.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      You’ll be happier with the Honda in the long run. No issues with our EXL on Michelin XIce tires on CRV 17″ steelies. Our 07 Outback was fragile in winter (and blew headgaskets on a Christmas trip in 2009.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    If your southern life is close to mine near Houston then all you need is heated seats. Nothing like a warm toosh to make that commute more comfortable.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    2nd gen Honda CRV manual and gas engine,(you could have them with diesels from 2005 here in Norway, not a personal favourite, but pulls like a freight train). Add a larger battery than the stock one. Never had a problem with the heater or the heated seats in mine, and with proper winter tires (studded) the ‘real-time 4wd’ is only needed on steep hills covered in ice (like the last 80 meters up to my house, a 16% incline) No electronic stability or traction control until 2005, but it’s an easy button to turn off if you need the wheelspin to get somewhere. Decent ground clearance, better mileage than real SUV’s, and lightweight. + for reliability for those who don’t like laying on their back on ice and snow fixing stuff.

  • avatar
    snabster

    I’d agree saabs warn up pretty quickly — small engines I guess — buy their seat heater are terrible. Usually cut off after 5 minutes.

    I never really understood what they meant saab being winter cars until I had to drive 10 miles on i79 and no plows. The car would very easily get back into a straight line — and I have summer tires on. I’ve done a lot of winter driving on it, but always assumed it was the hakkas that made the difference.

  • avatar
    Frank Galvin

    I’ve been a life long resident of Massachusetts, excepting four years of college in bucolic Buffalo, NY. I’ve had some exceptional winter rides, the 1986 Ford Country Squire with the towing package was second to the 1989 900 Turbo. Snow tires made all the difference.

    Today, if weather was the sole factor, and the car has to be new, the answer is Subaru Forester with a 6 spd. manual.

    If I could take that 30k and apply towards used, then I’d have to say Grand Cherokee.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    Newer VW diesels have built in electric heaters. My 2009 TDI had this. When you get into the car you turn the heat control knob to the highest setting, start the car and you have heat in 2-3 minutes. And yes its true diesel take forever to heat up unless you put them under a good load.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      Yes, between the electric heater and heated seats, our ’13 Passat TDI warms you up very quickly.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Now you’ve gone and made me wax nostalgic for the old VW exhaust heat exchanger system for rapid heat delivery in the air-cooled era. These typically worked great for the first several months of ownership, until they rusted away. My well-used Volks had to make do with a hair dryer and an inverter. The old man’s VW Bus didn’t stand a chance, as the bottom foot or so of all the body panels was gone after a couple years, thus there was no keeping the cold air out. The snowball fights we used to have in that (barely) moving vehicle were epic!

      PS: +1 to NMGOM (keep scrollin’).

  • avatar
    Manic

    Finnish TM car mag has been making nearly-anal winter car tests for decades now, in the end choosing Winter car of the year, out of 20 or so new cars tested. Tests are made near the arctic circle and some in low temp test chambers. Interior/seat/window heater tests (time + area, measured with pro equipment, heat maps), handling, lights, up to things like how easy is access to wipers for ice removal etc. As there’s not many this kind of comparos taking place in the world, car co.’s are following these results too.
    winners:
    2013: Volvo V40 D2
    2012: Mercedes-Benz B 180 BE
    2011: Volvo S60 D3
    2010: Mazda3 1,6; Skoda Yeti 1,2 TSI; Toyota Prius (shared win)
    2009: Skoda Superb 1,8 TSI Ambition
    2008: Volvo V70 2,0D Momentum
    2007: Cadillac BLS 2,0T Elegance A
    2006: Hyundai Sonata 2,4 GLS
    2005: Volkswagen Golf 1,6 FSI Comfortline

  • avatar
    Cubista

    If you go new, look for one of the last 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX hatchbacks (although the appointments will be few; those things since the 2011 facelift have REALLY gone up).

    If used, the Mitsubishi Evo X can be had in GSR trim w/ less than 30k mi and limited appointments near your cut-off price (although R.C. Hill Mitsu in Orlando lists a bare bones 2014 GSR at $31.4…talking them down to $30k probably wouldn’t be THAT hard)

    I don’t think the Mk VI Golf R is quite there yet, but you can spend WELL below 30k for the Mk V R32 except O NOES, FLAPPY PADDLE GEARBOX and get what amounts to an Audi with a hatchback.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    While not necessarily relevant to your specific needs, I’d like to point out that I live a relatively short distance from your old homestead (compared to where you currently live) and drive an ’08 Jeep Wrangler with the soft top on board. In fact, after my first winter using the hard top, I switched to soft top exclusively and sold the fiberglass top. Interestingly, the heater in that Jeep is incredible. Even at our very recent single-digit temperatures the heater starts warming the cabin within about 4 minutes and within 15 minutes I’m backing the heat down by 1/3rd and soon after the fan down to low. I would hope the Grand Cherokee–or even the new Cherokee–would work at least as well.

  • avatar

    I drive a ’99 v70 with over 300k km’s on the clock. It heats up quick. It drives good. It isn’t worth anything anymore, but with some maintenance, it keeps running fine. Bought it 2 years back for 2500€ cash. I could go out and look for something else, which is normally what I do every year or so. But for some reason, I like this one too much. Could go for a ’03 s80 maybe, which is basically the same yet a little larger, and can also be had for about 3500€ over here. Tough one!

  • avatar
    slance66

    I live in MA, but spend a lot of time in Vermont as well. Here, my 07 328xi is ideal. Heated seats warm up instantly, and are warm by the time I’m out of the parking lot at work. AWD system is superb and cabin is small and heats quickly (needed on my 3.25 mile commute).

    But in Vermont, Subarus, Volvo XC wagons (not XC90s) and oddly, the new Escape seem to dominate (along with full size pickups). Don’t see as many CRVs and RAV4s. Likely it is due to dealership access, where Ford and Chevy have a huge edge. But ultimately, a full size 4WD pickup is the way to go. Here they all have the cold weather package.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium AWD and heated seats which you can still get with the stick. I ticked a nice load of options and still was under $22,000 sounds like the perfect cold weather car to me. Give me a set of snows and I’m good to go.

  • avatar
    Fonzy

    I’d get a used Land Cruiser. Has most of the features of the LX460/470 without the price. The 4Runner is nice too, but it’s priced similar to the LC used. I’d rather get the V8 and comforts of the LC.

    • 0 avatar
      GiddyHitch

      With a $30k budget, you are well into nice LX territory and there seems to be more to choose from on the used market from what I can tell. An LX/LC is my choice as well given that all of my snow driving takes place on ski trips in mountainous areas where reliability and unplowed snow capability are overriding concerns. In addition, the sheer mass, luxurious comfort, and ground clearance of the LX are all desirable attributes. Ah hell, I admit that I have a car crush on these behemoths.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    $30K of your money to spend? Possibly a late model Yukon, more likely new Subbie or recent S60 AWD because hey its not my money. My money? Most recent W-body, pref 3800 or failing that 12+ Impy.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    Forget buying a car, just add a remote start.

    I take a consistent 2L to 3L/100km hit when I use it during winter, which works out to $20-$30 per month for me and an extra 1.5-2 hours of engine time between fill ups. That’s a pretty high return on quality of life for a warm car.

    My Lexus LS430 has these really tiny knobs for the seat heater/air conditioning. I used to hate them until I got my remote start, and then realized I didn’t have to be there to turn them on. Too bad they don’t make rear defrosters like that any more.

    (The math: my car goes from ~15.0L/100km without remote start to around 17-18L/100km, and I average 800-1000km a month)

  • avatar
    readallover

    Do as the Canadians and install a block heater.

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      The problem with a block heater is that most people either leave them on too long or not long enough. I find you need to give them at least 3 hours to notice much improvement in defrosting when it’s really cold; anything longer than that gets lost to environment depending on engine surface area, design, etc. A remote start is far more wasteful but will generate more cabin heat after 5 minutes.

      Temro used to make a block heater cord that attached to a coolant return hose and would shut down the block heater when the coolant reached 10C. I think I bought the very last one in 2003. That product would go a long way to saving energy without relying on unreliable outdoor timers.

      I think the ultimate is a block heater and an 800W+ interior car warmer. Our cars in the 1970’s had them, and they were wonderful. Windows were already frost-free and snow free, and everything was toasty warm before you even put the key in the ignition.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    2008+ A8L, and have plenty of cash left over for maintenance. Just sit inside the warm, Alcantara-lined and walnut-filled interior, and enjoy superior traction in all conditions. Nice big 24 gallon fuel tank means you have to get out of the car less often in the freezing cold. Five people and all their luggage fit just fine, and the people in the back get multi-stage heated and cooled seats as well.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Here are some observations from my 50+ years of winter/snow/ice driving** in the NE and Upper Midwest:

    1) Tires are EVERYTHING. Get good winter tires+wheels. Don’t scrimp. Change them out in Spring. So-called “all-season tires” are not a substitute (yet) for good winter tires.
    2) AWD, while sometimes useful, is overrated. Any vehicle with a good weight distribution and 1) is OK.
    3) Higher ground-clearance is useful for plowing through heavy snows (> 8 inches) or snow-drifts.
    4) A vehicle with good visibility really helps, and cloth seats are ideal for winter comfort.
    5) Choose gasoline, — not diesel, EV, or hybrid — for prolonged winters, including long trips.
    6) Manual transmissions do help, but are getting rarer and harder to find, and need a bit of “warm-up”.
    7) While traction control (TC) is helpful for reducing wheel-spin on slippery start-up’s, most clutch-based LSD’s can destabilize a vehicle at speed. (Exceptions: Torsen’s and locker’s).
    8) Chains are becoming obsolete: they are sometimes hard or awkward to mount. But they can turn any car into a virtual tank in emergency situations, along with that bucket of gravel and shovels in the trunk.
    9) FWD is OK for start-ups on ice, but may reduce “feeling” of road conditions at speed, leading to a sense of unwarranted security. Same with AWD. But RWD will often fish-tail a little to let you know to slow down.

    As an aside, I should mention vehicle color: there is nothing more invisible than a white car in snow! But, truth be told, almost any color can become “invisible” in the right atmospheric and lighting conditions. Four sort-of exceptions: blaze orange; fluorescent lime green; Ferrari (corsa) red; and construction yellow. So KEEP YOUR LIGHTS ON!

    ** I have 4 winter-able vehicles: all gasoline, all RWD, all manual transmission. I have determined that mix, for me, to be optimum for comprehensive winter driving, not just initial traction: i.e., start, stop, slow, fast, and turn. (Oops: actually, my Jeep is, of course, 4WD; but 90% of its driving in winter is in RWD anyway.)

    ——————–

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Agree on RWD in the winter. I’ve had many RWD vehicles for winter driving and prefer the feedback they give over FWD vehicles. AWD/4WD obviously *works* the best as the most traction is available, but given the choice between RWD and FWD, I’ll take tail happy RWD over understeer off the road FWD. Good tires are key.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        danio3834 – –

        Agree.

        In the early days of large–scale introduction of Japanese FWD cars to America [1970’s], — when the only real comparison was with the big, heavy traditional American sedan with a terrible 65/35 (F/R) weight distribution, —- start-up traction on slippery surfaces gave the smaller, FWD cars an advantage. But one feature that is not widely known is that power-delivery-to-the-wheels-that-steer also “masks” the road condition, giving the driver of a FWD car an illusion of stability, when in fact he/she may be very close to the traction limit of the vehicle without knowing it. Establishing a good road “feel” is important for safe driving in marginal conditions. In the 22 years of my recent commute to work (about 10 miles one way), the first two types of vehicles that were invariably “off-the road” (highway) first, were:
        1) Small FWD cars;
        2) Big AWD SUV’s.
        Both of these types of drive-layouts mask road conditions, while RWD cars would begin to “fish-tail” a little (easily recoverable), and thereby let their drivers know that things are getting slippery down below, and that they need to slow down.

        ——————

        • 0 avatar
          slance66

          +1 on this. I find FWD the worst choice. By the way, this matters with AWD as well. Most AWD cars on the road are FWD with the ability to move power to the rear. But the masking effect still exists. It is still much too easy to lose front wheel traction, which means losing steering feel and control.

          I love my 328xi in the snow, it behaves like a RWD car, with extra front traction when needed, and has 50/50 weight distribution unlike the RWD barges of old. It’s a freaking billy goat in the snow, even on all seasons. Hit the gas in the snow this AM and the rear stepped out just like in a RWD car…for an instant, before the computers corrected it.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I agree with you on every one of your points. Though in Maine, ALL cars turn white in the winter eventually. :-) Our climate is normally enough milder that diesel is not an issue. Even in POLAR VORTEXXXXX!!!! 2014, we are only just getting to low single digits, which is simply not a problem for modern diesels and winterized fuel.

      A buddy of mine in Minneapolis though was on a long roadtrip across the plains last week in his Passat TDI and his DEF tank froze! This is a problem in that the car now thought it was empty, and it will only start up for another 250 miles in that state. The DEF tank is heated, but evidently not enough for 80mph at -20+ temps. BMW is smarter about this – there is a big tank in the trunk area, and a small tank right in the engine compartment that is fed by the big tank. In an emergency, you can manually fill the small tank. So if the main feed pump fails or the main tank freezes, you are not screwed. Plenty of engine heat to keep the little tank unfrozen.

      One big disadvantage of small light cars in general is that if you get into slush they get unstable in a hurry. FWD makes it worse when you lift…

    • 0 avatar
      AoLetsGo

      Speaking of Jeeps I heard a story once about a guy in North Dakota. He drove an old CJ with a soft top and could always get to work because he would drive up and over the massive drifts in the road where the big pickups would try to plow through them and get stuck.

  • avatar
    RS

    My 2000 F150 4×4 started every day in -22f weather this week and it sits outside without being plugged in. It warms up very fast as only a gas guzzler can.

    Now if it just had heated seats and remote start it would be the perfect winter vehicle…

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      RS – – –

      Yup. My Dodge Ram started easily at -18 F yesterday, too. Mobil 1 Synthetic oil and Shell V-Power (w/o ethanol) gasoline REALLY help. (The Shell has pentane added for high volatility in winter.)

      ————-

  • avatar
    Stuck in DC traffic

    When I lived in Utah and skied a lot, to get fresh tracks you had to head out in bad conditions. My 95 Land rover discover 1 on a 3″ lift, 265/75/16 bfg all terrains, a Detroit rear locker and true track front locker with a warn winch on a arb bumper got me through lots of crap. The biggest issue with the truck was reliability, but when it would run nothing would stop it.

    My choice vehicles –
    FZJ80 with factory lockers and sipped BFG mud terrains with a winch on the front and box on the roof for skis. Trailer for hauling firewood and snowmobiles. This is what I should have bought instead of a disco

    Or a XC70 with snow tires and the 3.2 v6. My 08 xc90 has been flawless, comfy and very warm. The 70 has better ground clearance than the 90 and smaller cabin to heat up.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I’d like to recomend my ride, AWD, seat heaters & wiper melters… But: I’ve driven my wifes RX to many winter drives. The seat heaters trump anything for quick heat up, the front and rear get good airflow once the motor is warm, AWD with good electronic assistance for low traction and I forget how many airbags in case anyone looses it. 30k should get you one much newer and nicer than ours.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      In my experience, seat heater hotness goes like this:

      1) A8
      2) Lexus GS
      3) I30
      4) 90S (cloth)
      5) M35x

      I’ve been disappointed with heat quantity and speed on this M.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Any Gas 2500+ truck with a high idle switch and rapid heating system. I wish you could get those in all cars.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    The heated seats and heated steering wheel on my new Dart is making winter a lot more more tolerable this year. The easily accessed traction control “off” button is also helpful – no menus to dig through to quickly turn it on or off.

    Honorable mentions: While lousy in the snow due to the short wheelbase, my Wrangler does warm up very quickly and provides prodigious amounts of heat. In spite of the excellent heater, the Wrangler gets to sit the winter out since it’s a warm-weather toy.

    The 2005 & 2006 Jeep Liberty diesels with the 2.8-liter VM engine had a viscous “pump” driven by the accessory belt whose sole purpose was to warm the coolant up rapidly through the friction created by churning the viscous fluid in it and transferring the heat generated into the engine coolant. This thing was providing warm air by the time I got to the end of my block, about 1/4 mile at the most.

  • avatar
    Atum

    I’m from north Georgia as well, and I’ve observed that most of the vehicles are geared towards cold climates.

    *Most cars have heated seats, but not cooled ones.
    *Most cars have an AWD option. Again, being from north Georgia, AWD is a rarity. My family and I went to DC over spring break, and that was the first time I saw AWD badges on common vehicles, such as the Santa Fe, CR-V, Highlander, and even sedans like the G37.
    *The heating systems are usually stronger than the cooling ones. This is especially true in my mom’s Canadian-built RAV4.

    So, this basically means every vehicle for sale that has heated seats and AWD is good for the north. Now, a better question. Excluding convertibles, which cars are the best for warm weather! The farthest north I’ve ever been in the winter is Tennessee, so I’m not an authority.

  • avatar
    red60r

    My 1961 Corvair was unstoppable with snow tires until the belly pan floated in really deep snow. Heater? Wear a parka. Of course, from 60 mph it was unstoppable as well — really lousy brakes! Another, much later GM product, I.e., the 1997 Saturn SL1 had no heater output even after many miles. Dealership swore up and down it was up to spec. Other bad heaters: anything British through the ’60s. Triumph TR4 and Jag sedans from 3.4 to 3.8 S also were chilly in winter.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ one of the stupidest, historically unfounded, an demeaning to men books, ever wrought. But , what’s her name, is never hard too look at.

    On another subject… Like S langs writing and thinking style.

    No contest for me, a Suburban 4-WD with Studs and Posi all around for the worst of Winter driving. So cheap to buy and if you have a boat or a travel trailer, good part time, year round. Hopefully you have provision for storing when not in use.

    When I still skied and rafted, I had a Suburban equipped for Winter and back road Summers. Now days an extended cab 2500 4X4 Chevy fits the bill for those Winter trip and back country photo expeditions. And, it has been past the Arctic Circle, 3 times, and as many times plus one Placentia, Belize.

  • avatar
    gkbmini

    Senior year of college t had a 78 Pontiac Catlalina with a V6, a THM-200 transmission, and Firestone 721 tires. It was fantastic in the snow. After the 721’s shredded, it was never the same in the snow.

  • avatar
    troyohchatter

    I mentioned a fully outfitted Subaru in theory. I wouldn’t spend $30K on a car.

    I currently work at a ‘hell or high water” type job. I go when other’s don’t. My current ride is a 2000 Honda CR-V RT 4wd w/5spd manual and Michelin x-Ice2’s all the way around. The only piece of nanny electronics on the vehicle is ABS.

    A few days ago, with 4 inches on the ground, I took my wife’s Mazda5 w/ Michelin Defender all season tires out to put gas in it. Felt like I had 4 unidirectional ball bearings for tires. Even with ABS and stability control it was a white knuckle trip to the gas station and back.

    Then backed the CR-V out of the driveway, put it in first and dropped the clutch. The traction I got was enough to bog the engine down.

    I would trade every other gee whiz winter time gadget for a set of good winter ice tires, but the ideal setup is to have AWD and winter tires, which is what I have.

    Oh, and in reference to my Ford Ranger 2wd? Umm, when the thermometer gets below 35 degrees, it becomes a piece of driveway decor. After attempting to knock a tree over with it in 2006 I just don’t drive it in winter.

    EDIT: Please don’t start the reply of “you don’t have true AWD” blah blah blah. I know it only feeds torque to the rear when the front slips, but really, does an SUV need it any other time?

  • avatar
    Aquineas

    Subaru Outback.

  • avatar
    badcoffee

    Gently used (grandpa pulled his travel trailer for a couple of summers type of use) Ford Super Duty 4×4 crew cab Lariat with the 5.4 gasser.

  • avatar
    mypoint02

    I was just contemplating the same thing on my way to work on Monday when it was -18. Of our two cars, both 5 series BMWs (E39 and E60), I’d say the E39 is actually the better winter car. Both cars have the cold weather package with heated seats and steering wheel. The heated seats and steering wheel warm up faster and are hotter in the E60, but the E39 warms up much faster and it spits out much hotter air. I actually had to turn it down at one point. My previous A4 had heated seats that you could cook an egg on, but the heat sucked.

  • avatar
    AoLetsGo

    For 30 large?
    Give me a fatty bicycle for one thousand and four months in Florida with the other $29k.


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