Ah, the winter season. For many of us, winter weather brings snowfall, blanketing the world in a white, sparkling shroud. Icicles twinkle in trees and on the eaves of buildings. It’s truly a magical time of year.
Unless you need to actually leave your house.
Snowy conditions, slippery roads, and cold weather are really unhelpful when you have to drive somewhere, especially if your vehicle isn’t equipped with safety features that can improve your ability to drive in the snow.
Many people recommend SUVs for winter driving, and they aren’t wrong in their suggestion. But, as odd as it sounds, some people don’t need or care to drive an SUV every day of the year. Therefore, in this list, we will detail the best cars for winter driving. Yes, cars.
Why Don’t People Drive Cars in Snow?
Why is it that coupes, sedans, hatchbacks and the like have gotten such a bad rep for snow driving, anyway? Thanks to the laws of physics, black ice will take out any and every vehicle it finds. Snow is still snow regardless of whether you’re driving a Subaru, a Jeep, or a Fiat. So what does it matter if you’re driving a car, a van, an SUV, or a pickup truck, if the road conditions are perilous?
The things that make SUVs and crossovers more sought-after for winter weather are the same that make them ideal for off-roading. All-wheel drive or four-wheel drive helps tremendously, in that it sends torque to the right places and directs power away from the wrong places when slippage occurs. Furthermore, a lot of these vehicles offer traction control or selectable traction features that include settings for snow, which can also help with keeping your vehicle stable when one or more wheel is in danger.
There’s also the matter of ground clearance. Most of the vehicles we would consider “cars” ride a lot lower than even compact SUVs. For example, the Subaru Crosstrek has 8.7 inches of ground clearance — just a smidge more than even the Jeep Grand Cherokee. That means popping over deep snow in these “higher” vehicles — or the things hidden by snow drifts — isn’t as dramatic of an event as trying to jump the same bank in a low-rider.
However, we live in the 21st century, and it’s now easy to find cars with all-wheel-drive systems. With the proper horsepower, stability control, anti-lock brakes, and some snow tires, the modern car is more capable than ever. The following vehicles only go to prove this point.
So, without further ado:
13 of the Best Small Cars for Winter Driving
Please note that the following list isn’t in any particular order. Everyone’s needs, budget, and driving style differ, and we’re not the type of people to tell others what they should and shouldn’t do. Check out these options, but don’t call us crying if you didn’t scroll down far enough. We’ve included new cars, used cars, and a range of styles for all your winter driving needs.
1. 2021 Toyota Camry AWD
There is a reason the Toyota Camry appears at the top of best-seller lists. It’s loaded with safety features, has a well-mannered engine, and is packed with loads of technology inside and out. Winter drivers will appreciate Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5+ package, which includes forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams. Furthermore, all-wheel drive is available in conjunction with the Camry’s 4-cylinder engine. And while perusing the trim levels, consider adding on the Cold Weather package, which adds heated interior creature comforts.
2. 2021 Toyota Avalon AWD
Imagine a Toyota RAV4, only in car form. That’s the Avalon. Sadly, 2022 will be the last model year of Avalon production, so for those looking to take advantage of this spacious, responsive, luxurious sedan with an AWD system, now is the time. The Avalon has plenty of elite standard features, such as standard heated mirrors, front seats, and steering wheel.
3. 2021 Mazda 3 AWD
If you select a turbo version of the Mazda 3, all-wheel drive is standard. In fact, all but the base trim offer all wheel drive as an option. Add to that the i-Activsense safety features like blind-spot monitoring and automatic high beams, and LED head and tail lights, and this is a car that can help drivers feel even more secure without breaking the budget.
4. 2021 Nissan Altima AWD
The Nissan Altima comes with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, good for 188 horsepower and 180 lb/ft of torque. Starting with the SV trim, drivers can option in all-wheel drive for more control in slippery conditions. Impressively enough, the Altima’s AWD system doesn’t zap fuel economy. Drivers can enjoy up to 36 mpg in most AWD trims.
5. 2021 Subaru WRX
Subarus are known for their full-time all-wheel drive systems, giving them a reputation for being more badass than the average sedan. The WRX is known more for its road manners than off-road, but at the end of the day, it’s still a Subie (or Suby, depending on where you live). As such, it has the right chops to guide you through the snow. Also of interest: you can get this one with a manual transmission.
6. 2017 Subaru Impreza
Why 2017? That was the year of the Impreza’s grand re-design. This car was considered a mega-value when it rolled onto the new car lot, and it continues to earn its keep today, especially when road conditions are less than imprez-ive. Some drivers have complained that the Impreza isn’t as zippy as the WRX. Quite frankly, you shouldn’t be putting the hammer down in the snow anyway. Also available as a hatchback and also available with a manual transmission, this Subie has great fuel economy and is stacked with driver assistance technology.
7. 2021 Dodge Charger AWD
In the 1980s, the Charger was a front-wheel drive vehicle, making it exceedingly impractical for snow driving. Drivers would fill their rear seats and trunk with sandbags, cardboard, and a shovel so they could dig themselves out of danger. The 2021 Dodge Charger SXT and GT trims pair AWD to their zesty V6 engines. The result? Less digging, and more driving. Even better- you can put actual passengers in the rear seats.
8. 2021 BMW 3 Series xDrive
Yes, it’s a luxury car. And, while that might dissuade many drivers from venturing out in the snow with such an investment, the 3 Series is actually designed to take on heavy-duty driving challenges. Even the hybrid model includes the xDrive AWD system. And, being a luxury car, you get really cool features, like moisture-sensing windshield wipers. That means one less button to push and lever to pull, allowing you to concentrate on the road conditions ahead of you.
9. 2021 Volvo S90
Volvo has produced tank-like vehicles for eons; therefore, it’s not difficult to imagine a Volvo on this list. The S90 is classified as a mid-size luxury sedan with standard AWD, which means deluxe upholstery, premium sound system, and features you didn’t know you needed, like a slippery road alert. Drivers can also add heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, and heated windshield wipers, as an available option. What will they think of next?
10. 2017 Jaguar XE
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 diesel engine with AWD drivetrain. That’s the main takeaway from the 2017 Jaguar XE. It is, in every possible way, a Jaguar, but the addition of a diesel engine that provides 318 lb/ft of torque makes this compact sports sedan worthy of snow driving. Plus, available options included a heated windshield with heated washer fluid jets. Imagine how quickly this thing can de-ice itself.
11. 2017 Audi A4 Quattro
Anyone who has driven an A4 in the snow will tell you that it is an amazing experience, regardless of the year or trim level. The 2017 version includes a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine good for 252 horsepower, along with the famous 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission. And, for those who need it, it has more cargo space than many luxury competitors, with 13 cubic feet of room in the trunk alone.
12. 2020 Cadillac CT6
2020 was the final year of production for the Cadillac CT6, so you might have to do a little hunting to find a used AWD model. However, when you do, you will not be sorry for the effort. It should come as no surprise that you’ll find fun treats like heated leather bucket seats inside. But, even more interesting, the CT6 has features like Night Vision, which provides drivers with extra detection of things that might go bump in the night, especially while driving in winter conditions.
13. 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class doesn’t just offer a single AWD option, but rather, a whole 4matic AWD array. Depending on whether you select the E350 or E450 model, you can choose from a sedan, a coupe, a cabriolet, or a wagon. While dashing through the snow in an open-top cabriolet doesn’t sound ideal to us, we’re not here to judge. Well, maybe just a little bit. At least turn on the heated seats first.
Bear in mind that none of these cars is self-driving. Well, the Cadillac can be optioned with Super Cruise, but you, the driver, is still very much in control of the vehicle at all times. That means practicing safe braking, maintaining a reasonable distance between cars, and selecting snow tires or winter tires to help you navigate through the terrain. While these vehicles have plenty of cool features like collision mitigation and radar vision, the rules of physics still apply, as mentioned earlier.
As the weather gets cold and the roads get yucky, remember to be a good driver and practice safety at all times, even if you are driving one of the 13 best cars for winter driving.
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