Winter Warriors: Best 2017 Cars And Crossovers For Snow – Forbes
According to the 2017 edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, we can expect colder temperatures in most parts of the nation this winter, and while the U.S. will see less snowfall overall, those living in (or driving through) the northern tier of states, “can expect to be blanketed in white.”
Normally we think of being all warm and snuggly when we’re blanketed, but being pounded with powder is another story, especially if you’re out stuck in the middle of one of Old Man Winter’s seasonal tirades. If you don’t feel like slipping and sliding through the white stuff this year, or just want to feel more secure behind the wheel during the winter months, we’ve compiled a slideshow of 15 cars and car-based crossover SUVs that are best suited to the season’s climactic conditions.
And even if you live points south of the Snow Belt, if you’re in the market for a new ride, you might as well choose one that can handle the elements. As it stands, all 50 states receive some measure of snow in a typical year – with many areas ill prepared to handle it with plows and road salt – and even those basking in the warmest climates could well encounter the worst Mother Nature has to offer during the course of their holiday travels.
Now we’ll admit that the easiest solution to foiling Mother Nature’s foibles would be to get behind the wheel of a mammoth pickup truck or truck-based SUV equipped with four-wheel-drive and low-range gearing that enables it to plow through the deepest snow drifts and mud ruts, but they’re expensive, can be a handful to drive, and are sheer overkill for many motorists who don’t otherwise need to tow a big boat or trailer.
That’s why so-called crossover SUVs, which ride on car-like unibody construction for more amenable ride and handling qualities, have become such hot properties among U.S. motorists, with sales approaching that of both small and midsize sedans combined. They all offer one or more all-wheel drive (AWD) systems – either standard or as optional equipment – for added grip in the snow. What’s more, some automakers are now offering AWD on their passenger cars, particularly rear-drive luxury and sporty models that tend to lose traction quickly when traversing slick roads.
Under normal circumstances some AWD systems will ordinarily send 100 percent of the engine’s power to the front or rear wheels, while others will split the difference between front and rear on a 50/50 basis, adjusting the engine’s torque either way to counteract wheel slippage. Many sporty and luxury cars fitted with AWD will ordinarily split the power on a 40:60 front-to-rear basis to maintain a sportier rear-drive feel over dry pavement.
All of the cars and crossovers on our “winter warrior” list either offer or come standard with AWD and feature the highest maximum ground clearance among non-truck models, as noted in their respective spec sheets. This represents the distance between the pavement and a car or crossover’s axles. Having a taller ground clearance enables a vehicle to better plow through deeper snow accumulations without unduly scraping the undercarriage or otherwise becoming stuck.
Most of the models we’re featuring are car-based crossover SUVs, though the assortment also includes a few station wagons like the Subaru Outback and Crosstrek that sit higher off the ground than normal and feature added cosmetic touches to affect a more rugged appearance. Depending on the model, the maximum clearance may only be obtainable with AWD and perhaps other optional equipment. On the other hand, don’t automatically choose the largest available wheels and tires in an effort to maximize a given vehicle’s ground clearance, as modestly sized rims and rubber actually tend to fare better in the snow.
Some of the crossovers on our list, including the Volvo XC90 and Jeep Grand Cherokee, can be fitted with adjustable air suspensions that can raise or lower the vehicle’s ride height for either added ground clearance, maximum highway aerodynamics, or easier ingress and egress. For example, the XC90’s standard ground clearance is 9.4 inches, but with the optional air suspension it can ride as high as 10.5 inches, or as low as 8.9 inches (which is still fairly tall).
Unlike the four-wheel-drive systems available in most pickup trucks and truck-based SUVs, be aware that AWD does not come with low range gearing, which means it’s typically not intended for hearty off-road use. The exceptions to this rule are the Jeep crossovers on our list, each of which can be fitted with special electronic AWD systems that afford moderate trailblazing prowess (Jeep says it’s, recommended for “steep grades, occasional wheel lift and rock or log climbing”). The Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and Renegade models further offer a system with selectable modes that tailors the AWD system’s performance over snow, sand, mud and rocks.
On the other hand, if you’re keeping your current ride for at least one more change of seasons, be sure it’s equipped to handle the elements, which begins with having a thorough mechanical inspection conducted and all required maintenance tasks completed. Those who own a sporty car equipped with low-profile performance tires, should switch to all-season rubber for the winter. Drivers in snowbound areas may want to install snow tires, which feature large, deep tread blocks to provide the greatest traction over loose surfaces. Tests have shown that front-wheel-drive cars fitted with snow tires can outperform an equivalent AWD car with all-season tires under extreme winter circumstances.
Finally, keep in mind that no matter what kind of vehicle you drive, there’s no violating the laws of physics. AWD or 4WD might help dislodge a car or crossover from a snowed-under parking space, make it go faster on wet or snowy pavement and may afford extra grip in other low-traction situations, but neither system does much to improve a car or truck’s braking and handling under inclement conditions. Any vehicle can spin dangerously out of control on a patch of ice or through a slick curve if it’s driven without regard for the elements.