Life near the 45th parallel can be brutal when the days grow short and the temperatures fall. Snow, ice, gloom, and frigid temperatures make venturing outside the home or office pure misery, especially if you’re hoofing it. But even with a set of keys in your Thinsulate-gloved hand, using your car isn’t much consolation…at first. Count yourself lucky if you don’t need to chip a layer of ice off the glass or a foot of wet, heavy snow off the hood, roof, and trunk. Then, get into the icy interior, crank the engine, and hope the battery has enough juice to fire the motor. Once the car is running, now you’ve gotta wait for what seems like hours for the heater to start pumping warm air into the cabin. And don’t breathe while you’re waiting, lest you fog the glass and delay your departure further.
Fortunately, there are cars on the market that can take the chill off a winter’s day and make life more comfortable and convenient. To find the best vehicles for driving in the winter, Autobytel’s data division, the Automotive Information Center (AIC), sliced and diced the standard and optional equipment lists of every make and model on the market. AIC looked for the vehicles that offered four- or all-wheel drive, stability control, heated front seats, heated side mirrors, an engine block heater, and headlamp washers (that last to clean road salt from the lights at night). Based on AIC’s research, nine vehicles meet these criteria, and when you add factory remote starting – which lets you start the car from inside the house so it can warm up before you get in – just one vehicle bubbled to the top of the list. Our editors then subjectively ranked the remaining eight cars and SUVs in the order in which they would personally buy them for driving in the snow and sleet. The contenders, not surprisingly, originate from regions of the world familiar with nasty winter weather: two Cadillacs, the SRX and the STS, two versions of the GMC Envoy, and five Volvos (S60, S80, XC70, XC90, and V70) competed for the rankings.
When it comes to winter driving, keep in mind that the kind of tires you choose can have a dramatic impact on any vehicle’s ability to travel in snow. A good set of winter tires, like the Bridgestone Blizzak or Goodyear Ultra Grip, could mean the difference between spinning into the ditch or making it to your destination no matter what kind of vehicle you own. And don’t forget to winterize your vehicle before the white stuff flies – check the antifreeze, keep your washer fluid reservoir topped off, make sure your battery has enough juice, and replace your old wiper blades. Finally, just in case you do pirouette into a snowbank and become stranded, stowing a survival kit including warm clothes, a blanket, and non-perishable food in the trunk is always a good idea.
Or, you could move someplace like San Diego, Phoenix, or Miami, where weather forecasters work themselves into a frenzy if the mercury dips below 50 degrees. Wimps.