Newly-fallen snow, glistening in the sun under a deep blue January sky. Fresh powder on the slopes. Clean, crisp air. Those might be the images a Norman-Rockwell type would sketch, until the wind chill of -20 degrees freezes his fingers and the city plow truck blankets him in a slushy layer of ice, salt and rocks. Granted, winter can be a beautiful season, but traveling to your favorite mountain – not to mention simply commuting to work – can be a real pain in the tail. To help you get through it, we’ve compiled our list of the Top 10 All-Wheel-Drive SUVs for Winter, all of which have been engineered to get you and yours from point A to B safely, comfortably, and with as little worry as possible.
Photos courtesy of the manufacturers
With all of the SUVs and crossovers on today’s roads, thinning the herd to the best 10 for winter required setting some ground rules. First, the models on these pages feature either full-time four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive systems that react immediately to inclement weather conditions. Beyond that, we focused on additional traction aids and safety. As a result, all selected vehicles feature standard stability control technology, scored at least four stars on all National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, received Good scores on Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) front- and side-impact tests, and were also awarded an Acceptable or Good rating for rollover protection by the IIHS (vehicles with low or incomplete test results were not considered). Finally, we looked for rides offering a good bit of ground clearance to help tackle white and slushy winter muck, and highway fuel economy equaling 20 mpg or better (when equipped with four- or all-wheel drive) to keep you planted on that heated seat for as long as possible.
As you read through this list, you’ll find a few entries that may have you thinking “duh.” The 2010 Dodge Journey probably isn’t one of them, but it could be after you discover that it’ll carry up to seven passengers to the snow-covered hills courtesy of an on-demand all-wheel-drive system and more than seven inches of ground clearance. Drivers of the base Journey SXT AWD, priced from about $27,000, will appreciate standard heated mirrors and available heated front seats.
We’ve been fans of the Mitsubishi Outlander since it was redesigned in 2007, at which time this Japanese crossover was given a good dose of much-needed visual attitude, more grunt from a V6 under the hood, and a third-row seat (albeit tiny) tucked behind a nifty split tailgate. Mitsu’s little people-hauler is designed to be entertaining when the sun shines and sure-footed when the storm clouds roll in; ES, SE and XLS versions of the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander are available with All-Wheel Control (AWC) technology, whereas the new Outlander GT features a Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) system borrowed from the Mitsubishi Evolution. Heated mirrors are standard on every all-wheel-drive Outlander model, while heated front seats are optional on the XLS and GT. Prices for AWC models start at about $22,000.
*NHTSA side-impact test scores are not available for the 2010 Outlander, but the new model doesn’t differ structurally from the 2009 version, which was awarded five stars.
Nissan could’ve selected a better name for its mini Murano crossover. We looked up “rogue” in the dictionary and verified that, yes, the word does mean disobedient and uncontrollable – not exactly how you’d hope to describe your trusted, four-wheeled winter sleigh. Thankfully, in this case, that definition doesn’t apply, especially when equipped with available all-wheel drive and standard items including Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), brake assist, and a limited-slip differential. Added on top of those features are available heated front seats and mirrors and more than eight inches of ground clearance, all for a starting price of about $22,000 (2010 Nissan Rogue S AWD).
No list of best winter SUVs/crossovers would be complete without one Subaru model. As a matter of fact, we’ve included three of them, the first of which is the least expensive of the bunch, the $20,295 Forester. Fitted with the brand’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, the Forester is a popular choice for commuters and adventurers alike because of its versatile design, highway fuel economy rating of up to 27 mpg, and 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Plus, as NHTSA and IIHS tests prove, the Forester is safe, due to its structural integrity as well as standard bits like Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) and brake assist. For those blustery travel days, the Forester can be fitted with heated seats, heated mirrors, and a wiper de-icer.
Subaru’s Outback model is as equally at home on the eastern tip of Maine as the western tip of Washington, and everywhere in between. Like the Forester, the Outback offers drivers a proven all-wheel-drive system backed up by a slew of safety features, and nearly nine inches of ground clearance. Unlike the Forester, the Outback offers more than 70 cu. ft. for groceries or ski gear, returns up to 29 mpg in four-cylinder guise, or can be had with a six-cylinder engine that delivers 256 horsepower and up to 25 mpg on the highway. An All-Weather Package packs in heated front seats, heated mirrors, and a windshield de-icer.
Three’s not a crowd, at least when it comes to Subarus and lists of best winter SUVs and crossovers. Thanks to crash test scores, fuel-efficiency, standard features and more, the 2010 Subaru Tribeca rounds out our Subaru trifecta. OK, it’s not really a trifecta, but there’s no denying that Subaru has you covered when it comes to driving in the rough stuff. The Tribeca, like all Subarus, features symmetrical all-wheel drive, standard VDC, and a generous bit of ground clearance – in this case, 8.4 inches. Highway fuel economy just beats our 20-mpg cutoff with a rating of 21 mpg. Of special note, a Severe Weather Companion kit is available as an accessory with the Tribeca, including items designed to help keep you warm in the event of a winter emergency.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
Though the name may not ring familiar, Suzuki’s Grand Vitara has been around for years, occasionally upgraded with new looks and features, but always remaining true to its roots as a capable all-weather rig. Drawing power from a 166-horsepower four-cylinder engine or a 260-horse V6, the Grand Vitara delivers up to 24 mpg on the highway and starts at $21,999 when equipped with a full-time single-mode four-wheel-drive system (a four-mode four-wheel-drive system is also available). Suzuki offers its little ‘ute with traction-related features such as hill descent control, brake assist and an electronic stability system; cold-weather gear includes heated mirrors and available heated front leather seats. For those days when you have stuff that needs to be toted over snow-filled roads, the 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara offers more than seven inches of ground clearance and nearly 71 cu. ft. of cargo space.
It may not look like the baddest brute on the road, but with an available on-demand four-wheel-drive system and an optional 269-horsepower V6, the 2010 Toyota RAV4 is far from a wimpy crossover. Consider also that drivers can lock a manual four-wheel-drive mode to transfer greater grip to the rear wheels, and that the V6 delivers up to 26 mpg in 4WD trim. Rounding out the list of positives are 73 cu. ft. of cargo space, 7.5 inches of ground clearance, a price of about 23 grand for the base four-wheel-drive model, and an available third-row seat that’ll keep a couple more riders out of the winter cold (provided they’re not large adults). As expected, heated mirrors and heated front seats are on the RAV4’s menu.
Anyone who has driven the reincarnated GTI knows that Volkswagen has fun and affordable transportation covered, something the company has accomplished with equal success in cars like the diesel-powered Jetta TDI. But learning that VW also produces one of the best winter crossover vehicles might come as a surprise to some. Fact is, the 2010 Volkswagen Tiguan is safe, offers the capability of VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive and electronic stability control systems, and can swallow a decent amount of cargo with its 56.1-cu. ft. trunk. Unfortunately, finding yourself in a 4Motion-equipped Tiguan requires shelling out more than $30,000, but in return you’ll get standard heated seats, mirrors and washer nozzles.
When faced with messy winter road conditions, there are two criteria you’ll find on most any driver’s list: confidence-inspiring handling and plenty of safety in the event an accident does occur. You’ll find all that and more in the 2010 Volvo XC90, available with a Haldex all-wheel-drive system that constantly analyzes traction and, as the saying goes, delivers power to the wheels with the most grip. Of course there’s also the requisite stability control technology, heated seats and mirrors, generous ground clearance, and 85.1 cu.ft. of cargo space that ensures you’ll fit it all in for that weekend at the cabin.