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.
1) 2015 Dodge Journey
As you read through this list, you’ll find a few entries that may have you thinking “duh.” The 2015 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. Buyers of the 2015 Journey will have to opt for the higher-end 3.6-liter V6 engine to get all-wheel drive, but the 283-horsepower engine still delivers highway fuel economy of 25 mpg.
2) 2015 Nissan Rogue
The Nissan Rogue compact crossover was updated for the 2014 model year, and the biggest change was a sleeker and more contemporary exterior design. There’s also a slightly cramped new third row seat, but it does increase passenger capacity. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers reliable but underwhelming power through all four wheels, although a few features do help boost the Rogue’s winter credibility. Active Ride Control is a new system that helps the car smooth out a bumpy ride, and Active Trace Control uses the brakes and torque to help with cornering. The Rogue comes standard with 17-inch wheels wrapped in capable all-season rubber.
3) 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander
Mitsubishi’s little people-hauler is all new for the 2015 model year, but the updated design is still entertaining when the sun shines and sure-footed when the storm clouds roll in, if a little more elegant than the previous version. It is one of the lowest-priced three-row SUVs on the market and seats seven reasonably comfortably. All-wheel drive versions of the Outlander deliver fuel economy of 28 mpg on the highway.
4) 2015 Subaru Forester
No list of best winter SUVs/crossovers would be complete without one Subaru model. As a matter of fact, we’ve included two of them, the first of which is the least expensive of the pair, the $22,195 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 32 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.
2015 Subaru Outback
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 33 mpg in four-cylinder guise, or can be had with a six-cylinder engine that delivers 256 horsepower and up to 27 mpg on the highway. An All-Weather Package packs in heated front seats, heated mirrors, and a windshield de-icer.
6) 2015 Honda CR-V
The 2015 Honda CR-V isn’t particularly fast, and it isn’t particularly athletic, but it delivers reliable all-around competency that has made it one of the most popular crossovers in America for years. And that holds true even in the snow. A solid list of standard features makes the CR-V comfortable, and the direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine delivers solid fuel economy numbers. Honda’s Real Time all-wheel drive system might not be the best option on the market for off-roading, but it’s more than capable of safely handling winter weather conditions.
7) 2015 Toyota RAV4
Toyota has simplified the RAV4’s lineup so that for 2015, it comes only with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. That powerplant is adequate to move this crossover, though, and delivers up to 29 mpg on the highway. Opting for the all-wheel-drive system is just $1400, and is well worth it for the extra off-road, on-road, and inclement weather capability it delivers. The 2015 RAV4 also offers decent cargo space and ground clearance. The Toyota RAV4 has reliably been one of the best small SUVs for winter for a long time, and the more focused list of recent models and trim levels doesn’t change that.
8) 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe
The 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe is one of the last SUVs that’s still based on a truck platform, and that alone gives it plenty of capability to get through a winter with ease. That said, the latest Tahoe has been updated to be as efficient as possible despite the vehicle’s considerable size. It’s powered by a 5.3-liter V8 engine that’s paired to a six-speed automatic transmission, putting down 355 horsepower through either the rear wheels or all four wheels. The switch to direct injection maximizes fuel economy, and a cylinder deactivation system helps the big engine only use what it actually needs. With four-wheel drive, the Tahoe falls a little short of our stated fuel economy objectives, but, in its defense, General Motors says it’s the most efficient traditional, full-size sport utility vehicle on the market. An updated list of safety features boosts the Tahoe’s winter benefits.
9) 2015 Volvo XC90
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 completely redesigned 2016 Volvo XC90, which will go on sale in early 2015, right when most 2015 model year vehicles are hitting the market. The new Volvo XC90 is 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 plenty of cargo space to ensure you’ll fit it all in for that weekend at the cabin.
10) 2015 Volkwagen Tiguan
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 2015 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. As of the 2015 model year, roof rails are also standard equipment on all Tiguans for additional winter fun.