Cars Driving In Snow

The Best Cars For Snow And Ice: Understanding What Matters

Hanna Kielar6 minute read
December 30, 2021

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Whether you live in a place where winter driving can be perilous for months each year, or even somewhere that is relatively warm, chances are you will at some point encounter ice and snow either on your daily commute or a long road trip. Depending on where you live, it might be enough to winterize your existing vehicle. However, if you deal with serious winter conditions or live in a remote location, it's worth investing in one of the best cars for snow and ice.

What Matters Most For Driving In Snow

For safe winter driving in even temperate regions (where ice and snow are still possible on rare occasions) it's important to winterize your car with ice-approved windshield wipers and wiper fluids, a change to a multiviscosity 5W-30 motor oil, or even winter or snow tires, which have aggressive treads that help maintain traction on icy roads. The best vehicles for harsh winter driving come equipped with more advanced drivetrains, higher ground clearance, better safety features and enhanced comfort options to help handle winter conditions better than others.

Drivetrain

The term “drivetrain” refers to all the components of a vehicle that transfer the power generated by the engine to the wheels. There are four types of drivetrains. Two-wheel drive cars deliver energy to just one of the axels and can be either front-wheel drive (FWD) or rear-wheel drive (RWD). For the sake of this discussion, we’ll be focused on all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel-drive (4WD) cars and trucks.

The best vehicles for snow come down to AWD vs. 4WD. All-wheel-drive systems deliver power to two wheels most of the time, but can automatically redistribute some torque to the other wheels in slippery conditions to maximize stability and safety. Meanwhile, a 4WD system always delivers at least some power to all the wheels and provides maximum control for the driver, especially on rough terrain or in mud or heavy snow. The 4WD componentry also adds weight, which raises fuel consumption as well as the price of the vehicle.

Ground Clearance

High ground clearance is another key characteristic to look for, as a vehicle that's low to the ground will pile up snow in front of it. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines ground clearance as the lowest point on the car, typically a suspension component that moves with the wheel. Most SUVs average 6 – 8 inches of ground clearance, and, typically, the more ground clearance the better for driving in deep snow.

Safety Technology

The best cars for snow will also have other valuable safety features, such as:

  • Blind spot monitoring: Can be standard on new cars or added later
  • Anti-lock brakes: Automatically releases and reapplies braking when it locks
  • Stability control: Auto brake adjustments prevent sliding or spinouts
  • Collision warning systems: Light and sound display when a collision is possible
  • Adaptive headlights: Unfixed lights swivel to optimize light distribution

These features may not seem to have much to do with tackling snow and ice. However, the danger of winter driving isn't just that it’s harder to drive in a straight line. On icy or snow-covered roads, making sharp turns, quick corrections, or sudden braking pose a greater risk of losing control. This is why it's important to remember that while your car can help you stay safe during rough weather, there's no replacement for safe driving practices. Slow down, and keep double or even triple the usual amount of distance between your vehicle and those around you.

Comfort

It's easier to remain alert and drive safely when you're comfortable and focused. This is why comfort features like heated seats, a heated steering wheel and remote start can be nice to have in wintry weather. These can be added options when ordering a new car or installed later on most late-model used vehicles.

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How We Rated The Best Cars For Snow

There are a number of new and used vehicles available today that perform extremely well in tough winter driving conditions. In selecting a top 5, we placed an emphasis on a capable drivetrain, sufficient ground clearance, good fuel economy, the latest technology in safety features, and overall driver comfort. If you’re up against snow, sleet and ice each winter, you can’t go wrong with these vehicles.

1. 2022 Subaru Legacy

Best for: Winter commuting

MPG: 27 city | 35 highway

Drivetrain: All-wheel drive

Ground clearance: 5.9 inches

 

As a very affordable midsize sedan, the 2022 Subaru Legacy is a surprisingly well-rounded option for tackling the challenges of driving on snow-covered roads. The Legacy gets reasonably good fuel mileage while still providing great traction thanks to Subaru’s excellent all-wheel-drive system. Its traction control automatically detects slipping issues and instantly shifts power to all four wheels to stabilize control.

While the 2022 Subaru Legacy doesn't have as much ground clearance as many SUVs, it can still tackle surprisingly high snow drifts with its 5.9 inches of clearance. It's got a strong suite of safety features, including automatic blind spot monitoring, driver assist technology and eight air bags, plus all the latest winter comfort features. All of these factors make the 2022 Subaru Legacy among the best sedans available for safe, comfortable winter driving.

Browse used Subaru Legacies nationwide.


2. 2021 Jaguar F-Pace

Best for: Luxury, comfort

MPG: 22 city | 27 highway

Drivetrain: All-wheel drive

Ground clearance: 8.4 inches

 

The 2021 Jaguar F-Pace handles winter weather like few other luxury vehicles can. With permanent all-wheel drive and 8.4 inches of ground clearance, it can handle all but the worst conditions throughout North America. The F-Pace also grades well for winter comfort and luxury, with heated grained leather seating and a heated front windshield that spares you the trouble of scraping ice on cold mornings.

The Jaguar F-Pace combines form, function and comfort while adding some excellent safety features. The LED adaptive headlights are a particularly impressive active safety feature. This technology automatically adjusts low beam illumination to where it needs to go under any driving condition. This is just one of numerous driver assistance mechanisms in the F-Pace, which also includes blind spot monitoring and collision avoidance.

Browse used Jaguar F-Pace vehicles nationwide.

3. 2021 BMW 3 Series xDrive

Best for: Icy conditions

MPG: 22 city | 31 highway

Drivetrain: All-wheel drive

Ground clearance: 5 inches

While not all BMW 3 Series sedans come with all-wheel drive, the xDrive upgrade is well worth it due to the quality of its traction control system. This upgrade helps put the 3 Series on the map as one of the best luxury sedans for winter weather. Ground clearance stands at 5 inches, which is good enough for average snowfall amounts, although it may be inadequate for areas with more extreme winter conditions.

The BMW 3 Series offers some outstanding active safety features. Automatic high beams and adaptive headlights optimize visibility and safety, while collision warning features and blind spot monitoring provide critical alerts to potential risks as you drive. The remote start can warm up your car and heated seats before you walk out the door, while the heated steering wheel keeps you comfortable and alert throughout your journey.

Browse used BMW Model 3 Series xDrive vehicles nationwide.

4. 2018 BMW X1

Best for: All-around winter driving

MPG: 22 city | 31 highway

Drivetrain: All-wheel drive

Ground clearance: 7.2 inches

The 2018 BMW X1 is a compact vehicle that strikes a good balance between the advantages and disadvantages of an SUV, making it one of the best SUVs for snow. With an impressive ground clearance of 7.2 inches and a robust all-wheel-drive system, it can reliably tackle most unplowed roads. As a smaller SUV, the X1 gets relatively good fuel economy. For the 2018 X1, most of the latest safety and comfort features were available, but many were optional. In assessing a used X1 that could see plenty of winter driving, you’ll want to see which of these important elements were installed.

Browse used BMW X1 vehicles nationwide.

5. 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Best for: Winter recreation

MPG: 19 city | 26 highway

Drivetrain: Four-wheel drive

Ground clearance: 8.6 inches

 

The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee may be the best midsize SUV for snow, and it's the ideal choice for drivers who seek adventure far from any paved roads. The Grand Cherokee has the rugged off-roading capability you'd expect from its imposing frame, which offers a ground clearance of 8.6 inches. The vehicle has the height and power to force its way through incredibly thick snow.

The Cherokee also provides you with enhanced visibility and comfort on icy roads with features like remote start, heated mirrors, heated seats and a heated steering wheel. Overall, the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee is well equipped to keep you safe in dangerous conditions.

Browse used Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles nationwide.

The Bottom Line: Know What You Need In A Winter Vehicle

There's no shortage of great vehicles for snow, cars and SUVs alike. However, each vehicle excels at something different and is best suited to a particular level of winter weather. A Jeep Grand Cherokee ends up being a lifesaver for someone in the heavy snow drifts of rural Montana, but a BMW 3 Series xDrive will tackle icy roads in North Carolina just as well, and offers better fuel economy and a sportier performance for when it’s not snowing.

The Rocket AutoSM inventory boasts tens of thousands of used vehicles across the nation, with useful filters to help you find AWD and 4WD vehicles that are better equipped to handle icy or snow-covered roads. Your next car is already out there.

Ready to find the perfect fit?

Rocket AutoSM can help.

Ready to find the perfect fit?

Rocket AutoSM can help.

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Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.