Best cars for winter conditions

Cars that can cope in the snow - and on the 363 other days of the year - these are the best cars for winter

BuyaCar team
Nov 5, 2021

When winter conditions arrive, they have a nasty habit of causing severe delays on British roads. Sub-zero temperatures and snowfall make accidents and traffic problems much more likely, but you can at least choose a car that's not only equipped to tackle wintry conditions but safer in them too.

Thanks in part to the rise in popularity of SUVs, there's no shortage of great options to keep you mobile during the harshest of snowstorms. Even quite a few smaller cars are up to the task of battling the worst of Britain's wintry weather thanks to clever traction control systems and the availability of grippy winter tyres.

Best cars for winter

Choosing the right car for winter will mainly depend on where you live and what kinds of roads you drive on. The Toyota Land Cruiser required for an isolated resident of the Scottish Highlands is likely to prove overkill for someone in East Anglia who travels along well-gritted roads without a hill in sight. Below, you'll find options for everyone, from surprisingly rugged superminis to go-anywhere off-roaders and even all-weather convertibles.

Things to look for

We've identified four key features you should be looking for when choosing a car that can cope with the worst of Britain's wintry weather. Even having just one of these will offer an advantage, but the more that you have, the better.

  • Winter tyres are designed to offer the best performance in winter weather - whether it's sunny, rainy or snowing. Colder temperatures (below around seven degrees Celsius) make regular tyres harder and less grippy, so the winter alternatives are made to be more pliant at low temperatures to counteract that issue. They also have a different tread pattern, which improves grip on snow. The trade-off is that these tyres make cars less responsive and fuel-efficient during summer, so they shouldn't be used all year round.
  • Front-wheel drive cars have engines that send power to the front wheels only. The weight of the engine over these driven wheels means that they tend to have more traction than rear-wheel-drive cars. Add winter tyres and they will cope with most icy conditions you'll encounter in this country.
  • Four-wheel drive (or all-wheel drive) gives you even more traction when accelerating, so it's easier to pull away even in snowy conditions. It can't prevent you from skidding in corners, though, so you'll still need to drive with care.
  • Ground clearance is the space between the bottom of the car and the road. The more there is, the less likely your car is to get caught on piles of compacted snow or obstacles buried underneath the powder.

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Best small cars for winter

They might not tower over the road like big off-road SUVs, but small cars have a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to tricky winter weather.

The first is their weight: lighter cars are less likely to sink and get stuck in the snow, while their size means that they can nip between obstacles more effectively.

1. Fiat Panda 4x4

Used deals Limited stock

Beyond its cartoonish looks, the Fiat Panda 4x4 has a rugged four-wheel-drive system, which will help you keep moving in the snow. It also comes with taller suspension than most other Pandas, allowing it to pass over drifts of heavier snow with less chance of getting stuck. There's a reason why Panda 4x4s are such a common sight in Alpine ski resorts - they're one of the most capable cheap snow cars.

FIAT PANDA BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Suzuki Swift 4x4

Used deals Limited stock

It's no longer sold new, but used Suzuki Swift 4x4 models are available. It could well be the most discreet four-wheel-drive car money can buy, and is certainly one of the more unusual. The four-wheel drive will give you more grip when accelerating on slippery roads, but hasn’t got the ground clearance or power to go off-road. Instead, the Swift 4x4 was designed to get along mountainous and wintry Japanese roads on a budget.

That sounds ideal if you just want a bit more security when the roads get slushy, but you will have to put up with a lack of power, extra weight and leaning in corners for the rest of the year.

SUZUKI SWIFT BUYERS' GUIDE

Best SUVs and crossovers for winter

Cometh the snow, cometh the moment for tall and tough SUVs which, for the most part, are designed for slippery conditions thanks to their height, technology and four-wheel drive.

That’s less the case for crossovers, which might look the part, but are rarely more rugged than a family hatchback underneath - most don’t even have four-wheel drive as standard.

Even so, if they are fitted with winter tyres and driven carefully, then there’s little that these cars won’t manage in the winter. Here are three that stand out.

1. Peugeot 3008 with Grip Control

Used deals from £13,500
Monthly finance from £244*

The Peugeot 3008 is one of the best crossovers that you can buy, thanks to its high-tech and spacious interior, comfortable ride and agile cornering. It's also pretty handy on the snow when fitted with Peugeot's Grip Control.

This is a software system that can adjust the amount of power sent to the front wheels, helping find purchase on snow when accelerating. This gives the car better performance on snow than standard front-wheel drive 3008s. It's still not as effective as a proper four-wheel-drive car but, when combined with winter tyres, it's all that most drivers will need.

PEUGEOT 3008 BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Dacia Duster 4x4

Used deals from £9,995
Monthly finance from £209*

Brand new four-wheel-drive Dacia Dusters are on sale for under £14,000 before any discounts, and you can pick up a used Duster for half that price. That makes the Duster cheaper than most Ford Fiestas, and there’s no doubting which one you would choose if you wanted to get anywhere in the snow.

It's a rugged and high-riding SUV, with chunky wheels and balloon-like tyres that won't sink into the snow. Some versions also come with four-wheel drive, although these tend to command a premium.

DACIA DUSTER BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Land Rover Discovery Sport

Used deals from £19,999
Monthly finance from £321*

Most SUVs are designed to be best on tarmac. Their ability to scramble up slippery slopes and crawl across rocks is very much an additional benefit.

But Land Rover still builds its cars to conquer the unknown, even if a churned-up grassy lane is the toughest test it will ever encounter. It works well for the company’s marketing strategy, but also makes their cars a bit more dependable in winter. In theory, if the road is blocked, you could still get to your destination in the Discovery Sport, or help tow stuck vehicles to safety. Most models come with seven seats, but the back row is slightly cramped for adults.

LAND ROVER DISCOVERY SPORT BUYERS' GUIDE

Best family cars for winter

There are plenty of options if you're looking for a family car that's suited to winter, thanks to a number of models that are a little higher off the ground and fitted with four-wheel drive. These don't have the same height of crossovers or SUVs but can offer safe and reliable performance in the snow. If you simply want a family car with four-wheel drive, then these are even more common, with dozens to choose from.

1. Subaru Forester

Used deals Limited stock

It has four-wheel drive, is raised off the ground, and is fitted with rugged mechanical parts, designed to survive a tough life of bumping down tracks at the hands of farming families, which are known for their love of Subarus.

It’s a convincing set of attributes, but there’s an even more important feature that you’ll be glad of when you’re sitting in the middle of freezing temperatures with snow falling: the Forester is one of the most reliable cars in Britain, ranked sixth out of 150 in the 2016 Auto Express Driver Power satisfaction survey.

2. Volvo V60 Cross Country

Used deals from £22,000
Monthly finance from £380*

Sitting well off the ground, the Volvo V60 Cross Country will be ploughing through deep snow long after its rivals are left behind - that’s on the off-chance that you find snow-drifts, of course.

The Volvo is fitted with technology that helps it to be efficient on the road, but competent off it, so muddy hills and rocky tracks shouldn’t spell too much trouble. The rest of the car is overshadowed by alternatives - such as the Mercedes C-Class, which are more luxurious, but it means that you should be able to get a good discount.

VOLVO V60 CROSS COUNTRY BUYERS' GUIDE

Best convertible for winter

This is a category introduced entirely for the Range Rover Evoque Convertible, which is the only truly off-road capable convertible on sale at the moment.

1. Range Rover Evoque Convertible

Used deals from £29,950
Monthly finance from £439*

The Evoque's design makes it popular with fashion-conscious buyers, and it only makes sense they might want to enjoy a drop-top version in the sunshine. Its heating system and heated seats have enough power to keep you snug while the roof is down, even as you carve through a fresh snowdrift. You can’t do that in many other cars.

Its folding fabric roof mechanism has reduced the amount of boot space and its opening, however, so the Convertible isn't quite as practical as the hard-top version.

RANGE ROVER EVOQUE CONVERTIBLE BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

Buyacar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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