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
Mar 2, 2018

Freezing temperatures, snow flurries and panic buying at supermarkets: this week's Arctic weather has seen Britain grind to a halt with depressing familiarity.

But that's not the case for everyone. If you've got the right car, on the right tyres, then the chances are you've been able to power through the worst March weather for a generation. If you want to be prepared for the next time that this happens, then you don't need a snowplough: it's easier - and cheaper - than you might think to find a vehicle that will shrug off the snow.

There are four key features to look for when choosing a car that can cope with the worst of Britain's wintry weather. Even having just one will offer an advantage: the more that you have, the better.

  • Winter tyres are designed to offer the best performance in winter weather - whether it's sunny, rainy ior snowing. Colder temperatures make regular tyres harder and less grippy, so the winter versions are made to be softer. They also have a different tread pattern, which improves grip on snow. The trade-off is that these tyres make cars less responsive in corners during summer, so shouldn't be used all year round.
  • Front-wheel drive cars have engines that send power to the front wheels only and these tend to have more grip on slippery surfaces. The majority of cars are powered in this way. Combine a front-wheel drive car with 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 grip when accelerating, so you're less likely to sit there stuck as your wheels spin frantically. It can't prevent you skidding in corners, though, so you'll still need to drive with car.
  • High 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 cars for winter

Choosing the right car for winter will mainly depend on where you live and where you drive. What's right for an isolated resident of the Scotish 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 all-season convertibles.

Best cars for winter

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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.

Fiat Panda 4x4

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.


Suzuki Swift 4x4

It's no longer sold new but there are several used Suzuki Swift 4x4 models available. It could well be the most discreet four-wheel drive car that you 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 height or power to go off road.

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.


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, with their tall design, but are rarely more rugged than a family hatchback underneath - most don’t have four-wheel drive.

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.

Peugeot 3008 with Grip Control

The Peugeot 3008 is one of the best crossovers that you can buy, thanks to its hi-tech, 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, which helps to prevent the car slipping 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.


Dacia Duster

Brand new four-wheel drive Dusters are on sale for under £11,500 before any discounts, and you can pick up a used Duster for half that price.

That makes the car cheaper than most Ford Fiestas, and there’s no doubting which one you would choose if you wanted to get anywhere in the snow.

Admittedly, for the rest of the year, you would find the Fiesta much quieter, more nimble and considerably better-equipped.


Land Rover Discovery Sport

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

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 take it on a shortcut across country instead. Most models come with seven seats, but the back row is cramped.


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 models that are a little higher off the ground and fitted wioth 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.

Subaru Forester

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.


Volvo V60 Cross Country

Sitting 65mm 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.


Best convertible for winter

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

Range Rover Evoque Convertible

Losing the roof has made the Range Rover Evoque heavy and finding somewhere to fold the fabric one into has also masively reduced the amount of bootspace and opening.

But the heating system has enough steam - if you combine it with the heated seats - to keep you snug, while the roof is down and the wheels patter over a fresh snowdrift. You can’t do that in many other cars.


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