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
Dec 9, 2020

Winter is here, and it's been causing chaos on British roads over the past few months. You can never completely prepare for the terrors of snowfall and sub-zero temputratures, but you can at least get yourself a car that's capable of tackling the very worst that the British weather has to offer.

There's plenty of great options to keep you mobile during the harshest of snow storms, and it's not limited to snowploughs and enormous four-wheel drive behemoths either, a huge number of 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 all-season 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 make regular tyres solid and less grippy, so the winter alternatives are made to be softer 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 in corners 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 tio have more grip 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 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 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.


2. Suzuki Swift 4x4

Used Suzuki Swift 4x4 deals from £5,995
Monthly finance from £139*

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.

1. Peugeot 3008 with Grip Control

Used Peugeot 3008 deals Limited stock

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, 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.


2. Dacia Duster

Used Dacia Duster 4x4 deals from £6,995
Monthly finance from £163*

Brand new four-wheel drive Dacia 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.


3. Land Rover Discovery Sport

Used Land Rover Discovery Sport deals from £20,881
Monthly finance from £335*

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.

1. Subaru Forester

Used Subaru Forester deals from £11,495
Monthly finance from £260*

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 Volvo V60 Cross Country deals from £25,995
Monthly finance from £383*

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 truly off-road capable convertible on sale at the moment.

1. Range Rover Evoque Convertible

Used Range Rover Evoque deals from £28,280
Monthly finance from £392*

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.


*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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