Winter throws up some challenging driving conditions, with snow, ice and treacherous roads. For some drivers, a car that’s able to cope with the conditions is essential, especially those in more remote and rural areas, or essential workers such as police officers, fire service personnel, doctors and paramedics.
For other drivers, the peace of mind offered by a car known for its ability to cope off-road or in tricky conditions is worth the extra investment.
Here are our top 10 best winter cars:
There’s a reason why country folk love their Subarus, and that’s because they’re unstoppable in the slippery stuff. The Outback is not only a great estate car, but it’s also incredible on loose surfaces thanks to its symmetrical all-wheel-drive and Hill Descent Control. It comes with a choice of petrol or diesel engines, both in a horizontally-opposed ‘Boxer’ layout.
BMW 3-Series Touring xDrive
xDrive is BMW’s all-wheel-drive system, which uses intelligent technology to apply traction to each wheel in turn, helping the car remain predictable, stable and tractable in wintry conditions. The system is most at home in the 3-Series Touring, which benefits from excellent handling on dry roads and increased grip on wet and icy ones.
Audi A4 Allroad
Audi was one of the foremost entrants into the crossover estate sector, with its first ‘Allroad’ model appearing almost 20 years ago. Today, the name is synonymous with station wagons that have raised ride height, protective plastic on the lower bodywork and Audi’s infamous quattro all-wheel-drive system. The A4 represents the best value, unless you need a bigger car.
Volvo V40 Cross Country
Another early debutant to the crossover concept, Volvo’s first of the breed was the XC70, based on the V70 estate. The XC70 spawned a whole breed of XC-badged SUVs, but the Cross Country name is still used on a beefed up four-wheel-drive version of the V40 hatchback, designed to survive Scandinavian conditions. It’s extremely capable.
The Forester is more SUV-like than the Outback, making it more serious as an off-road machine, yet it retains the Subaru brand’s impeccable roadholding and tenacious levels of grip. It’s one of the most fun SUVs to drive, with its characterful ‘Boxer’ engines and lively performance. It’s excellent on and off-road, though it can be expensive to run.
Don’t confuse the current Vitara with its predecessor, as it’s a completely different vehicle to drive – faster, smoother and notably more agile, with a hugely improved powertrain and more refined diesel engine line-up. Off-road capabilities are as good as ever, yet it’s also great to drive on tarmac, making the Vitara the ideal family car for those in rural areas.
MINI Countryman ALL4
MINI’s ALL4 system uses the same technology pioneered in BMW’s xDrive system, but with the added bonuses of chunky cladding around the lower bodywork and a raised ride height. The MINI Countryman is a distinctive and fun family car, and the additional grip offered by the ALL4 set-up makes it one of the best for winter driving.
Land Rover Discovery Sport
You can’t have a list of top 10 cars for low-grip conditions without including a Land Rover, and we’re pleased to report that the brand’s entry model - the Discovery Sport – doesn’t compromise at all on off-road capability, with adjustable drive modes for different conditions including a dedicated ice and snow setting on its Terrain Response system.
Skoda Octavia Scout
The Scout is based on Skoda’s excellent Octavia Estate, but with chunky bumpers, lower side skirts, roof rails and increased ground clearance. It also has unique front-end styling, along with permanent on-demand four-wheel-drive, which detects which wheels are lacking in traction and redirects power accordingly. From less than £27,000, it’s great value.
Fiat Panda 4x4
Go to any ski resort across Europe and you’ll see loads of Panda 4x4s scooting around. As well as being tremendous fun to drive, the baby Fiat has the agility of a mountain goat, making it ideal for picking its way through snow and ice. It has chunky bumpers and lower skid plates to cope with snowdrifts, and it has bags of character. It’s also terrific value, from £14,055.
Worried about venturing out in Arctic conditions? Here’s all you need to know before driving on snow and ice.