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Top cars for winter driving
Most UK residents would be foolish to base their car buying decisions too heavily on winter weather performance. Across the majority of the country, we just don't get enough of the really cold stuff to make it a major concern - and we can all be thankful for that.
Despite this, there are plenty of cars that will cope admirably when the British climate decides to throw up an arctic spell and do a fine job for the rest of the year too. They aren't all hulking SUVs either.
Here are some of the top winter car choices in different price brackets.
Winter Motoring Guide
The Ford Fiesta is a first class supermini with great handling and sparky design inside and out. Standard safety equipment includes ESP stability control, Traction Assist and an ABS system with Emergency Brake Assist. In Zetec trim, prices start from around £12,000 and include Ford's excellent Quickclear heated windscreen which is a godsend on frosty mornings.
The Nissan Juke looks rough, tough and ready for anything but it doesn't have four-wheel-drive, unless you go for the pricey range-topping models. The front-wheel-drive versions are a lot more affordable and have better ground clearance than a conventional car. All Juke models have ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and ESP stability control. Prices start under £13,500.
If you want four driven wheels for under £15,000, there aren't too many options these days but the Suzuki SX4 is one. Suzuki has a solid reputation for tough 4x4 vehicles and even though the SX4 is no hardcore off-roader, it will provide added security on slippery roads. The all-wheel-drive models start from just under £15,000 powered by Suzuki's 1.6-litre petrol engine.
One of today's top small 4x4 vehicles, the Skoda Yeti has a spacious cabin, polished road manners and off-road ability that's better than expected. The models with all-wheel-drive can vary the amount of torque they send to individual wheels but in normal driving, they operate in front-wheel-drive mode. There's an off-road setting which adjusts the ABS and traction control systems while softening the throttle response. Prices for the 4x4s start at around £18,500.
The Subaru Impreza is better known for is maniac performance versions but the whole range has four-wheel-drive and there's a choice of models for under £20,000. The Impreza has good amounts of cabin space and the 2.0-litre diesel is particularly impressive. Interior quality remains an issue and fuel economy isn't great unless you can stretch to that diesel. The full-time 4x4 system and Subaru's Vehicle Dynamics Control electronics should inspire confidence in winter driving.
The Peugeot 3008 marries aspects of SUV and MPV into an impressively family-friendly package. It may be front-wheel drive only at the moment but the 3008 is available with a clever Grip Control system to help in slippery conditions. Grip Control has five modes, including one for snow, and comes in a £450 option pack along with specialist mud and snow tyres. The 3008 HYbrid4 model has rear wheels powered by an electric motor to deliver four-wheel-drive in slippery conditions.
It may not be an obvious choice as a good winter car but Audi's TT is a fine sports coupé and quattro all-wheel-drive versions cost around £30,000. You get a beautifully finished cabin, a fine choice of 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engines and plenty of all-weather grip. Of all the sportscars in this price band this is the best suited to winter driving.
Large and comfy over long distances, the Vauxhall Insignia is also available in 4x4 guise. There's a sizable price premium over the front-driven models but the fuel economy and emissions penalty isn't too great. The Vauxhall Adaptive 4x4 system distributes power to all four wheels according to the level of grip they have. It also features an electronic limited slip differential between the rear wheels.
The Mitsubishi Outlander is one of the more off-road capable models in the compact SUV class. It's well-equipped, versatile and good to drive on the road but the cabin could use some added finesse. The 4x4 system is only part-time but can be set into front-wheel-drive, 'on demand' four-wheel-drive or 'locked' four-wheel-drive modes. The diesel engines are the ones to go for, particularly the Peugeot-sourced 2.2 DI-D unit.
It might look like another Audi A4 estate but the Audi A4 Allroad has a lot more capability up its sleeves. With quattro all-wheel-drive and increased ride height, it's a rare mix of road-going composure and off-road ability. Prices kick off around the £32,000 mark, making it quite a bit more than the equivalent A4 Avant but you'll be glad of its extra capability when the snow comes down.
The king of the family off-roaders is the Land Rover Discovery and it's just as at home negotiating slippery roads as it is battling through mud. The Disco always looks like a lot of car for the money at the £37,000 needed for a 3.0-litre diesel GS model. Air-suspension is included as is the Terrain Response system which has a special mode for snow driving. All Discoveries have all-wheel-drive and a huge package of electronic driver aids.
The fiery Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X won't be for everyone but if you want a fast car that will hold its own on treacherous surfaces, there are few better for the money. The Evo's secret is in the Super All Wheel Control system which incorporates all-wheel-drive, Active Stability Control and Active Yaw Control. It means there's an indecent level of grip and a big electronic safety net should you exceed it. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine can produce anything from 290bhp to 403bhp, depending on the model.
Even in its standard rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive configuration, the Porsche 911 is remarkably composed on low grip surfaces (as this video shows). If you want a real winter road weapon though, the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 is a more secure bet. With the PDK paddle shift gearbox, 0-62mph takes 4.8 seconds and there's a 175mph top speed but don't try to replicate that with snow on the track!
Very few cars feel as immune to the elements and imperious on the road as the Range Rover. As it cossets its occupants in its wood and leather-lined cabin, the advanced 4x4 mechanicals are at work beneath, tackling whatever the road surface throws up. Political correctness isn't a strong point but its mix of luxury and capability are hard to beat.
BMW traditionally favours rear-wheel-drive for its cars but its 4x4 models are assuming a growing importance in the German marque's range. The X5 is a luxury SUV that isn't renowned for its off-road ability but excels on the tarmac. All-wheel-drive is standard and BMW's DSC + stability control system includes a vast array of electronic aids which inspire confidence in winter weather. The engines are outstanding too.
MSN Cars Winter Motoring Guide
Winter car checklist
Preparing your car for winter
Winter driving tips
Choosing a car for winter
Winter driver training
Driving in snow
Snow tyres - do you need them?
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The only safe issue for any car or van when snow conditions are set on untreated roads is the garage.
Note garage not parked at the side of the road creating additional hazards to essential emergency vehicles.
Having spent over thirty years dealing with essential high voltage electricity outages, the most dangerous experiences was the general motorist.
Unfortunately most of the general public have never been trained to drive in snow, or icy conditions !
Furthermore they all consider that a normal car or van will succeed were four wheel drive is a basic requirement.
Also, we all suffer by their incompetence because of accident damage to their own vehicle or other properties.
Be sensible use the garage and leg it, it will keep all our insurance costs down.
What about CVT cars (much safer in snow). What about smaller 4WD cars like the Fiat Panda and the Suzuki SX4? And assuming not everyone can afford a new Range Rover, why not suggest a used Subaru Forester, which is probably the best compromise 4WD estate car?
How about some information on winter tyres and how they affect 'ordinary' cars... or have you not actually done that research?
Come on, Mr Walker - earn your salary!!
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