By Keith Leonard, ESQ
If you happen to live in or near San Diego (its last snowfall was on December 13, 1967), Miami (January 19, 1977), or Phoenix (December 9, 1985), your choice of a particular vehicle will not likely depend upon its performance in cold weather conditions. However, most of America is blessed with the phenomenon of weather fluctuations with the changing of seasons. Buffalo and the surrounding northern New York area have already been hit with significant amounts of snow; so much in fact that the Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets football game scheduled for Buffalo on November 23rd had to be moved to Detroit. So, how a vehicle will handle in snowy and icy conditions may be a consideration for many of us.
Quite a few years ago, I bought my first (used of course) car for use during college. The car was a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro with a V8 engine, which had a displacement of 307 cubic inches (take that metric system). And as further signs of a time gone bye, the car had a vinyl roof and ran on leaded gasoline (the phase out of which began in 1973). I bought the car from a matronly schoolteacher; my mother. As luck would have it, I went to a “state college” in western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh (not Penn State). Suffice to say, the weather near my home at the time and at the town where the college was located (as well as all points in between) does not resemble in the least the weather in San Diego, Miami, or Phoenix. As I quickly learned through trial and error (often error), my Camaro was a wonderful and fun car when driven between late April and mid-October, but not so much between mid-October and April. A rear wheel drive sports car with a large engine (for that time) and a small and light back end is clearly not a car engineered for driving on snow and ice; unless Chevrolet’s designers and engineers had a very perverse sense of humor. Unless you own a ski resort or really love winter sports, you may not remember this past winter in fond terms. However, I got to enjoy (and drive in) the coldest month of record in Pennsylvania while I was in college. So of course, when did a radiator hose on the Camaro decide to spring a leak, causing my engine to freeze up after a substantial amount of the antifreeze in it dissipated; resulting in an expensive repair for a college student on a budget? You are correct if you guessed that very same month; January 1977.
So, what vehicles are thought to be the best in snowy driving conditions? Not surprisingly based upon my survey of the opinions or comments of a number of authors on this subject, the list of vehicles varies (even more so when the opinions or comments of European commentators are considered). Also not surprisingly, the various lists that I reviewed are dominated by four wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles. Included on lists compiled by commentators writing for European publications are vehicles like the Skoda Octavia Scout (Skoda is an automobile manufacturer in the Czech Republic) and the Fiat Panda 4×4. The Panda 4×4 is only available for purchase in certain European countries and I do not recall ever seeing a Skoda Octavia Scout while I have been driving on American roads. One vehicle manufacturer whose cars regularly appear on lists of cars that are best in snow is Subaru, with its Outback, XV Crosstrek, Legacy, and Impreza models. Among the sedans (besides the Legacy and Impreza) that are rated favorably are the Ford Fusion and the BMW 3 and 5 Series Gran Turismos (with xDrive). Among minivans, the Toyota Sienna is favorably reviewed and the Audi Allroad is the wagon that consistently appears on such lists.
Similarly, there are differences of opinion as to the cars considered among the worst when driving on a snow covered road. Even so, you can expect that many rear wheel drive cars are on these lists, particularly performance cars with uneven weight distribution (like my nose heavy Camaro). A rear-wheel drive performance car generally offers a superior ride and handling abilities to a front-wheel drive car, but with the caveat of weather permitting. Wishing all of you safe driving this winter.
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