Saturday, January 9, 2010
The Best Cars for Snow
My friend Jody, who writes a blog called the AgrOpinion, likes to challenge me with car questions. Recently she asked me what I thought was the best snow car.
In most cases, it would have to be something with all wheel drive or AWD. All wheel drive is different than traditional four wheel drive because all four wheels are always connected to the drivetrain by a fluid-filled center differential. Traditional four wheel drive is a part-time system with a mechanical differential. In two wheel drive mode, only two wheels, typically the rear ones, are connected to the drivetrain. When you encounter slippery conditions, like snow, mud or sand, you can shift into four wheel drive and all four wheels will receive power. The traditional four wheel drive vehicle has more capability for traveling off road, or through deep snow, and are useful for people who live in places called Beaver Camp . But for people who live in suburbia, whose offroad excursions are limited to a snowdrift at the local shopping mall, AWD is the better choice.
Why? The reason is simple--four wheel drive can only be used in slippery conditions. AWD can be driven in any condition and is especially useful for roads that alternate from dry, to wet, to snow packed and back to dry. These conditions describe most of the road conditions in the Midwest this week, even with the record snow and cold temperatures.
There are a number of AWD vehicles on the market. Some are SUVs like the Honda CRV or Ford Flex. Some are normal looking cars made by everyone from Ford and Toyota to premium cars like Audi or Mercedes Benz. There are even high performance sports cars like the Porsche 911 and Lamborghini Gallardo which offer AWD. But my favorite AWD cars are made by a pair of quirky, offbeat car makers called Subaru and Suzuki. It used to be Subarus were only driven by Vermont college professors and Maine housewives who shopped at LL Bean, but anyone who has spent time in a Honda will feel at home in a new Legacy or Outback. Mention Suzuki, and people think "motorcycle" or "that jeep-thingy that flips over" but they make a great small wagon called the SX4, which you can buy new for under $18K.
My personal choice would be the Subaru Legacy GT, with either the 2.5 liter turbocharged engine or the 3.0 V6. It offers AWD with enough performance and creature comfort to make a BMW jealous, and looks that won't make you cringe.