With winter this year hitting early and with a vengeance, I have already had to deal with winter driving conditions. In fact, this is the earliest I have ever had to put my winter tires on my vehicles for as long as I have owned them. All this winter weather has resulted in some pretty nasty road conditions.
Last week, we had a great QOTD, Sweet or Salty, discussing the dilemma that justaddoil was having on which vehicle to drive during winter. The comments that were posted lead to some great discussion on the prowess of each vehicle in the winter conditions. In this particular case, both the Jeep Wagoneer and the Saab are quite capable vehicles in the snow.
Of course, not all cars are as capable as the above two choices and it made me think of all the different vehicles I have owned and driven over the years. Some were excellent winter vehicles while others were remembered for being particularly bad.
After some thought, I came up with this list of my best and worst winter cars.
My current daily driver is a 2008 Toyota Tundra 4×4 pickup. Even though our other daily driver is a ‘16 Subaru Outback, this truck is significantly better in the snow than the Subaru. Tipping the scales at about 5300 lbs, it has lots of weight to make it sure-footed in the snow. In addition it has modern snow tires, Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2s, Toyota’s excellent A-Trac electronic traction control system and a decent ABS system. All these things combined make it the best overall winter vehicle I have owned. There has never been any road condition this truck can’t handle with confidence.
Without a question, the most capable RWD vehicle I’ve owned was my late great 1993 Chevrolet Suburban. I bought this beast as a cheap alternative to a 4×4 pickup, which is what I really wanted at the time. I knew that a 2WD truck was pretty well useless in the snow, but I figured the extra weight of the ‘burb on the rear end would make it tolerable in the snow, much like fullsize station wagons. My Suburban was heavy, about 5000 lbs, and heavy vehicles work well in winter. It also had the G80 option which was an Eaton automatic locking rear differential (gov-lock). It was the proverbial tank in the snow, good enough for me to get away driving it a few winters in a rural setting with just all-season truck tires. After a few years I decided to invest in studded winter tires, which made it extremely capable. The year we built our house, we rented a place on the lake that had a seldom maintained private road. The landlord said 4WD was required, but I knew I’d be fine. The conditions got pretty hairy at times, but the combination of lots of weight, decent traction and ground clearance, resulted in the ‘burb always pulling through.
For the most part, FWD cars are pretty decent in the snow. The typical front weight bias gives them pretty decent traction, and the understeer they exhibit is easier for most to deal with compared to oversteer in a RWD car. That said, our former ’99 Honda Civic was the worst FWD vehicle we owned for winter use. The car was very light and even with winter tires didn’t have particularly good traction. I found it very light and skittish on winter roads, and not particularly sure-footed. It was not confidence inspiring to drive. The car also lacked ABS and traction control. It was a good car overall, but neither of us missed the car when it was gone.
This is not our actual Skylark. Ours was similar to this, except it was black.
The worst car ever for winter driving was our old ’72 Buick Skylark Custom 4-door hardtop. While not actually my car, it was one of the family cars I learned to drive on and had a lot of seat time in it as a teenager. The Buick 350 had lots of low-end torque and it easily spun its right rear wheel at the slightest application of the throttle. It had poor enough traction to even get stuck on flat surfaces. We invested in old school blocky snow tires, which helped a bit. I have to admit though; it was a great car to learn skid control. I did my first power slides and donuts with that car, so even though was terrible in the snow, it was fun.
So that brings me to my QOTD, what was your best/worst winter vehicles?