PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- We're going to say this as quickly as possible first and then get to the meat of the issue: Just about any car on the road will handle the snow better with snow tires.
With the flakes falling in higher elevations and light flurries already greeting residents of the nation's colder climates, it's time to start thinking about how to tackle the snow. The folks at the winter driving school at Michigan Technological University's Keweenaw Research Center in Houghton, Mich., say that while they may not make you take off like a dragster, snow tires provide great traction on curves and grades and should help keep you out of trouble.
The brand doesn't matter, the variety doesn't matter: If you put a good set of snow tires on your car, it'll improve your odds once the snow piles up. The folks at the
Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colo., performed an experiment a few years back to show a group of law-enforcement professionals who used his course that Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros don't need to be packed away in the winter in favor of SUVs. The school put a police SUV, a Ford Crown Victoria cruiser and a high-performance pursuit vehicle on a snow- and ice-strewn track and watched the SUV get smoked and the Crown Victoria lag behind the sportier models in new shoes.
While many drivers are put off by the extra $1,000 to $2,000 it costs to buy and maintain an extra set of wheels or tires, it makes a lot more sense than just splurging for an SUV with four-wheel drive. That drive system may dislodge an SUV from a snow pile more easily that a rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive vehicle would, but good luck stopping it without snow tires.
That said, there are a whole lot of folks out there who believe that all-wheel drive, headlight de-icers and seat warmers make a big difference in winter driving. If you're one of those folks who just can't believe that the paupers may be onto something with that stack of tires they keep in the garage or storage unit until just before the first snowfall, the folks at
Kelly Blue Book
that may interest you. We culled their Top 5, but excised a Ferrari FF wagon from the list. Of all of the stories about folks in red braving the snow around the holiday season, that bit about a Ferrari tooling around the Rock Salt Belt in a set of Blizzaks may be the least believable:
5. 2013 Nissan Pathfinder
It took the Pathfinder a long time to forget its early '90s SUV heyday, but a huge revamp helped it catch up to competing crossovers.
As recently as a year ago, the Pathfinder was truck-based and still being built to compete with the Chevy Blazer and Ford Bronco. It was still getting a paltry 18 miles per gallon and still firmly believed a 4.0-liter V6 is something anyone wants in a family vehicle. This year it finally joined the rest of the modern automotive world by switching to a car-platform crossover, trimming to a 3.5-liter V6 and cutting fuel economy to a combined 23 miles per gallon. It still has seven seats, nearly 80 cubic feet of storage room with the two rows of rear seats down. The second row moves up five inches for easy rear-seat access and there's three-zone climate control to go with an available three-zone entertainment center.
A lockable four-wheel drive makes it a great pick for the cold and snow, as does a heated steering wheel.
4. 2013 Subaru Outback
The Outback has been comfortable with its role as the upper-middle-class family ride of choice since it was a glorified Legacy wagon driven by early lacrosse parents, but it's been a northern, cold-weather favorite for just as long. Now it's an almost full-size crossover with roughly nine inches of ground clearance for those blizzard and nor'easter years, 70 cubic feet of maximum cargo space and a combined 27 miles per gallon that's practically in CR-V/RAV4/Sorento territory. While the SUV-type space is nice, the Outback's standard all-wheel drive is still the dealmaker for families who have to brave adverse winter weather for long stretches of the year. For hockey moms and dads, this basically
3. Jeep Grand Cherokee
That high ground clearance comes in handy, but features such as LED headlights with washers, an eight-speed transmission and a 911 call button come in handy in rough conditions. Perhaps the most formidable weapon in its winter arsenal, however, is a traction control system that lets drivers select a snow setting for improved performance on slick terrain. Slapping some snow tires on it is still your best bet, but a little extra protection never hurts.
2. Land Rover Range Rover
Considering it was built to ford streams, the Range Rover doesn't tend to think much of a little dusting.
The vehicle comes standard with Range Rover's Terrain Response system, which shifts power and stability when the driver chooses conditions including snow, rain, mud and sand. The system's stability control, traction control Hill Descent Assist and Corner Braking Control keep it moving forward in the most adverse conditions and keep it from losing balance with the blacktop gets too slick. This is a luxury model, so your cash is going more toward the leather interior, heated front seats and touchscreen communications and entertainment system, but the Range Rover is built primarily for the elements. With all of those safety features, you're in good hands.
1. Audi Allroad
Well, at least it costs less than the Range Rover.
A bunch of folks near the Great Lakes just did a spit take at their screens and started muttering the most vile expletives you've ever heard, knowing full well that their 1983 Toyota Tercel could power through lake effect snow on little else but snow tires and a cup of Tim Horton's coffee. They are right, of course, but the folks at KBB feel that the Audi's all-wheel drive, ground clearance and low center of gravity make up for that extra $20,000 or so you're paying for leather seats, wood-grain interior and 10-speaker concert radio. But throw-ins including stability control, headlight washers, LED taillights, heated windshield washer nozzles and both front and rear fog lights offer an added layer of protection for those who have the means of acquiring them and the healthy fear of whiteouts that makes them desirable.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.