Best cars for winter

Last updated: Mar 11, 2016

Four-wheel-drive cars cost more to run and are more expensive than their two-wheel-drive equivalents, but during the winter months, they come into their own thanks to the extra grip they provide. Modern four-wheel-drive systems are far more economical than they used to be, and many large SUVs are almost as good to drive as conventional hatchbacks and saloons.

If you want a car that feels more stable in slippery conditions and is less likely to get stuck on snowy roads, a conventional car with a four-wheel-drive system may well suit your needs. If, however, you’re likely to venture off road from time to time, or you want a car with a raised driving position, a four-wheel-drive SUV may be a better choice – although the raised suspension of SUVs usually means they’re not as good to drive on the road, and they can be expensive to buy.

We’ve selected a variety of cars from both these categories to suit a range of budgets, and assessed their abilities to keep you out of trouble over the course of winter driving. If you’re after a four-wheel-drive car – be it an SUV or a more traditional model – our top 10 list should have the right choice for you.

Mazda CX-5 SUV

While it may have rugged, go-anywhere looks, the Mazda CX-5 is more of a crossover than a true SUV. Despite this, it can be ordered with four-wheel drive for extra grip. Inside, the CX-5 is a civilised place to sit and despite its raised driving position, it feels like a car to drive. The CX-5 is so light, in fact, that it reminded our road testers of the sporty Mazda MX-5 at times. The excellent range of petrol and diesel engines offered by Mazda for the CX-5 means it’s easy to find the right balance of power and economy. The CX-5 is also a spacious car with generous passenger and boot space, making it ideal for families. Mazda’s optional four-wheel-drive system should provide extra peace of mind over the winter months. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£23,195 - £30,995

Dacia Duster compact SUV

If you want a car with true go-anywhere ability but don’t have a huge budget, you can’t go far wrong with the Dacia Duster. Launched in 2010, the Duster is a little rough around the edges due to some cheap interior plastics, but it’s a thoroughly competent SUV that’s hard to beat at this price. While Dacia is a relative newcomer to the UK car market, its vehicles are built using Renault parts, so they should be fairly reliable. The Dacia Duster is a genuinely capable off-road vehicle. While it leans a little during cornering on the road, this is far from excessive, and more than forgivable when the Duster’s price and breadth of abilities are taken into account. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£9,495 - £16,495

BMW 3 Series saloon

The BMW 3 Series is one of the best cars on sale in the UK, thanks in part to its great driving experience, stylish looks and strong badge appeal. If you want a 3 Series but need extra grip, BMW’s xDrive four-wheel-drive system is your answer. The 3 Series is more expensive than comparable cars like the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat, but it’s better to drive than almost all rivals – be it on a motorway cruise or a twisting back road. The addition of four-wheel drive gives the 3 Series plenty of extra grip in slippery conditions, but note that it’s a relatively expensive option and also not as economical as other version of the 3 Series. Read more.

Key points

4.8 / 5
Price 
£25,160 - £41,015

Audi TT coupe

It may seem odd to include a sports car in this list, but the Audi TT can be ordered with Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system, which means it’s better in slippery conditions than rivals like the Porsche Cayman. Audi has built up a reputation for making cars with exquisite interiors and the latest TT continues this trend: it simply oozes quality inside. Audi’s latest 12.3-inch ‘virtual cockpit’ dashboard display is truly exceptional, and it’s likely to set the trend for carmakers in years to come. The TT is available with a wide range of engines, with the Ultra diesel model having a 0-62mph time of just 7.1 seconds, yet being capable of more than 60mpg. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£27,585 - £41,050

Renault Kadjar SUV

The Renault Kadjar is based on the Nissan Qashqai, but gets its own distinctive design, inside and out. It’s also about £1,500 cheaper than the Qashqai, while fuel economy and running costs are also slightly lower. The Renault Kadjar is more crossover than true SUV, but the optional four-wheel-drive system grips well on slippery winter roads. Read more.

Key points

4.8 / 5
Price 
£18,495 - £28,195

Range Rover Sport SUV

No list of four-wheel-drive cars would be complete without a Range Rover, and the Range Rover Sport offers almost all the luxury and off-road capability of the full-sized model, yet costs over £10,000 less. The Sport has a beautiful interior and strong performance, while it’s also a highly capable SUV – both on road and off. We recommend avoiding the thirsty petrol engines, but a Range Rover Sport with a diesel engine offers comparable economy to a petrol saloon car. The Sport is surprisingly enjoyable to drive on the road and, if you’re faced with more challenging conditions, few cars can cover the same ground a Range Rover can. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£62,700 - £95,900

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross SUV

The Suzuki SX4 S-Cross may look a little dull and have an overly complicated name, but it’s actually an extremely competent crossover. We recommend choosing the 1.6-litre diesel engine, which is economical yet fun to drive. Suzuki has a history of building capable off-road vehicles and specifying the SX4 S-Cross with four-wheel drive will get you an extremely capable car for the winter months, as the Suzuki can turn its hand to light off-roading, too. While the dull exterior looks carry over inside, the SX4 S-Cross is well made and spacious, with a bigger boot than the Volkswagen Golf. Avoid the optional CVT automatic gearbox, though, as it makes the engine noisy and reduces fuel economy. Read more.

Key points

3.6 / 5
Price 
£13,999 - £25,149

Skoda Octavia Scout estate

We rate the standard Octavia estate as one of the best cars on sale today, and the Skoda Octavia Scout adds four-wheel drive for extra grip and reassurance. The Scout is well built, spacious and stylish, while also being pretty economical for a four-wheel-drive car. There’s a choice of two diesels: both have a towing capacity of 2,000kg and neither feels sluggish. The only downside is that the standard Octavia offers such good value and low running costs that the Octavia Scout seems expensive in comparison – although it’s still far more economical than many competitors. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£21,210 - £28,495

Fiat Panda 4x4 hatchback

The Fiat Panda 4x4 is comparable to the Dacia Duster in some way thanks to its low price and decent off-road credentials, but it’s actually a very different car. The Panda 4x4 is smaller than the Duster, yet it’s more attractive inside and out. Despite the limitations of its small size, the Panda 4x4 is impressively practical thanks to clever design touches and interior storage solutions. Fiat offers the Panda with its tiny TwinAir petrol engine, but while it’s efficient on paper, in the real world it needs to be worked hard and fuel economy suffers as a result. We recommend choosing the Panda 4x4 with a diesel engine, as this makes it more enjoyable to drive and more economical. And despite its small size and hatchback origins, the Panda 4x4 is surprisingly capable off-road, too. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£14,710 - £18,260

Subaru Outback estate

Subaru has a strong reputation for rugged, well built cars with excellent four-wheel-drive systems and the Subaru Outback is the best car in the brand’s range. Raised suspension, coupled with a grippy four-wheel-drive system, makes the Outback extremely competent in slippery conditions and it’s also capable of light off-roading. It’s not the best-looking car on sale today, but it has an appeal all of its own thanks to its rugged, no-nonsense design. There’s a choice of petrol or diesel engines, as well as manual or automatic transmission. We recommend the well equipped entry-level SE Outback with a diesel engine and the manual gearbox. Order an Outback like this and you’ll get four-wheel-drive capability and 50mpg fuel economy – as well as modern-day essentials like climate control, sat nav and an excellent range of safety equipment. Read more.

Key points

4 / 5
Price 
£30,995 - £32,995