Best cars for winter

Last updated: Nov 25, 2014

Four-wheel-drive cars are more expensive to run and pricier to buy than their two-wheel-drive equivalents, but the extra grip they offer can be very handy when winter arrives. Modern technology means that four-wheel-drive cars are more economical than they used to be, while big SUVs are getting more car-like to drive with every new model launched.

If you simply want a car that's less likely to get stuck on snowy roads and will feel more stable in slippery conditions, then there's a host of four-wheel-drive family cars to choose from. They feel almost exactly the same to drive as the more conventional two-wheel-drive models on which they’re based, but are much less likely to leave you stranded come winter.

The alternative is to buy a four-wheel-drive SUV. They have raised suspension that allows them to deal not only with slippery roads, but also tougher off-road conditions. That off-road prowess usually comes at the expense of on-road handling, however. 

We’ve picked some cars from both camps, catering for a variety of budgets and rated them according to their ability and appeal through the winter months. Keep reading for 10 of the best cars to keep you motoring this winter.

Dacia Duster compact SUV

When the Dacia Duster was launched in 2010, it changed our perception of just how cheap a budget SUV could be. Sure, the Duster has a few rough edges, but for the money, it’s hard to beat. There’s a choice of petrol and diesel engines, but the powerful and economical diesel is better suited to genuine off-roading – something the Duster is more than capable of. Back on the road, the Dacia leans a bit in corners (but not excessively) and manages to be pretty comfortable. The interior is basic, but it’s spacious and high-spec models have plenty of equipment. Read more.

Key points

4.7 / 5
Price 
£9,495 - £15,495

BMW 3 Series saloon

The BMW 3 Series is one of the most accomplished cars on sale in the UK and it’s now available with xDrive four-wheel drive. Although expensive compared to mainstream models such as the Ford Mondeo, the 3 Series offers superb build quality and an excellent range of engines. Out on the road, it makes long motorway journeys easy, but find a twisting back road and the BMW is more entertaining than any of the competition. Adding four-wheel-drive makes the 3 Series sure-footed on slippery roads, although these models are also more expensive to buy and run than the normal car. Read more.

Key points

4.8 / 5
Price 
£24,255 - £43,885

Mazda CX-5 SUV

Despite its looks, the Mazda CX-5 is more of a crossover than a rugged SUV, but it can still be fitted with four-wheel drive for extra grip. It doesn’t feel like a big SUV from behind the wheel – in fact, it even reminded our road testers of the sporty Mazda MX-5 roadster at times. Mazda has also given the CX-5 an excellent range of petrol and diesel engines, which provide plenty of power while returning strong fuel economy. Inside, there’s lots of space for passengers and luggage, making this an excellent family car. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£21,895 - £29,895

Audi TT coupe

The TT is very much a sports car, but it can be specified with Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system, which makes it better at tackling slippery roads than rivals such as the Porsche Cayman. The new TT looks sharper than the old car, but the real revelation comes inside. Cars costing ten times as much don’t feel as high quality as this Audi, and the stunning 12.3-inch ‘virtual cockpit’ display is something we’re likely to see in many more cars before long. As before, there’s a great line-up of petrol and diesel engines, with the Ultra diesel striking a particularly good balance between strong performance and excellent fuel economy. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£29,770 - £40,270

Nissan Qashqai SUV

Nissan can argue that with the original Qashqai, it invented the crossover – a model that mixes the characteristics of a normal car with the looks and practicality of an SUV. The new model has grown up a little bit, but sticks to the same formula. It’s not quite as enjoyable to drive, but it is quieter and even cheaper to run. It has a big boot, plenty of passenger space and useful cubbyholes dotted around the interior, making it perfect for family life. Choosing four-wheel drive doesn’t convert the Qashqai into a rugged off-roader, but it does make it more capable in slippery winter conditions. Read more.

Key points

4.8 / 5
Price 
£18,265 - £28,500

Range Rover Sport SUV

The Range Rover Sport is more than £10,000 cheaper than the full-sized Range Rover, so it could be argued that it offers good value despite its hefty list price. High performance and a luxurious interior are combined with proper off-road prowess, and while the petrol models cost a fortune to run, the basic diesel comes close to matching the MPG figure of a petrol saloon car. Out on the road, the Range Rover is extremely comfortable, and more fun to drive than you’d expect. Off-road, sophisticated technology means the Sport is almost unstoppable. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£61,250 - £93,450

Skoda Yeti SUV

The Skoda Yeti’s breadth of talents made it an instant hit when launched, but it’s started to show its age recently, despite a facelift. There’s still plenty to like, though: the boxy looks translate into a spacious interior and Skoda’s Varioflex system offers a wide variety of seating configurations to choose from. The Yeti has a strong engine range and – when specified with four-wheel drive – is a surprisingly good off-roader, as well as being the perfect tow car. The Yeti is actually good fun to drive on-road, too, with much less body lean in corners than you’d experience in a traditional SUV. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£16,915 - £28,170

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross SUV

Don’t be put off by the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross’ dull looks, because underneath lurks an extremely capable crossover. Fitted with the 1.6-litre diesel engine, it’s economical yet also fun to drive. Add four-wheel drive and you get a car that’ll be very capable in winter weather and can also turn its hand to light off-roading. Avoid the CVT automatic gearbox, though – it makes the engine noisy and reduces fuel economy. The boring exterior styling continues inside, but the Suzuki’s cabin is quite spacious and it has a bigger boot than a Volkswagen Golf. Read more.

Key points

4.4 / 5
Price 
£15,499 - £23,549

Skoda Octavia Scout estate

The Skoda Octavia Scout is one of the most well rounded cars you can buy. The regular Skoda Octavia Estate is a top performer in almost every area and the Scout version adds four-wheel drive to the formula. That means you get a spacious and practical family car that’s well built, competitively priced and enjoyable to drive. You can choose from two diesel engines, both of which offer enough power to tow up to 2,000kg (200kg more than the standard car) without the car feeling sluggish. On the downside, the Octavia Scout is more expensive to buy and run than the standard car. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£25,530 - £28,205

Fiat Panda 4x4 hatchback

The Fiat Panda 4x4 formula of a low list price and good off-road ability is reminiscent of the Dacia Duster, but the similarities end there. The Panda is a lot smaller than the Duster, but feels like a higher-quality product and its appeal goes beyond the fact that it’s cheap to buy. It’s cheekily styled inside and out, and while interior space is limited by its compact dimensions, the Fiat’s cabin is still impressively practical. Its engines are very economical on paper, but we’ve found it difficult to match the TwinAir petrol’s claimed MPG figure in the real world, so the diesel is probably a better bet. Surprisingly given its cute looks, the Panda 4x4 is very impressive off-road. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£10,295 - £16,945

Sponsored Links