The Winter Solstice is December 22. But doesn’t it seem like winter came early this year – and with a vengeance?
We’ve barely entered the New Year and have already endured major snowstorms, record accumulation and significant cold snaps throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Even typically balmy Florida is experiencing record lows that are causing iguanas to hibernate and topple out of trees.
Unfortunately, we all can’t hibernate like the iguanas -- and those of us who live in frigid, snowy climes still have to go about our lives. Your car can be the best line of defense when the mercury goes down, but it won’t do you much good if the tires are spinning aimlessly on snow and slush. To do battle with such surfaces, you need a system like all-wheel drive.
Fortunately, there are plenty of cars that have all-wheel drive along with a whole host of cold-weather goodies -- remote starters, heated steering wheels, the works. And believe it or not, they aren’t SUVs. All-wheel-drive (AWD) cars can perform just as well as four-wheel-drive (4WD) trucks and SUVs on slippery surfaces. Unlike 4WD, AWD is a full-time system, which means you don’t have to press a button or pull a switch when things get icy.
With one of these snow-mobiles, you’ll never have a real reason to take a snow day again. Just don’t tell your boss! And remember that even all-wheel drive doesn’t make you invincible – you still have to exercise a lot of caution in slippery conditions.
MSRP: $22,995 - $30,995
MPG: 19 City / 27 Hwy
The Subaru Outback is one of the most celebrated winter-weather wagons. Its standard symmetrical all-wheel drive system distributes power to the wheels that have the most traction, making it nearly unflappable in slippery conditions. CNN Money calls the redesigned 2010 Outback a “winter wonder.”
For even more security, the Outback comes with Vehicle Dynamics Control and Traction Control. Subaru also offers a whole spectrum of winter-weather frills. Heated front seats, heated exterior
mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer are standard on the top-of-the-line Limited trims and optional on Premium models.
On automatic-transmission models, you can also opt for a remote engine starter, which allows you to start the car and warm up the cabin from up to 400 feet away. For extremely cold climates, optional plug-in battery warmers and engine block heaters ensure the Outback starts flawlessly.
Finally, in case you are stranded in the cold, Subaru offers a Severe Weather Companion kit that comes with items that provide warmth, light, water, first aid, and the ability to signal for help.
MSRP: $37,950 - $42,800
MPG: 16 City / 22 Hwy
Volvos are known for safety, and the XC70 wagon continues that tradition. Edmunds says it has "enough all-terrain capability to get to a ski resort or your summer cabin." The wagon’s standard all-wheel drive system with Instant Traction makes sure that the wheels with the best grip get the most power.
In addition, the XC70 boasts Dynamic Stability and Traction Control with a special Anti-skid system to ensure extra traction in snowy conditions. All models come standard with electrically adjustable heated outer rear-view mirrors. The reasonably priced Climate Package gives the XC70 heated front and rear seats, heated windshield washer nozzlers, headlight washers and rain/humidity sensors.
Volvo even offers snow chains, which wrap around your tires and can help to dig into ice and even snow, giving you more traction. An engine block heater is also available.
MSRP: $46,845 - $68,785
MPG: 18 City / 27 Hwy
The Cadillac STS is a luxury sedan for those who don’t want to give up a fun ride in the summer just because it snows in the winter. When the pavement is dry, the Cadillac’s well-tuned suspension is comfortable for commuting and holds its own in the corners. When things get slippery, the STS’s optional all-wheel drive system and standard Traction Control and an Electronic Stability Control keep it glued to the road.
In 2006, Autobytel's Automotive Information Center named the STS the Best Winter Weather Vehicle. “It might not have the athletic moves of a BMW or exude the quality of a Lexus, but when it’s 10 below zero and the STS is warming itself up in the driveway while you triple layer your clothes and enjoy a hot cup of cocoa, you’re not gonna care,” says Autobytel.
The STS is the only vehicle on this list that comes standard with remote vehicle start. Mid-level Luxury models also come with heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. An engine block heater is available.
MSRP: $48,600 - $58,800
MPG: 18 City / 26 Hwy
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the most expensive car on this list, but luxury shoppers may find that its innovative features are worth it. Entirely redesigned for 2010, the E-Class has a list of safety equipment that boggles the mind.
Foremost on that list is its optional 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system. “On stretches intentionally shorn of snow on one side of the road, the 4Matics pulled away easily, diverting torque to the side with greater traction,” says Popular Mechanics. “While the E-Class's dynamics may be considered tame during spirited dry-weather drives, the predictability of the 4Matic system bolsters confidence under adverse road conditions."
Standard winter conveniences include heated exterior mirrors, an electrically heated rear window and a heated windshield washer reservoir. Heated front seats are optional. The E-Class comes standard with a Vehicle Stability Program and Traction Control.
Though it’s not a snow-specific feature, the standard Attention Assist system on the E-Class deserves a mention. This intelligent feature uses 70 different parameters and automatically gives audible and visual warnings if it detects that the driver is getting drowsy. With winter driving conditions demanding more attention, this system could keep you from having to use the E-Class' other safety systems.