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Go in the Snow

Winter driving can be fun



Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited, making its way through winter.

For many drivers, winter is a time to survive, not thrive. Fear not. With the right vehicle, tires, and basic driving skills, you can safely enjoy your time behind the wheel when the weather turns fierce. 

For maximum traction on slippery roads, all-wheel drive is your best bet. AWD, unlike four-wheel drive, which is mostly found on trucks and serious off-road vehicles, allows variance front to back and side to side. AWD systems are either front- or rear-biased and send power to the other wheels when slip is detected. 

Most manufacturers offer AWD as an option on their cars, but only Subaru offers it standard on every model (except the BRZ). Subaru’s symmetrical AWD system is one of the best on the market. When one of the wheels loses grip, the system sends more power to the other wheels. Subaru’s X-Mode features Hill Descent Control similar to the advanced technology found on Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles.

Speaking of Range Rover, you can now get an Evoque Convertible. A silly idea that actually makes perfect sense. After driving it, I want one.

Audi was the first manufacturer to offer a permanent AWD system for passenger cars back in 1980. Since then, Audi’s quattro system has been constantly improved through the company’s motorsports efforts. Today, quattro is available on every Audi vehicle, from the plug-in hybrid A3 to the V10-powered R8 supercar. 

Ford Fusion Sport: The Fusion has been one of Ford’s best-selling cars due to its combination of good looks, great handling, and respectable fuel economy. For 2017, Ford adds a new Sport model. The Sport features a computer-controlled sport-tuned suspension, paddle shifters, wider tires, and bigger brakes supporting a 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6. I drove the Fusion Sport on Monticello Motor Club’s 3.6-mile road course where it delivered serious fun. With a well-equipped base price of under $35,000, the Fusion Sport could be the entertaining, year-round five-seater you’ve been waiting for.

Mazda CX-9: Mazda completely redesigned its seven-passenger CX-9 and boy does it show. This baby is a looker both inside and out, rivaling the more expensive Volvo XC90 and Jaguar F-Pace. The interior is gorgeous with high-quality materials, excellent craftsmanship and tons of tech. Mazdas are well known for being fun-to-drive and this big SUV is no exception.  

Infiniti’s Q50 sedan and stylish new Q60 coupe offer RWD or AWD and engine choices ranging from an economical 208hp 2.0 L I4 to the fire-breathing 400hp twin turbo V6 Red Sport. I spent a week with the Q50 Red Sport and fell in love with the whole package.  

After years of criticism, the latest generation of SUVs and crossovers offer reduced weight, more efficient engines, and improved dynamics. GMC cut a whopping 700 pounds from the Acadia, its seven-passenger crossover. The reduced weight pays huge dividends in the driving experience and it is now one of the lightest in its class. You can switch to AWD on the fly and there is even a snow setting for ultimate winter performance. 

Hyundai is not a name that most people think of for AWD, but their latest generation SUVs are equal to the best in class. The Hyundai Tucson starts at under $23,000. It looks great, particularly in Caribbean blue, and will hold five adults comfortably. Hyundai loaded the Tucson with lots of safety technology and premium features including a rear liftgate that opens as you approach.

If you need more room, Hyundai’s Sante Fe offers seating for up to seven. Redesigned for 2017, the Santa Fe (and five-passenger Santa Fe Sport) is loaded with technology and features that you would expect on more expensive competitors. The larger Santa Fe comes in four different trim levels starting at only $32,550 for the AWD SE model, yet all come standard with the excellent 290hp 3.3 liter V6. My favorite feature of the Santa Fe? The locking center differential for those who want to play off-road or even traverse up your steep driveway after an overnight snow dump. 

Cadillac’s all-new 2017 XT5 is not just 278-lbs lighter and better handling than the SRX it replaces, it’s also better looking both outside and in. The luxurious interior is loaded with all the safety and technology you want, including a 360˚ camera, head-up display, and automatic braking. My wife and I recently drove a new AWD XT5 to Bar Harbor, Maine. It proved to be the perfect companion, swallowing all our gear. The seats were supremely comfortable even for eight hours on the road. 

If you live in the Northeast, you should switch to snow tires. In addition to the improved traction of the tread pattern, unique rubber compounds allow the tires to remain flexible at low temps. Winter tires don’t just help in acceleration and cornering, they dramatically reduce braking distances, even on ice. In a recent snow test by Tire Rack, the same vehicle required an additional 41 feet to stop from 30 mph on all-season tires versus winter tires. 

One of the best things you can do for yourself and the less experienced drivers in your household is to go to a deserted parking lot after a snowfall. Practice emergency stopping, accelerating, and turning. If your vehicle has stability and traction control, turn the systems off. These exercises will give drivers greater respect for the potential challenges of winter driving.

One word to remember: Smoothness. Smooth on the accelerator, smooth on the brakes, and smooth on the wheel. In low-friction driving, you don’t want to do anything to upset the balance of the car.


DRIVING TIPS Crash-avoidance technology relies on cameras and sensors that can be blocked by snow. Lane-keeping technology relies on lines on the road to be free from snow cover.

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