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Allwheel &/or 4wheel drive v.s. frontwheel drive w/ snow tires

I live in upstate NY and do a lot of winter driving on rural and city roads. There is ice, some black ice, blowing snow, and lots of slush during our winter season. Sometime I have to drive before the roads are salted. I have been driving an all-wheel drive car with all season tires (manual transmission Legacy wagon). I need to replace that car now (thinking about a manual transmission Forester or an automatic Honda CR-V with only front wheel drive). I’d like to know if getting the all-wheel or 4-wheel is going to make a big difference. Would a front wheel drive with good snow tires be as good or better?


You are going to get opinions that are all over the map on this one, so I will just tell you what I do with my vehicle that has AWD, traction control, and vehicle stability control:

I mount a set of 4 Michelin X-Ice tires every year in early December, and I take them off in early March.

Yes, AWD is superior to any 2-wheel drive system, even if that 2WD system also has traction control.
Yes, winter tires are superior to so-called all-season tires.

Why not harness the advantages of both in order to maximize your safety when turning, stopping, and–of course–when you get going from a standing stop.

Since your regular tires will not be getting any wear and tear for the months when your winter tires are mounted, you will be extending the life of your regular tires. As a result, the added cost of winter tires is minimal. And, if you buy winter tires with superior tread life–like the Michelin X-Ice–those winter tires should last for at least 4 winters, if not more.

Go with AWD,dont pay that much attention to Global Warming hype(whats a couple degrees warmer amount to in Upstate New York?) you may have an exceptionaly bad winter and the extra traction will be very handy indeed.I know I got off track a little-Kevin

You have been driving an AWD car and are spoiled by it’s superior performance. Did you find it met your needs ? You can function in snow country without AWD with snows, but your options are severely limited. Pre plowed/salted roads in hilly upstate are much more treacherous and you may be advised to stay home and restrict travel with 2wd. These are the considerations my relatives who live there face; some with AWD, some without. AWD/4wd with good winter tires affords more freedom of choice than 2wd.
I vote Forester/CRV/RAV in AWD. Consider added effective ground clearance that some makes have over the Subaru (poor approach angle) if deeper snow is an important consideration and equip as VDCdriver advises.
BTW, global warming hype doesn’t imply everyone will get warmer. Higher snow levels in some areas may actually result from this phenom with a change in weather patterns. So in agreement, it should not be a consideration.
Part time 4wd is better in really deep snow (worse on ice), but new RAVs and maybe ( Pilot for sure) CRVs (?) have locking feature to give you this type of performance.

Let’s start with the question.

Let’s make it two questions.

Question A What do I need to get down the road in the snow and ice?

Question B What do I need to stay on the road and not slide into the ditch.

First question, 4WD or AWD will make a big difference in getting down the road.

Second question, 4WD or AWD will not help you stay on the road or prevent you from sliding into the car in front of you. For that you need FOUR (4) winter tyres and some common sense. The common sense is there to tell you that there are times it is better to stay home.

Note 4WD and AWD are good for helping you get out of the ditch if you fail to use common sense, assuming you are not injured or the car is not damaged too much.

I’ve owned AWD, 4WD, FWD, and RWD cars and lived all my life in “snow country”. I feel 4 winter tires (or snow tires as they used to be called) is more important to safe travel in winter than AWD or 4WD. There are advantages to AWD and 4WD but most drivers of these vehicle do not mount winter tires and then drive with a false sense of confidence. This confidence leads them to go too fast and exceed the traction limits of their tires and they slide off the road.

A FWD car will not be better than AWD in snow. A FWD car should be fine however. If you live on a steep hill or have a very steep driveway, in such cases then AWD would be best.

You are used to an AWD Subaru. If you drive a FWD car in winter you are going to notice a lot more front wheel spin when starting out in snow. Unless you plan on pulling out quickly in front of a fast moving 18 wheeler the difference should be something you can live with. You have to adjust your driving habits. If you like taking off with no wheel spin in snow then stick with AWD.

When stopping and turning the drive system has minimal affects compared to the traction provided by the tires. That’s why the best winter tires you can get make a world of difference. I’ve been very pleased with Nokian, but any winter tire is way better than any all season tire in dealing with challenging winter conditions.

That’s why the best winter tires you can get make a world of difference.

I could not agree more…and AWD needs them more than 2wd because of the excessive speeds that many find themselves going because of the false sense of acceleration security.

But consider; when you drive off the lot with a new set of snows you get the best traction you can that deteriorates with use. As snows wear, you reach a point where the traction may not be any better than a good set of all weather tires. At that point, as AWD is always superior to 2wd in all slippery situations, with those worn tires, the difference becomes even greater over time. This advantage continues through the life of the tire provided the car is driven prudently, and expectations are adjusted to the traction loss of the tires. BTW, rwd prepared properly in a like vehicle can be superior to fwd.

But OP will make the right choice…you’ve already owned an awd in snow ctry. Just be sure you test drive any fwd car in snow BEFORE you buy to be sure you can still “live” with the loss of performance in your area. That increased front wheel spin is telling you, the car is less capable than awd.

If I lived where you live and had to go out in all kinds of winter weather, I would have a Subaru AWD WITH the best winter tires, for my own peace of mind. Most of us don’t need that security, but in your position I think you should. You can buy a basic Subaru Impreza with Michelin X-ICE tires, for instance, without breaking the bank and have one of the world’s most capable bad weather cars.

I agree with most all the others. In your situation I would get an AWD (likely Subaru) and a good set of winter tires on extra rims. I drove a FWD (GTI) in Anchorage for 12 years, but I had bought it in Dallas. Today, if I were buying a new car in Anchorage (or, worse, upstate NY!).