Best combo of fuel economy and winter weather capability

Hello, I’ve got a question about the best vehicle to purchase that can handle winter weather and get good gas mileage. I will soon be moving to Colorado from Texas, and my job there will include 4 days a week of driving about 200 miles per day. Fuel economy is particularly important with that much driving, and before this move, I had always said that my next car was going to be a hybrid such as a Prius, but my brother in Colorado says that will never get anywhere in the snow. I currently have a 2000 Acura 3.2 TL. I have very little experience driving in snow and ice. I didn’t especially want to buy a new vehicle, because my Acura is paid off, but it’s only getting 22 mpg now and takes premium gas, so driving it 200 miles per day will be very expensive, and I don’t want to be stuck in my driveway in the winter! What would you suggest for me?

The smallest vehicle you can manage with and a good set of snow tires for the winter. When winter comes spend a little time in an empty parking lot and practice. Many people think they need a tank, but it is only a feeble attempt at making up for lack of experience.

The last time I was in Colorado, it seemed like every other vehicle was a Subaru. Let’s face it, the Subaru AWD system has a great reputation for reliability. Plus the 4 cylinder boxer engine gets great gas mileage with decent oomph. I think the Subaru Outback is rated at 26 mpg Hwy with the automatic transmission. The Forester is more of a SUV type and is also rated at 26 mpg highway. The new 2009 Forester is a very nice looking vehicle.

Essentially, there is a reason why so many people out there own Subaru. The AWD can handle the snow well, it’s reliable and it’s good gas mileage. They are not flashy vehicles, but they are reliable.

Other choices to look at: Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, several GM products out there, Hyundai, etc. They all make a vehicle that has ok mileage and optional 4wd or AWD systems. Heck, you can even get the Ford Taurus with the optional AWD. If you want more expensive, check out BMW, Mercedes, and Audi. Audi makes some sweet looking AWD cars. Not cheap, but very nice looking.

Many people think they need a tank, but it is only a feeble attempt at making up for lack of experience.

EXCELLENT response. So true. Many many people buy a 4wd vehicle with no need for one…AND they have no idea how to drive it. Guy I work with wife has one. Got stuck last winter and had to be towed. Reason she got stuck was because she didn’t know how to shift into 4wd…so basically she was driving in rwd ALL THE TIME. But she just HAD TO HAVE that 4wd SUV.

Aside from a Subaru, which seems to be an obvious choice, you should also look into newer Suzuki models, as a good number of them have AWD, as well as efficient 4 cylinder engines. They are a good deal cheaper than any comparable Subaru.

Thanks, I have been looking at the Subarus, especially the Outback and Forester, and I do like them a lot. 26 mpg is better than average, but I was of course hoping that there was something out there that was even better that I just hadn’t heard of. Wishful thinking, I know.

As for the first comments about not needing a tank, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never owned an SUV and didn’t have an urge to, but so many people are of the opinion that you can’t get by without one in the winter snow. Having never lived there, I wasn’t sure. But the last thing I want to be is a woman like your coworker’s wife, getting stuck because she just didn’t know what she was doing, regardless of the car she drove. I do not want to seem like a typical Texan, showing up with a huge, unnecessary hunk of metal, I just want to find out if my current car will serve me okay, or if something else would be better. And I really don’t want to be stranded by the side of the road in the midst of a 100 mile drive.

In the winter, I’m going to have to be leaving for work early in the mornings (<6 am), probably before the roads are cleared, and I’ll have to drive out of a somewhat steep driveway. I wondered if my Acura sedan would be able to to do all of that if I put on snowtires. I’ve read many posts about the importance of getting dedicated snowtires, and that even a smaller car w/snowtires will be able to outperform an SUV w/all season tires. But, what happens if you’re driving a long way in snowtires on pavement w/out any snow? I’ll be driving south into New Mexico, where there might not be any snow at all, even though I had to get out of lots of snow at home. If I drive on the snowless pavement with snowtires, will they be damaged and will my mpg be significantly reduced?

If you want good fuel economy, good traction and low cost, Suzuki makes a neat AWD vehicle, called the SX4 Hatchback. It has on-demand AWD, only used when you want it, and good ground clearance. Prices start at about $17,000.

The Subaru Forester, Honda CRV and Toyota RAV 4 are also good all-weather machines, but cost more.

You should have no problem driving on cleared roads. Snow tires are basically aggressive tread tires where the rubber is formulated to stay softer in cold conditions that would make regular tires harder.

I have run on them through the summer as well when I hit a financially rough spot and did not want to charge new tires. I have a small, rear wheal drive pickup, which is possible one of the worst things to drive in snowy/icy conditions. With regular, all-season tires it is like and ice-skate on the road, but with a good set of snow tires I do not have any problems.

Snow tires and experience is the best thing. I have family in the Denver area (outskirts, where the plows take some time to get there) and they all drive 2wd sedans, they have all of there life and have not had any problems with the snow.

Keep your Acura for now and see how you do in the winter. There is no need to overcompensate for something that you MIGHT experience in the future.

It all depends where you are going to live in Colorado with regards to needing AWD or not and if you absolutely need travel 200 miles in a raging winter event.

I know many people who have “downgraded” to a Honda Civic (newest generation) and are quite happy for the fuel economy. Install four quality winter tires and you will have no issue in the snow as they plow in CO.

I agree, I live near denver and can use a RWD car about 95% of the time without any problems. I do have a 4WD beater for skiing and snow days, but it’s probably not really necessary (my wife likes to have a 4WD when I’m out of town). Just about any FWD/AWD sedan is more than adequate for most days. If you are living in the mountains you might want to buy something more serious.

Does that 200 miles end up in town or out of town? In town they have lots of snow plows and it is not so bad. Out of town and off the main highway is a totally different animal.

As noted first importance is experience and second is real winter tyres (not all season) Good ground clearance is also important in many areas.

4WD is great to get you out of the ditch you slid into, but it will NOT help keep you out of the ditch in the first place.

“4WD is great to get you out of the ditch you slid into, but it will NOT help keep you out of the ditch in the first place.”

However, it will get you through a foot of new snow if you have to go someplace before the get around to plowing your street in the morning.

I completely agree with jsutter, but I wanted to add a couple things:

  1. Running snow tires on dry pavement decreases their tread life, but they won’t be damaged. They do have a higher rolling resistance so your fuel economy may decline, but it shouldn’t be significant. Certainly not worth using all-seasons instead. I’d pass on studded snow tires because of the large amount of highway driving you’ll be doing - those roads will be relatively clear.

  2. If you don’t like the way your Acura handles after a year, consider the Toyota Matrix. It gets 25/31 or 20/26 with AWD, so it might be a good option for you. I’m also a fan of the Subaru Impreza, which gets 20/27 and of course has AWD too if you decide it’s something you want.

4WD is great to get you out of the ditch you slid into, but it will NOT help keep you out of the ditch in the first place.

I’m sorry Joesph…but it does. 4wd is EXCELLENT at keeping your vehicle ON the road. I can only assume you’ve never driven a 4wd system before. It will HELP getting you out of a ditch…But it really shines in giving you a LOT MORE CONTROL of your vehicle in adverse conditions (AKA - SNOW). I can take a corner when in 4wd in the middle of a snow storm at 20 that without 4wd I’ll be skidding through into a ditch. It also prevents you from spinning the tires thus loosing traction and causing you to loose control. I’ve been driving 4wd vehicles for 30+ years in some of the snowiest places in the US and Canada. I’ve gone places with 4wd that you wouldn’t dare go without. If you do…you’ll need me in my 4wd truck to tow you out of the ditch.

Priuses are very common up here in the Northeast, and I’ve never known anyone to have a problem. On the other hand, when driving down the highway in a storm I see lots of SUVs in the ditches…and I’m not exaggerating.

The keys to winter driving are simple:

  1. make sure you have good tires, preferably winter treads, with lots of tread on them. The more tread the better.

  2. prep the car with rubber booted winter wipers and winter window wash. Summer mix will freeze in the lines. And keep it well maintained.

  3. Leave lots of space between you and everybody else. Lots and lots of space.

  4. ANTICIPATE well ahead of your position and alsway assume the worst will happen. Assume that car coming down the on ramp into your lane will slide.

  5. Do everything SLOWLY. Turning, braking, accelerating. EVERYTHING.

  6. relax.

  7. avoid hills and known problem areas if possible.

99% of good winter driving is technique.

Also, a Prius doesn’t make for a highway car either. If you’re looking for the best highway mileage, a diesel will do better. The Beetle TDI gets roughly 40/50~60 city/highway according to one of our regular posters here, so if you can hold on for another year or two till the new ones come out, you should be alright. Also, with that many miles a day, I’d also look into seating comfort as well. Nothing worse than being cramped in your car with leg pain with more than half way to go.

The best solution for keeping control is traction/stability control not 4WD.  4WD in no way gives less control on the road but it also does not add much if any.  There are many factors but good winter tyres would be #1 with driver ability a very close #2.  The problem I see with 4WD is that it gives too much of a feeling of ability and inexperienced drivers then to feel that the car can do far more than it (and they) can really do and that gets them into trouble.

I think your mistaken. Traction control does little except get you moving as it becomes unless past 15-25MPH on most vehicles. Some vehicles have a disable switch as it is counter productive on certain slippery surfaces dependent on application.

The system that keeps control is called stability control. It will help prevent a vehicle from skidding by braking an individual wheel to pivot the car back into the proper turn based on motion sensors and steering angle. Irregardless of AWD or not this system is standard across both and nearly always on SUV’s to help prevent roll overs.

Thanks for all of the advise everyone. I think we’ll sell my husband’s 2 WD pick up truck and look into buying either a Subaru Forester or Outback or the Suzuki SX4 Crossover. In addition to that, we’ll keep the Acura TL and get it a set of snow tires, and see how that works the first year. I like much of what I’ve seen about the SX4, but I’ve heard questionable things about Suzuki reliability. Has anyone had any experience with the SX4 Crossover?

Historically, Suzuki reliability is not the best, but not the worst either. Subaru reliability is rated in the top three, just after Honda and Toyota, while Suzuki is much further down the list. However, you could also do much worse than Suzuki, as owners of Land Rovers and Jaguars have learned to their dismay.