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Buying new car that will go uphill in snow

My wife’s 2002 Saturn Vue (2 wheel drive, 2.2 L engine, I think) had “catastrophic engine failure”, and we are preparing for the worst. It’s at the dealer waiting to be looked at. It’s got 160,000 miles, and it always had trouble making it up the incline on our driveway when there was as little as 2-3 inches of snow. The incline is about 30 degrees for 15 feet, then lessens, becoming flat at about 30 feet or so. (I have a 1998 Toyota 4Runner, and even in 2 wheel drive it usually makes it up, although sometimes I put it into 4 wheel drive). She has always liked the Toyota Avalon (she wants to switch to a sedan with a comfortable ride), but it only comes in 2 wheel drive. I wonder if the Avalon would make it up the incline in snow, or if I should look for an AWD sedan with a comfortable ride (I think that takes us to Lexus IS series, as the ES does not come in AWD). (She also likes the Lexus.) Put another way, what factors affect traction under these conditions, 2 wheel vs. AWD or 4WD, horsepower of engine, what? Thanks.

Our driveway is similar. My guess is that any front-wheel-drive car with good winter tires will be okay here. The right tires make a big difference. Also make sure your wife knows how to turn off the traction control system, if any, as these often kill your momentum.

You might want to keep some traction grit in the garage to use if you get a really icy day.

The most important thing will probably be the tires. The second most important thing is probably the tires. Then about 3rd on this list is the driver. And oh, and did I mention the tires?

As lion9car noted, good winter tires.

You could go for A- or 4-WD but that’s still no substitute. I tend to shy away from such vehicles - that many more things that can create expensive problems.

Things that help fwd do hills.
Winter tires, a newer car with traction control turned ON, backing up the incline puts the drive wheels down hill where they should be. Awd is the absolute best solution, but that may be overkill for your needs. You need to try out these options in the winter on a friends car equipped as suggested, and not just take our word.

But, If your 4runner makes it up the hill in 2wd, my guess is that backing up your fwd car will do the same if the tires are good.

Tires. Then you could change tires. It is all about traction when a little water mixes with snow. It is almost like ice and wet. All the drivetrain options are pointless on a slippery slope with bad tires.

Any FWD car with good winter tires should get the job done…

Winter tires will help, but AWD will help more, AWD with winter tires might not even notice the sharp incline. Subaru comes to mind for great AWD systems.

In snow traction, more horse power can be bad for the car.

If you’re considering the Lexus IS series with AWD you’re considering an excellent choice. Put some good winter tires on that and it’ll take you up the hill without any problem at all. Anything the Ion van make it up the Lexus AWD will conquer easily. And since the wife seems oriented toward the Lexus, she’ll be happy too!

I see differing opinions on traction control, so I’ll see if I can stir the hornet’s nest a little more. I’ve only driven one vehicle with traction control, our Odyssey, and the first thing I do in the snow is turn it OFF. All it does is, as lion9car says, kill momentum. I have Cooper Weather-Master tires on it, and it does very well in the snow. Don’t take this as a knock on T/C systems, though. Other T/C systems may be better than my Odyssey’s. Good tires and good drivers make the big difference.

Just to respond to your experience with traction control…I live on a mountain road, hilly, snow and ice covered 5 months out of the year and traction control on the two vehicles we have is the greatest since sliced bread. You are right, there are times when it can get in the way in deep wet snow and deep mud when wheel spinning to clear treads is necessary.

So, in those conditions, you may need to turn it off. Otherwise, I have been able to negotiate my road leaving truck in 2wd, so well on packed snow, it felt like 4wd. But…it can raise heck with the rear brakes and wear pads prematurely. It is not an excuse to drive like a madman and controls the traction you have (hence the name traction control) but does not invent something that doesn’t exist. So it definitly shines with good winter tires in snow which is the real traction aid. Together, they are outstanding and eliminate the need for awd for many casual or occasional bad weather drivers.

So, good drivers, good tires and electronic traction aids all serve you well…no stinging here.

LOL…I’ll admit, I only have experience with T/C in this one vehicle, and it is a 2001 model. They may have improved since then, and other manufacturers may have better systems than Honda did. The T/C system in my Odyssey seems to be too intrusive. On an uphill, it kicks in and starts pulsing the brakes and you can’t even get the dang thing moving.

In Pittsburgh, we don’t get deep snow very often. This past winter was nearly nonexistent, but boy oh boy did it hit the fan in February 2010…

Doubleclutch…my daughter had an early Honda with traction control. My take was that it was OK just to get you moving but she never had anything but all season tires and any thing more at all left it wanting. I wasn’t impressed with it either. You are right. She generally turned it off once the car was moving. Maybe they have improved ?

The newer ones stay engaged but just eliminate the throttle cut of when you shut them off. My 4runner with the traction control off will still spin all 4 wheels. With atrac, the off road version, still uses the brakes but shuts off throttle cut off, nearly like two locking differentials. The only time it wouldn’t move was trying to pull neighbors three quarter ton plow truck out of the ditch…it dug 4 ruts in the ice with the studded tires. I was impressed…so newer versions are really good.

Next winter I should try a newer car with traction control. I don’t really have much opportunity to try out the latest/greatest stuff like I did when I was single and bored…I was never a fan of small 4-cylinder cars with automatics. Every one I ever drove was a dog. A couple months ago the Odyssey was in for repairs and my wife had a rental. It was a 2011 Kia Forte with a 2 liter engine and a 6-speed automatic. It ran really well! It had a lot of get up and go, and it ran about 1,900 RPM going 65 MPH on the highway. I said to my wife, “Holy crap, automatics have come a long way!”. If I hadn’t ridden in it and driven it, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Cant you get a Nissan Cube with a rudimentary AWD system?-Kevin( P.S 30 degrees is a mighty steep grade)

Here are some other points in addition to the fine ones already mentioned.
First, 30 actual degrees is steep – I’d consider the front and rear overhang, clearance, and approach angles on any intended car to make sure it can make the driveway without hitting the front end or getting high-centered. Second, chains, cables, or something similar (and some practice putting them on) may help for really bad weather days. Third, on those days, observe the braking traction when going downhill. May be good to put some sand on the area before heading down.

“Cant you get a Nissan Cube with a rudimentary AWD system?”

That little box on wheels only comes with FWD.

IMO, traction control, overall performance, automatic transmission, variable valve timing, fuel injection, etc. and the computer, all go hand in hand. As each new generation of cars come out, the manul transmission AND the throttle and brake system become less in control of the driver as now, we just indicate our intent to each system and allow the computer to actually do the implementation.

So far, so good as far as economy, safety and performance including traction control…but, so far, so boring as far as driving experience is concerned. When you can get a an awd car to behave like two locked diffs and a two wheel drive car give you similar drive train traction as old time part time 4wd, it really changes the game plan. I still think modern traction control can work for OP.