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Does weight and size trump four-wheel drive?

When faced with driving in sloppy winter weather, and having a choice between a heavy, front-wheel drive car (a Buick Le Sabre, for example), and a four-wheel drive lighter smaller car (a Subaru Outback, for example), which is the better choice?

I think that the weight and size offer more stability and traction, and a greater margin of safety in an accident, and so that’s what I’d choose. Sound wisdom, or not?

Assuming equal tires, I’d go with the Subaru. FWD’s OK, but good AWD is better.

Not. Weight adds inertia. Once you get that moving, it is harder to stop and turn. Plus, the chances one of 4 tires have grip are better than one of 2.

Sloppy winter weather… Generally, most are served well by “good modern tread designed” winter tires and driving experience regardless of the car.

In severe conditions, for my money, AWD on ice and hard packed snow, 4 wd in deep snow, always given appropriate tires. If you have a vehicle that offers all…2wd, awd, and 4 wd, you have it covered. (many modern SUVs do)

Heavey front drive cars are worse on hills in slippery conditions and usually come with less ground clearance.


It’s point loading for snow traction.

A heavy car with a wide tread may not be as functional in snow as a lighter car with a narrow winter tire with a smaller footprint.

I also agree that Subaru is for the money…the very best winter car you can buy. It’s balanced AWD system aids traction and steering control and handling in ALL conditions. A no brainer car IMO.

If you had to ask the question…you obviously have not lived with an AWD car for a snowy winter with good tires.

Any 4wd imho would be better than any 2wd. That being stated I think people get lulled into a sense that the roads are not so bad when they have 4wd, and forget that steering and stopping are probably more important than getting out of the gate.

So right…around here, the first snow storm, the first vehicles off the road are 4wd trucks…

Sound Wisdom. I Agree With You. We Have Never Needed Four-Wheel Drive.

My wife and I each commute 70 to 100 miles to work and back each day. We have run large, front-wheel drive Detroit Iron for over 25 years. It snows over 200 inches here during our 6 months of winter. Heavy, long wheel-based vehicles cut through slushy and snowy roads so much better than light, little, short wheel-based cars with 4 wheel-drive. We have never been off the road, never been stuck or late for work, and have never felt even a tiny need for four-wheel drive. There have been unbelievable snow and ice storms, usually several times per year.

As I have said before, poor visibility, usually blowing snow, fog, or snow fog, is by far the biggest hazard in poor weather here and I don’t care how many wheels are driving, you still can’t see! That’s when all that iron feels good.

We have a police / fire scanner that runs all the time in our house. Yes, it is by far the four-wheel drive vehicles that are off the road the most in our area, for whatever reason. Also, many have high centers of gravity and often flip or roll over. I would not let anyone in my family own one.

Detroit Iron. That’s what it’s all about!
America, What A Country!

NOTHING beats experience and preparedness…you’re testimony to that.

I’d have to say the Crown Vic police cruisers I drove for years would run a close second in traction and cutting through snow and slush, and too, never got stuck. We had lots of gear weight in the trunk and winter snows.

Still, I’m a huge fan of Subarus with their low center of gravity…as you say, a big advantage.

A 1974 Suburban with Firestone Town & Country snow tires was great. My 4WD trucks all handled snow well. I saw a Prizm that attacked a Dodge truck (or did it try to dodge an attack truck?) with no success at all. The Prizm looked like a Honda Accordion. Or was it a Buick Concertina?

There are four factors in winter driving. Getting through the snow and ice, staying on the road, getting back on the road if you slip off and surviving an accident.

AWD or FWD will help you to get through the snow and help you get back on the road if you slip off. It will not help you say on the road.

Survival is difficult to judge as a small car may well provide better protection than a large heavy car under this conditions. If you are slid into another car, the bigger car tends to win.

Good winter tyres are critical. All weather tyres are really three season tyres. The winter tyres may look a lot line all weather, but they perform much better on snow and ice!

"AWD or FWD will help you to get through the snow and help you get back on the road if you slip off. It will not help you say on the road. "

I’ve seen times when 4 wd makes it harder to stay on the road. There is a tendency to drive too fast which causes most of the problem…but, for a car, awd should not be confused with the permanent lock of 4 wd. When I’m plowing, I take it out of 4 wd when not working for this (and other) reasons.

Some modern systems esp. Subaru, can divert as much as 90% of toque to the rear wheels, which enhances steering control by removing the driving force from steering wheels and shifting it to the rear. This happens when trying to go up hill in slippery conditions where FWD may loose momentum. Most who live with awd in snow country for a year…prefer it. For most drivers that don’t face extreme conditions, any modern car with good tires and driving experience(most important) is good enough.

I’ll take a lighter 4WD car over a heavier front-wheel drive car any day of the week. With that said my full-sized Bronco has the best of both worlds. Easily the best vehicle I’ve ever driven in the snow.

What do you want to do, stay on the road or get unstuck after you slide off the road into a ditch or crash into a guard rail?

If your goal is to stay on the road, I would get a front wheel drive vehicle with ABS, stability management, traction control, and good winter tires.

If your goal is to get back onto the road after your car slides into a ditch or crashes into a guard rail, and you don’t want to have to call a tow truck, get AWD.

To paraphrase a very smart guy (don’t remember who said it on this site), AWD won’t keep you out of the ditch, but it will help you escape the ditch after your car comes sliding or rolling to a stop, if it happens to stop rolling in an upright position.

The ultimate goal in my opinion is to stay on the road, I posted previously, and there is no comparison in my mind to 4wd, no need for winter tires, great control and no worries, the gm approach I have does not engage 4wd unless needed, like starting off from a dead stop in snow and ice, and as stated previously it can lull users into a false sense of road condition but after 40 + years in a variety of vehicles It puts to shame any 2wd snow tire solution.

“The ultimate goal in my opinion is to stay on the road, I posted previously, and there is no comparison in my mind to 4wd,”

In general, people support what they already have , know and feel safe with…you and I have AWD and 4 wd…others that have 2 wd prefer it. I live in a snowy area…

An unbiased test on traction and control, really doesn’t matter to people with 2wd…publications like CU are used only when we agree with it…This debate will be repeated every winter and the same old same olds have the same old line, myself included.


CU…Our advice. Consider an all-wheel-drive vehicle if you live in a snowy area or want added peace of mind. For maximum traction, equip it with winter tires. In less-snowy areas, front-wheel drive and a set of winter tires should suffice. Mount winter tires on all four wheels for balanced handling. Remove them after winter, since these tires wear quickly on dry roads (plan on about three winters of use). And be sure to opt for ABS on any vehicle.

Yes waterboy, I read your post already. We are just going to have to agree to disagree, especially since I believe that even with AWD you should get winter tires for winter driving conditions.

I know where you stand and you know where I stand. Let’s not argue about opinions.

I think weight distribution probably has more to do with traction in a 2 wheel drive vehicle than does the weight. My first car was a 1947 Pontiac 6. Most of the Pontiacs had an 8 cylinder engine, but the Pontiac 6 engine was located back against the firewall. This shifted more weight to the back and I could get traction when many newer cars at the time couldn’t move. I had a Corvair (rear wheel drive) that had great traction. I had a 1955 Pontiac with manual transmission and the traction was terrible on ice and snow. I had a 1954 Buick with a mandual transmisson and the traction was o.k. However the torque tube drive added a lot of unsprung weight to the rear end and the car was very prone to having the rear end slide out.