Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Economical Snow Car

I will be moving to Colorado this summer. I will be living a little west of Denver and want an economical car, yet a car that is safe and practical when it snows. I also enjoy skiing so I plan to drive to the different ski areas when I can. What kind of car do you recommend? Thanks.

Your best bet would be a Subaru Impreza. While it is not as economical as other small cars, it does come with the excellent Subaru AWD system. All you have to do is to add a set of 4 winter tires, and you will be able to travel virtually any road in safety before the snow plows get to it.

RAV4 with AWD …Vermont and Maine winters never a problem…

If buying new, the least expensive AWD car is probably the Suzuki SX4. You might also consider an AWD Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe. Subaru Impreza, safe bet. In the interest of economics I would avoid an SUV.

Just about any “normal” car is fine in the denver area 99% of the time. I have an old beater jeep for snow and ski trips. If you can put up with a FWD/AWD car as your main transportation, that’s probably a good compromise.

Thank you, Craig. What do you mean "put up with a FWD/AWD . . . ? Are there some drawbacks with FWD/AWD vehicles?


I just prefer the “feel” of RWD cars in dry conditions. I really dislike driving FWD/AWD cars, except in the snow.

If you don’t need to go into the mountains after a snow before they get the roads clear, most any car with four real winter tyres will be fine. Note: Snow tyres are not winter tyres. Winter tyres are new technology and they are much better in both snow and ice. That said I would recommend AWD or 4WD if you must go up in the mountains before they have had a chance to really clear the snow or you expect to be crossing the mountains during heavy snow. I would also recommend winter tyres on AWD or 4WD cars as well. The AWD and 4WD will help get you out of the ditch after you slide in, but will not help you stay out of the ditch. Winter tyres help you at both ends.

If you don’t need to go into the mountains after a snow before they get the roads clear, most any car with four real winter tyres will be fine.

If you are willing to wait for the snow plows, even all season tires are usually OK. However, this pretty much defeats the purpose of calling in sick and heading for the mountains at 6AM after it’s been snowing all night. If you need to be the first one on the ski lift on powder days, buy a real (pre-dented) 4WD with real nasty M&S tires and only use it on snow days (that’s what I do, I have a real beater jeep that I’m not afraid of bending up a little more if it ends up in a ditch).

Also, in mountainous regions there are at times chain restrictions that you may avoid having an AWD vehicle. Meaning you won’t have to get out and put the chains on which can be a pain.

AWD vehicles usually get a few less mpg

I think you will find that a lot of the “locals” there will be driving around in Subarus, and for a good reason. These cars were made for that kind of country. Having a set of winter studless tires on rims is a good idea also, as VDCdriver mentioned. Any Subaru model you choose will be safe to drive and get you through just about any snow conditions. I drive the Outback model myself and have never looked back at another car, though there are other good choices also.

It depends which locals you are talking about, in denver people drive the usual assortment of SUVs, econo-boxes, etc. (just like everyplace else that gets snow). There are a fair amount of subarus, but there are more honda, toyota, etc. In the mountains, many of the locals drive big, old, ugly trucks.

YOu can get a used Matrix or Vibe with AWD. Pontiac will return AWD to the line-up for 2009; Toyota will have AWD on the Matrix, too.

I would simply suggest buying four quality winter tires (look at for a FWD. An AWD is better but you give up MPG all the time in all them. I have an affinity for Subaru and the redesigned 2008 Impreza gets tops in its class.

I find it interesting that the Vibe/Matrix for 2009 in AWD gets less MPG than the Impreza by 1 mpg. People always balk and complain how inefficient Subaru’s are but put a similar displacement motor and Toyota does not better with AWD.

Thanks. I think there is a fairly strong opinion that a FWD with winter tires might do the trick and keep my mpg at a good rate. If I go that route, should the winter tires be taken off after the snow season?

I would buy an extra set a wheels and take off the winter tires during warm weather. Winter tires will wear out quickly in the summer, if you use them year-around they will probably need to be replaced frequently.

Also dedicated winter tires are very poor in the warmer months. Besides wearing quickly they offer poorer traction as the rubber compound is optimized for temps below 40F and the colder it gets the better they grip.

For optimal safety try finding a FWD with stability control (not just traction). It is the sole feature that can save you on a really slippery roads and make winter driving more pleasant.

If I was in your position I would consider the Suzuki SX4.