Which Car Is Better In Snow?

We have a 2008 Avalon FWD, with good snow tires; and a 2011 Suburu Outback AWD with the all weather tires that came with the car. Spouse and I are disagreeing over which drives better in snow - he says they are “about even” because of snow tires on Avalon, I claim Suburu is best due to AWD, even w/out snow tires. We drive mainly on highway and some secondary roads (a few of which do not get plowed right away), but do not do much driving in really remote, rural areas. Would love an opinion on whether one car is better/safer than the other. Please respond soon, we live in southern Maine and are getting pounded with snow here right now! Thanks.

First, I’m assuming both have good tread on the tires.

The Avalon will stop and turn better. The Subaru will go better (probably). The folks here will probably give the edge to the Avalon because stopping and turning is normally more important, but the amount of driving on unplowed secondary roads could tilt the balance, since getting stuck on those isn’t safe either.

As usual, vital details are missing.
The Avalon has “good snow tires”?
Hopefully the OP meant “Winter Tires”, rather than the old technology snow tires.

What brand and model of tires (winter or snow) are on the Avalon, and are there 2 of them or did the OP mount 4 of them, as one is supposed to do?

The “all-weather” tires (actually, the term is “all-season” tires, and the accuracy of that term is itself debateable) that come on the 2011 Outback are Conti ProContacts, which are more or less middle of the pack in the all-season tire category when it comes to winter traction. They aren’t the best in that group, but they also aren’t the worst. However, the best all-season tire will pale by comparison with a good-quality winter tire on slippery winter surfaces.

With the paucity of information that was provided so far, I would give the nod to the Avalon with winter tires, as long as there are actually 4 winter tires on it. However, I would really like to know which winter tires are mounted on the Avalon, as well as the number of them.

The car in which the driver has more snow driving experience will be “better” in snow.

If the Avalon has four winter tires on it, I’d rather drive it in snow, and I say that as the owner of an AWD Subaru.

When it comes to snow, it’s all about the tires, not the drive train configuration.

Agree 100% with mcparadise. My thoughts exactly.

Yes, 4 winter tires are on Avalon - General Altimax Artic tires. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

Do your own testing…find a large parking lot and drive both cars through a series of turns etc. …you decide which handles better.

According to testing mags, an awd car with all season tires will have better acceleration traction than a fwd with snow tires. That means if you have to go in a storm in an emergency, the Subaru may be better. But it’s a qualified better as everyone has stated, turning and stopping when you travel or arrive at your destination is important. You will be less safe with that higher capability even if the car will accelerate through snow easier. Just like in cornering at higher speeds in a Vette over a sedan but with “poorer” tires that may fail you traction wise unexpectedly (perhaps in rain), you need better traction tires for the more capable car.

For future consideration, my advice would be; if you want the best combination and only want one set of snow tires. Put them on the Outback and use it as your go anywhere, anytime vehicle and use the Avalon with all seasons in light snow or bare road conditions. With traction control, it’s still pretty formidable 95% of the time with quality, all seasons with good tread. Your Subaru will then be an absolute beast.

Now that you have clarified matters, I would definitely go with the Avalon.
However, you could get the best of both worlds, and equip your Outback with 4 winter tires, as I do.

Every winter, I safely motor past the many, many Blazers, Explorers, and Jeeps that are lying on their roofs in local ditches. Clearly, these folks made the common mistake of thinking that their AWD vehicle allows them to defy the laws of physics.

Winter tires will give you an incredible traction advantage for getting going, cornering safely, and for stopping, but you still have to drive slowly and sanely.

I also agree that the Avalon with the Snow Tires are better than the Outback with stock all season tires. My Altima came with the Continentals, and they simply suck in the snow. Your AWD is making all the difference with those tires.

If both cars had the same exact snow tires, then i would say the AWD was better, by a wide margin. But it doesn’t.

What it does have is someone behind the wheel with more confidence in the mystical AWD capabilities of their Subaru than the car actually possesses. This overconfidence is a very dangerous situation, and one that I have to deal with every day here on the roads of Colorado in the winter.


I do not know how 4wd affects driving in the snow. Mine has the auto that kicks in when needed. It is not taking off from a dead stop that is most important in the snow, it is the stopping, turning or driving too fast for conditions and ending up in a ditch as my guess is a majority of accidents.

So in summary…going up hill, the Subaru, going down hill (and everywhere else ?), the Avalon.

As they are set up now, the Avalon with the 4 winter tires is my choice. Now if you put winter tires on the Subaru that would top the Avalon.

In my opinion winter tires are more important than AWD. Starting is only part of the story in winter driving. Braking traction is most important and cornering traction is important too. Winter tires maximize both on snow and ice on whatever vehicle they are mounted on.

The OEM tires supplied by Subaru are not even good winter tires.

Good enough is good enough. If the roads are plowed it probably isn’t much of a question, so just drive. What runs into the ditch the most? SUV’s.

Not, that I disagree, but what survey are you quoting? I hear this frequently and was wondering :=)

Most likely the survey of personal experience.
My personal experience survey is in agreement with pleasedodgevan2’s personal experience survey.

It may not be 100% correct with every single vehicle across the country that winds up in a ditch due to recent snow fall and icy road conditions, but its what we see most of the time.


My experience is seeing PU trucks with a part time systems traveling at too high a speed on slippery roads in 4wd. Those things beg to go off the road w/o a center diff and no snow tire and no professional driver has a chance in saving those things.It hasn’t been car based SUVs. But then, where I live “everyone” owns a truck.

Why, the survey I did just yesterday. I drive in Maine and one Winter I thought there must be something wrong with Saabs and Volvos because they were running into ditches and concrete structures all around the area. Saabs and Volvos and SUVs are surrounding me. AAAuuuugggghhhh!!

I find it kind of funny to be asked for an opinion, when a small bit testing couild provide the answer.

Why don’t you swap cars back and forth and find out for yourself? - then tell us!