Which car to take on winter trips?

We have a Honda Pilot AWD small SUV – its a 2004 and has anti-lock brakes, but no electronic stability system.

The other choice is a 2010 Prius that has electronic stability control, anti lock brakes, and traction control.

Both cars have very good winter tires, and we carry chains for both cars.

Question is, which is the SAFEST car to take on long winter road trips. I realize that the AWD Pilot has better traction and is less likely to get stuck, but the question is which car is safer, not which is less likely to get stuck.

Basically, I’ve been driving on snow for 40 years and I fell quite comfortable driving the Prius in snow and like the gas mileage, but my better half thinks the Pilot is safer. My thought is that the electronic stability control on the Prius is a genuine safety improvement for snowy surfaces, and that this makes the Prius the safer choice.

Please help us settle this “argument”.


Winter driving is as safe as you want it to be. My first good car had none of the modern features that your Pilot has and I did not crash it. It did have Positraction which worked so well that I never bothered with snow tires. I live in the upper Midwest US; know a little of what winter is about.

You have the experience and the cars. Would you like opinions from others who don’t own these cars? Stay tuned.

Pilot gets the nod here. Stability control can be more of hassle than it’s worth in the snow, so can traction control for that matter.

If both cars have winter tires, I’d feel safer driving the Pilot. With winter tires and AWD you should have plenty of control IF you don’t get overconfident and drive at a speed too fast for conditions.

The Pilot has more ground clearance and would be better in heavier snow. The Pilot will also handle wet slush ruts better than the Prius. For me it is no contest, the Pilot.

No question…the Pilot…Higher ground clearance…much less likely to get stuck…Stability control is only needed in certain situations…You’ll find that traction in snow is far more important.

The Pilot woul be my choice, but I don’t approach it from a safety point of view. The Pilot is less hassle and the weather we’ve been having lately will favor the Pilot, if only for the ground clearance.

Winter driving safety is what YOU want it to be. Tell your other half that all those safety features do not compensate for lack of winter driving skills. If you don’t have those, don’t make the trip. I would be scared to death to ride with a lifelong Florida resident driving cross country in a Prius in the winter!

My wife is not mechanically inclined and dislikes SUVs in general, but she would pick the SUV for that kind of trip. In the summer, of course the Prius would be the ideal choice.

I would take the Pilot on any cross country trips. The Prius is better suited for lower speeds and in-town driving to achieve the best fuel economy. Long trips are not the Prius’s strong point.

I also recommend the Pilot for winter weather conditions.
Nothing against your snow driving skills, but I would rather have a road filled with Pilots than a road filled with Prius’ in snowy weather conditions, while I’m driving my Altima.

Maybe it should be Prii instead of Prius’…

Take the Honda.


Stability control is significantly safer especially coupled to winter tires.

I have played with it AND on an AWD performance car with winter tires no matter what any body posts or says, it is IMPOSSIBLE to recover by driving skill the way stability control can.

I have yet to see a driver who can control the braking of an individual rear tire and bring a car back on track.

It is quite amazing especially on ice. Hit a patch of ice with the pilot and good luck recovering and furthermore it is more apt to flip than a passenger car.

Stability control is significantly safer especially coupled to winter tires.

Stability control is SAFER…However which do you expect to NEED more…Stability control…or the ability to drive on unplowed roads??? I have stability control on my 4runner…Came in handy ONCE so far (very glad I had it)…However…I needed the ability to drive in snow…a LOT more.

I’d take the Honda Pilot.

50% of winter driving is you and you sound like a very experienced and safe driver. However, 50% of winter driving safety depends on other drivers and that’s totally out of your control. A Honda Pilot will protect you and your wife much better than a little Prius if it gets smacked by an out of control car. Many winter accidents are caused by large AWD/4WD SUVs driven by people that don’t know that the ability to go fast in the snow doesn’t equate to the ability to stop quickly in the snow.

Obviously, the safest bet is to spend a day in a Hotel off the road if conditions are bad. Good luck and drive safely.

I have a Crown Vic with “Electronic Stability Control” and I can get it sideways and out of control (on snow or ice) anytime I want. The only real benefit is that when the system activates, it gets your full attention…You KNOW you are loosing traction…I would drive whichever vehicle is the most comfortable…

How good is the tread on either vehicle’s tires?
The Prius most likely has the factory tires on it, and those are set for low rolling resistance, which sacrifices just about everything for fuel economy, namely traction.

My vote goes to the Pilot as well, mostly because of the cargo room. However, make sure to keep a close watch on the weather wherever you go, THAT will be the biggest help for you and yours.

Thanks very much for all the replies.

I probably did not ask the question properly – maybe is should have been something like:
Is electronic stability control a genuine improvement for snowy road driving?

I’ll pass on this slightly embarrassing incident from last winter.
I’ve been driving routinely in snow for 40 years – I believe I’m good at it – I can certainly control the car in skids. In 40 years I’ve never had a snow accident or ended up in the ditch – i think that very few people who drive routinely no snow for 40 years can say this.

At least I never had an incident until last year driving the Pilot. This was on a very slick two lane road. The Pilot encountered something that made it deviate left just bit, I took my foot of the gas and gently steered to correct. The car passed through straight ahead and went of a bit to the right – I brought it back again gently. This continued for about 3 oscillations with each getting a bit bigger until the car did a full 180 and ended up going backwards into the ditch. It was not really a big event in that it was down to about 5 mph by the time of the ditch. This all happened very slowly – I have plenty of time to get exactly the steering input I wanted to. But, I was absolutely amazed that I just could not steer out of this skid as I had done hundreds of times before. I’m now convinced that if conditions are just right it possible to be paying attention, going a reasonable speed, know how to drive out of skids, and still just get into a situation that you can’t recover from. I would never have believed this before. I know some of you are saying “not me”, but that’s what I said for 40 years – your time will come :slight_smile:

So, the question is would the electronic stability control have helped in this situation.
I’m inclined to think that it might have – as someone said, it can do things that you can’t – like braking a single wheel.
Does anyone have hard evidence one way or the other?

Just as an aside, the Prius is actually a very good road car, its more comfortable, roomier (in the seats), and quieter than the Pilot – all this with half the gas and half the carbon of the Pilot. We are on our 2nd Prius after putting 110K miles on the first.


A Prius as ANY FWD vehicle coupled to decent winter tires is extremely capable for winter driving. I recall being able to get through 6"-9" deep snow in a low Civic with quality Blizzack winters.

The Stability likely would had saved you in this situation especially if you had winters already.

Basically stability control can pivot you out of skid when it sense you are not tracking in the direction of steering angle by simply losing some power and braking a single rear wheel till back on track.

I got to play on a frozen lake with stability control on and off on snow and glare ice. The system is amazing. One of those things you hopefully never need but when you do be glad its there.

Are you sure you don’t just have traction control on the Crown Vic. Many people mistake the two systems and they are vastly different.

You can get a car with stability control out of control but it helps a lot especially when you hit black ice or a patch of something from being sent into the ditch.

Neither Vehicle Would Be A Good Choice For Me When It Comes To Winter Driving. I Too Have Logged Almost 5 Decades With No Winter Mishaps And I Drive Over 25,000 Miles / Year.

However, of the two you must choose from, I’d take the little Prius. You have given reasons why this makes sense.

SUVs generally have higher centers of gravity and shorter wheel bases relative to weight, and track, than most passenger cars. They often can get sashaying all over when one makes an evasive maneuver. That coupled with a false sense of security because you’ve got 4WD or AWD, etcetera, is the reason why there are more of them off the road (many upside down) in my neck of the woods, compared with cars. I see this and monitor a police scanner in my home.

Give me FWD, low center of gravity, decently long wheel-base, decently wide track, and some weight for my winter vehicles. Couple that with “driving for conditions” instead of a false sense of security and that’s how I roll.

Take the Prius. Once bitten, twice shy.


A Prius as ANY FWD vehicle coupled to decent winter tires is extremely capable for winter driving. I recall being able to get through 6"-9" deep snow in a low Civic with quality Blizzack winters.

I guarantee that wasn’t while climbing much of a grade…

Give me FWD, low center of gravity, decently long wheel-base, decently wide track, and some weight for my winter vehicles. Couple that with “driving for conditions” instead of a false sense of security and that’s how I roll.

And I’ll have to come tow you out of a ditch trying to reach my fathers house in upstate NY…I agree for most parts of the country a good FWD system is all you need.