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Winter SUVs...specifically Colorado?

Good afternoon,

We’re in the market for a 2013 SUV/Crossover (small to midsize) with a decent ability to handle winters at varying elevations. Most of the time however, driving will be on surface streets and highways with occasional trips up into the mountains…no off-roading.

We’ve research most all the SUV ratings and are aware of the usual contenders:

SUBARU…JEEPS…AUDI…TOYOTA…HONDA and HYUNDAI

We’re just wondering what those in similar stituations to ours are driving.

We’ve never owned an SUV/Crossover or truck since living in Colorado…just a Toyota Camry, Hyundai Elantra, BMW 300 series and a 1995 Chevy Lumina…but now we’re ready to experience the SUV or Crossovers.

Thanks!

Ron

The best general use vehicles are the Honda CRV and the Toyota RAV 4. Add to that the new Mazda CX-5 and you have a good trio to chose from.

All the above are great in snow and won’t break the bank with their fuel consumption.

I’ve driven AWD and 4wd in the winter…4wd is far better in winter driving…especially on hills or in deep snow.

I’ve lived here in Colorado for 36 years and have been driving RWD cars most of those years. Four winter tires are more important than how many drive wheels you have. AWD & 4WD help going up hill in deep snow, but don’t do much for steering and nothing for stopping.

My RWD BMW 328i with four real winter tires ran circles around my wife’s Audi A4 Quattro with “all” (read three) season tires. If you go skiing every week, then you probably should consider AWD. Here in Denver, we get one big storm every five years where AWD helps. Other than that, get winter tires and save yourself some money; Rent a Jeep for occasional off road driving or ski trips.

Put winter tires on whatever vehicles you currently own for your first winter here. If that does not work, then go AWD car shopping.

rwsmith:
Realize that you’ll get as many differing opinions on this as there are teams in the NCAA tournament.

Every option has its pros and cons. I fall into the category of preferring 2WD with four good winter tires. That strategy served me well for 2 years in Colorado and then back east with 28 years of frequent weekend winter activities in Maine, Vermont, and NH.

My first choice would be a Forester, great room, visibility, safety, good awd. Just get 4 winter tires on rims, you’re all set.

I would buy the one with the best sounding RADIO! That way, when you are stuck in bumper to bumper weekend traffic on I-70 at least you can relax and enjoy the music…

The Subaru, CRV and RaV are all good choices. Just try out all and pick out the one that you like the best. You really can’t go wrong with any of them.
I continually disagree with those who say awd does nothing to help handling in snow over terrible fwd, marginal rwd… Awd with snow tires has no equal in most conditions you will encounter in the winter. Anyone can get by with fwd or rwd with snow tires. But, getting by often means staying home during the worse weather which isn’t an option for many who work for a living. You are then much safer with snow tires on awd cars and SUVs with ground clearance. When I plowed, I got to my contract with my Subaru.

4wd is a poor choice for slippery conditions over modern awd and excels only in deep snow. The part time system locks the front and rear wheels together causing handling problems on ice and hard packet snow. Stay with awd with the best being models with a locking center differential feature.

I continually disagree with those who say awd does nothing to help handling in snow over terrible fwd, marginal rwd... Awd with snow tires has no equal in most conditions you will encounter in the winter. Anyone can get by with fwd or rwd with snow tires. But, getting by often means staying home during the worse weather which isn't an option for many who work for a living.

I agree that awd is a LOT better then fwd or rwd. And awd with snow tires is very good…but I’ll take a true 4wd over awd in snow any day.

I also agree that snow tires do make a difference…but I also don’t think that they are needed for most parts of the country. Here in southern NH we just don’t get enough snow. And the actual 2-3 days a year where the snow is interfering with the commute they handled it fine. Just have to go slower along with everyone else on the road.

Denver doesn’t get as much snow as NH…but there are the mountains. If you live there and go skiing then fwd with all-season tires probably won’t do it. AWD with good snows or 4wd with good snows or all-season tires are the way to go. When we go skiing in NH we don’t drive the Lexus…we take my 4runner.

My wife delivered mail on a rural route in the Colorado mountains at high elevation in an area where snowfall was measured in feet. She used a 2wd/FWD Subaru hatchback equipped with winter tires. She NEVER got stuck or failed to deliver the mail…Even in the back-country, they plow the roads! But today, 4wd/AWD vehicles have become so common and reliable, I mean why not…??

I also live in Colorado.

While others will debate the AWD vs 4WD vs FWD vs RWD, you will notice, that with only 1 exception, MikeinNH, everyone has highly recommended you purchase winter tires for whatever car you choose.

I will also agree with that recommendation.

I have three cars in my family’s fleet to keep prepared for weather, a FWD PT Cruiser, a FWD Fiat 500 Abarth, and a RWD Mazda RX-8. All three cars have winter tires for when the bad weather shows up.

Here in Colorado, the conditions that we have lead to all sorts of adverse road conditions, in just about every location. Combined with the fact that a lot of our roads are not even remotely close to being perfectly smooth, winter tires help you get that extra bit of traction that all season tires will not have, when you run into those situations where black ice magically appears out of no where.

I don’t know where in Colorado you plan on calling home, but one particular road that I always use as an example is Highway 36 between Boulder and Denver. On this road, there are stretches of perfectly new pavement, mixed with badly tire rutted several mile long stretches.

If there’s snow on the sides of the road, like there sometimes is a day or three after the last snow fall, wind can blow that snow onto the road surface. After a little while, passing vehicles turn the snow into a section of skating rink, and you can see the Colorado Avalanche practicing on the side of the road when the surface quality is better than at the Pepsi Center.

I regularly see cars slide off the road on this stretch of highway every single time even a flurry of snow hits the road. And if you try to switch to Highway 93 or Highway 287 to get around 36, you will find out those roads aren’t any better, even though their pavement is much newer (93 was just paved this summer).

So, I can’t highly recommend true winter tires enough, no matter what car you pick up.

Oh, and I highly recommend the Mazda CX-5, too.

BC.

MikeInNH…if your 4runner is newer then 2002, and less then 2010, it has an awd feature. And I bet, you leave it in awd more then 4wd. The awd feature on our 2004 4runner is used exclusively over snow covered roads. 4wd lock is used only as deeper snow demands and at much lower speeds. Running part time 4wd is a low speed traction aid and does little for safe handling. Locking the front and rear differentials is a recipe for higher speed handling problems and a big reason those who drive them over roads often find the ditch is the next need for it’s use. Newer part time 4wd vehicles are much more flexible with traction control which mitigates it’s tendencies.

IMO, fwd and rwd of old were better equip for winter driving then the performance oriented cars of today. Awd became more in need in this time of low profile tires and low slung cars which have compromised all 2wd vehicles for winter travel. For some, it makes awd a necessity when in years past, the narrow tired cars of old, especially VWs and early SAABs did very well in snow. Even my dad’s 1960 Chevy did well in snow with a little extra weight in the back and comparably narrow high profile tires.

While others will debate the AWD vs 4WD vs FWD vs RWD, you will notice, that with only 1 exception, MikeinNH, everyone has highly recommended you purchase winter tires for whatever car you choose.

UM…I suggest you go back and re-read my post…only SLOWER this time so you can understand it.

I specifically said that if the OP is going to be driving in the mountains in CO…then he/she should definitely get winter tires. What I did say was that other parts of the country like here in NH…where we do get more snow then Denver…snow still isn’t that much of a problem. We only average 40" of snow a year. 95% of the time you’re driving on dry roads. I also said that when we drive up to the mountains for skiing…we take my 4runner which has good AT tires and are EXCELLENT in snow. I do NOT recommend all-season tires for this type of driving.

There are also other places in the country like Upstate NY (where I grew up) that you should have snow tires. The little town I grew up in averages OVER 200" of snow a year (mostly lake effect). And since you can’t predict when or where lake effect snow will occur having good snows on a car is imperative.

MikeInNH.....if your 4runner is newer then 2002, and less then 2010, it has an awd feature. And I bet, you leave it in awd more then 4wd.

I rarely get out of rwd. My AT tires are very very good in snow. And yes when I do need more then rwd I do put it into the AWD mode. However there are a few mountain roads I take for skiing that I’ve tackled during whiteout conditions where I then put it in 4WD. AWD wasn’t good enough. AWD is fine for most of the time. I’ve ALWAYS agreed with that. But I’ll take you to a few places here in the North East that I’ll bet with the BEST AWD system and the BEST tires you can get…you’ll NEVER make it. 4wd with good tires can make though. And in those conditions you’re NOT going fast. Nor should you. In fact I’ll advocate that you should be driving well below the speed limit in a snow storm…I don’t care what type of vehicle you have or how good of a driver you THINK you are.

I have a mile and a half drive on the side of a mountain I take every day in the winter almost exclusively in part time 4wd. But that’s less then 20 mph. I think we agree…lthe worst conditions do require part time 4 wd. You and I are spoil by the cars we drive. We get to choose. But, most modern awd car based SUVs have differential lock, making my neighbor’s Pilot nearly as good as my 4 Runner in anything but the most impassable conditions…usually involving pulling neighbor’s plow truck or my tractor or wife’s RAV out of the ditch. Then, truck based 4 wd has no equal.

The biggest advantage to awd is traveling at speed on roads that go from bare to snow covered in wind swept conditions or times when you hit black ice. These are more the norm for many and why most (especially my wife) really doesn’t want to deal with going in and out of 4 wd just to avoid spinn outs and ditch landings.

Thanks everyone…great comments and very helpful. I’ve decided to go with the 2012 Honda CR-V EX-L (AWD) with snow tires. Basically after weeks of looking I figured the Honda CR-V will work just fine…time will tell.

Thanks again!

Ron

The biggest advantage to awd is traveling at speed on roads that go from bare to snow covered in wind swept conditions or times when you hit black ice.

I’ll agree with that. But I find those conditions rare. Upstate NY in lake effect area…if it’s cloudy you’re constantly looking for a sudden storm to appear. And they do…in an instance. Drive 5 miles on clear roads…then the next 5 miles you’re in whiteout conditions. By the time you’ve driven 5 miles…several inches are on the road…then all of a sudden the roads are clear again…This can keep repeating every 5-10 miles.