When you’re stuck in a blizzard or trying to navigate drifting snow on the highway is no time to worry whether you’ve got the right set of wheels beneath you. For those of us living in the Snow Belt, we know snow can get pretty nasty. We buy our cars accordingly. That means four-wheel-drive (4WD) or all-wheel-drive (AWD), or snow tires and chains, as required, for Californians going up to the ski slopes. But it doesn’t snow all year, so you also want a vehicle that’s livable the rest of the time. What to choose?

First, know the basics for best snow cars. They need good ground clearance, low center of gravity, electronic stability control (ESC), and 4WD or AWD. We’ve selected three that meet all these criteria and have a few other great features as well. Comments from automotive experts are extra, just in case you need convincing.

  • Volvo XC90Forbes named Volvo XC90 one of its “Best Cars for Snow,” commenting “it has great ground clearance – the best of our top picks, at 8.9 inches – and the smooth new in-line six… makes it a joy to drive.” XC90 also has heated front seats and headlamp washers optional in Cold Climate Package. Edmunds comments the 2009 XC90 is “one of the most family-friendly premium SUVs on the market, but it’s getting on inVolvo_XC90_2009 years.” AWD is standard on the XC90 V8 and optional on other models. Autobytel.com includes 2006 XC90 in its “Great Cars for Winter Driving,” saying it’s “a comfortable and surprisingly capable vehicle that boasts an impressive number of safety features and a strong but not thirsty optional V8 engine.”
  • Mercedes-Benz M-ClassWith a curb weight of 4,705 pounds and a ground clearance of 8.3 inches, the 5-passenger luxury Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV “feels quite mercedes_m-class_2009car-like,” says Forbes, “and it’s one of the better vehicles for taking on snowy roads.”  Edmunds calls M-Class “a capable, versatile SUV that offers the typical Mercedes attributes of high quality, prestige and safety,” in a “car-like, easy to handle utility vehicle.” U.S. News and World Report says, “for a tall and relatively heavy vehicle, the M-Class is disciplined and upright on curves…and it is a fully qualified off-roader too, with full-tilt-boogie four-wheel drive instead of less rugged all-wheel drive.”
  • Jeep CompassThe compact Jeep Compass SUV clears the ground at 8.1 inches and weighs in at 3,223 pounds. Forbes says it’s “a very good maneuverable city vehicle that’s also good in country snow.” Motor Trend says “buyers looking for a sport/utility with good road manners and exceptional fuel economy will find most everything they need in the [2007] Compass.” Car and Driver adds Compass’s “optional all-wheel drive supplies all-weather capability but won’t get you far on the Rubicon.”

Other best cars for snow include Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge and Taurus X, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Patriot, Lincoln MKX, Subaru Outback, Forester XT Limited and Tribeca, and Volkswagen Touareg.

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