ICE ROAD COMMUTERS
Winter driving can be treacherous, but, ideally, all you need to get through is a reliable car, a snow brush and ice scraper, and a decent set of snow tires. While you can survive in a Honda Civic if you've winterized it correctly, that doesn't stop automakers from filling vehicles with all sorts of weather-specific perks and winter packages filled with features.
Prices and availability are subject to change.
Car to get: Chevrolet Equinox LT
Starting price: $26,990
The biggest part of the battle is just heating up the vehicle before you get into it. With a remote starter, such as the one in the Equinox's $1,945 Confidence & Convenience package, the remote starter not only starts the vehicle, locks doors, and turns on parking lights from your key fob, but activates dual-zone heat and heated seats before you step into the car.
Car to get: Audi A4
Starting price: $36,000
The available Quattro all-wheel drive system is a good start for this small luxury sedan, as are standard high-powered xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, three-zone automatic climate control, and stability control. But it's the standard heated front seats that are the true prize of this vehicle's luxury price tag.
HEATED STEERING WHEEL
Car to get: Kia Optima SX Ebony Black
Starting price: $36,595
Sure, every car comes with a glove box, but a heated steering wheel means being able to forget the gloves. The good news is that Kia offers one as an option; the bad news is that to get it you have to spend more than $5,000 over two packages (that include a bunch of safety features and heated rear seats).
HEATED SIDE MIRRORS
Car to get: Toyota Land Cruiser
Starting price: $84,765
Electrical heating elements will keep fog and ice off outside mirrors. Heated mirrors are not only standard on the Land Cruiser, but come with full-time four-wheel drive with traction control, anti-roll-dynamic suspension, hill assist, fog lamps, wiper de-icers, headlight cleaners, and a rain-sensing windshield.
Car to get: Volvo V90 Cross Country
Starting price: $52,300
The V90 wagon comes with a turbocharger and supercharger, as well as all-wheel drive. The full suite of Volvo safety features would be alluring in the best weather, but the 8.3-inch ground clearance gives the Cross Country an SUV stance above the snow while maintaining a wagon feel. A remote garage door opener and heated washer nozzles are available as part of a $1,950 package, but heated front seats and steering wheel can be had for just $750.
Car to get: Subaru Outback
Starting price: $26,345
All-wheel drive distributes power away from slipping wheels and toward those with a good grip. It's all automatic, and it's in every vehicle Subaru makes. That's great in the case of the Outback, which already has winter-friendly features such as 8.7 inches of ground clearance, stability control, and four-wheel anti-lock brakes, along with premium options such as windshield wiper de-icers, heated side windows, and heated front seats.
Car to get: Tesla Model S
Starting price: $77,000
The Autopilot feature won't help you in adverse conditions, but traction control that helps transfer power from wheels that are spinning freely to wheels that grip can come in handy. (In the traction control vs. all-wheel drive debate, it is argued that traction control can also improve braking and handling.) It helps the Tesla run on sheets of ice and in snow while letting you bask in the comfort of standard cold-weather features including heated seats throughout the cabin, heated mirrors, and a heated steering wheel.
WINDSHIELD WIPER DE-ICERS
Car to get: Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring
Starting price: $31,445
Snow and ice can freeze wipers to the windshield, but a de-icer’s electrical heating element, on the lower part of the windshield or on the wipers themselves, can thaw out what a defroster can't. The CX-5 Grand Touring already has three-stage heated front seats and available all-wheel drive, but a $1,395 premium package adds a wiper de-icer, heated steering wheel, and heated seats in the back.
HEATED WINDSHIELD WASHERS
Car to buy: Volkswagen Jetta SE
If heated windshield wipers don’t do it for you, this might: heated washer nozzles to blast off winter crust like, adherents say, a dishwasher uses hot water to blast off dirt. Volkswagen says a Jetta SE cold weather package with the system will be available mid-model year for $495, also including a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, remote starter, and the wiper de-icers.
Car to buy: Audi A8
Starting price: $83,800
Headlight washers and wipers can help clear blockage of accumulated snow, ice, and road salt that reduce their effectiveness, allowing lights to shine clearly. The A8 was built for winter weather and already has LED headlights, a heated windshield, heated exterior mirrors, heated front seats, and packages that include heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel. Even the base model includes a headlight washing system to keep the gunk away.
ENGINE BLOCK HEATER AND BATTERY WARMER
Car to get: Subaru Forester
Starting price: $24,295
All the arguments made for Subaru all-wheel drive and other winter features apply here. But just about any Subaru dealer will also be able to help Alaskans, Canadians, and folks in the far north of the lower 48 get through the absolute worst winters with a battery warmer ($42) to keep a battery warm enough to prevent it from draining and an engine block heater ($157) to warm engine coolant and keep cars starting in extreme cold. Both plug into household electrical outlets.
Car to get: Jeep Renegade
Starting price: $18,445
It isn't full-time, but four-wheel drive is about the most traction and power you can ask for out of a drive system. It sends all the power to all wheels at once, making it easy to plow through a snowbank or pull someone else out. Those who love playing in the snow will get a Wrangler, but if you don't want to muck around switching up tops every season, the 4x4 version of this compact SUV will do just fine.
ELECTRONIC BRAKE FORCE DISTRIBUTION
Car to get: Nissan Rogue
Starting price: $24,800
Autotrader believes anti-lock brakes are one of the most important snow features a car can have, preventing brakes from locking up and minimizing the risk of dangerous skids. But anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution have a bit of an edge, controlling distribution of braking force to the front and rear according to passenger and luggage load.
HILL DESCENT CONTROL
Starting price: $60,700
Hill Descent Control helps this crossover stay below a certain speed going downhill, distributing braking power to each wheel as necessary and shutting off when a driver accelerates to a certain speed. Some drivers may not like being able to control the braking themselves, but this beats sliding down a hill and hoping for the best.
SNOWY TERRAIN SUSPENSION
Car to get: Volkswagen Atlas Launch 4Motion
Starting price: $34,095
This three-row SUV's all-wheel drive option features several driving modes, including a “snowy” setting built to increase stability. Even Volkswagen admits you should put on some snow tires for optimal traction, but other safety features including Electronic Stability Control and Hill Descent Assist provide strong support on a wintry road.
Car to get: Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged
Starting price: $85,550
At this price, all-wheel drive, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, stability control, and hill descent assist are standard. But the under-steer control that helps drivers adjust in the snow and Dynamic Response anti-roll technology can be even more valuable than cold-weather features including heated seats, heated mirrors, and fog lamps.
HILL-START ASSIST CONTROL
Car to own: Hyundai Santa Fe SE
Starting price: $30,850
Hill-Start Assist Control helps prevent rolling backward when stopped going uphill. The system hits the brakes automatically for about two seconds and releases the brake after two seconds or when you start to accelerate again. This hill-holder is used by several automakers at this point — but this vehicle is half the price of a BMW with the same feature.
HEATED AND COOLED CUP HOLDERS
Car to own: Chrysler 300C
Starting price: $40,995
We thought these were gone. Chrysler fabricated a factory-made cupholder just for high-end versions of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger — Cars.com says it kept a cup of coffee close to 100 degrees for an hour on the Chrysler version — and it remains among 300C features or can be picked up separately for $405.
Car to own: Jaguar F-Pace
Starting price: $47,025
For $1,430, the F-Pace's cold climate package heats things up quickly. You'll get heated seats throughout the cabin and a heated steering wheel to hold, but also a heated windshield that you'll either love for melting off snow and ice or hate because its minimally obtrusive wavy electric heat elements are annoying when you're used to a clear view.
Car to own: Mercedes-Benz SL 450
Starting price: $94,200
When you pay this much for a convertible, a little thing such as winter shouldn't keep you from putting the top down. Springing for the $5,050 premium package gets not only heated massaging seats, but Airscarf — a vent in the headrest designed to warm the neck, head, and shoulders. Mercedes says about two-thirds of SL buyers get it.
EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE SYSTEM
Car to own: Buick Encore
Starting price: $23,200, plus $25 to $60 a month
OnStar has provided emergency services for General Motors customers for more than 20 years, but competition has forced OnStar to step it up by offering not only roadside assistance and automatic crash response, but access to vehicle diagnostic information, navigation, adviser support, and Wi-Fi. If you're lost somewhere in a snowstorm, it isn't a bad fallback plan.
Car to own: Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible
Starting price: $53,095
The Evoque Convertible, a convertible SUV, offers a “ski bag provision” among its options — a ski hatch behind the rear armrest that accommodate skis, timber, or any other long cargo. It’s steeped in a long European tradition of loading skis into luxury vehicles such as Audis and Volvos; it’s putting it in a convertible that calls out to a certain kind of buyer, though.
FORWARD COLLISION WARNING
Car to own: Jeep Cherokee Overland 4X4
Starting price: $36,495
The Cherokee's grown up since its 1990s heyday. A $1,095 technology package includes a full-speed forward collision system that warns a driver if a crash is coming and adds braking power if the driver’s effort is weak.
LANE DEPARTURE WARNING
Car to own: Toyota Prius Prime
Starting price: $27,300
Driving through a snowstorm is tense enough without worrying about exactly where lane lines are. Toyota's Safety Sense uses Lane Departure Alert to detect deviations from visible lane markings, and can make corrections to keep your vehicle in its lane.
Car to own: Lexus RX 350
Starting price: $43,570
Call them cornering fog lights if you want, but they're standard equipment on this vehicle. When you have a night where visibility isn't all that great anyway, having available LED fog lights point automatically in the direction of the turn helps visibility ahead and to the side, and gives a little warning that you're coming to the person approaching from the other side of the turn.
Car to own: Pick one
Starting price: $20 to $60 per pair
Consumer Reports likesone-piece wiper blades with spring steel in the rubber — they take on heavy rain, snow, and ice without getting beaten up. But automakers don't love them enough to include them on new models. Highly recommended Icons start at less than $15 on Amazon.
Car to own: Ford Focus RS
Starting price: $43,990
Should you go with studded tires or performance tires? Should the treads be super deep or somewhat shallow? What should your tire pressure be? You could look up those answers, or you could pick up this 350-horsepower hot hatchback and let Ford set it up with 18-inch unique RS silver alloy wheels and 18-inch Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 tires as part of its winter tire and wheel package for $1,995.
THREE-ZONE CLIMATE CONTROL
Car to own: Honda Pilot EX
Starting price: $33,330
The Lexus LX boasts four zones of climate control and the BMW X7 five, but three zones at a somewhat more affordable starting price will get it done. The driver, front passenger, and rear passengers all get their own zones, with rear passengers controlling the temperature from behind the center console. Winter-friendly features including a remote starter, traction control and fog lights are also helpful for navigating the season.
Car to own: Chevrolet Bolt
Starting price: $36,620
Of course an all-electric car would have Wi-Fi — for those times winter conditions slows traffic to a crawl. This built-in hotspot with available 4G LTE data supports up to seven devices, which is more people than should fit inside the Bolt, as an update for the in-car DVD players that once kept passengers entertained (though the Bolt also comes with a 10.2-inch infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto). Meanwhile, a forward collision alert system and automated braking can help keep even distracted drivers safe.