Conquer winter's worst weather with these 7 tough rides
No one wants to get stuck in the snow and muck, so here are our picks for the 7 best vehicles to get you through winter's worst weather.
There are several all-wheel-drive sedans and wagons out there that do a "good enough" job in moderate winter conditions to get you from place to place.
But you won't find any of them on this list.
We think big sport-utility vehicles with powerful engines and all-wheel drive (along with one crossover and pickup capable of delivering exceptional performance) provide the most reliable way through deep drifts and sticky mud.
The extra ground clearance and extra-low gears they provide are essential to keep you moving under the most severe conditions.
All of our picks are 2012 models with sticker prices that range from affordable to extravagant. The prices we provide include destination charges and all of the options we recommend.
You'll also find the typical transaction price for each vehicle based on Edmunds' True Market Value (TMV). This is what you should expect to pay after all of the haggling is over.
Take your pick and let Old Man Winter do his worst.
GMC Yukon SL SLT
- Sticker Price: $52,715
- TMV: $49,593
- Fuel Economy: 15 m.p.g. city/21 m.p.g. highway
With seating for as many as eight, scads of cargo room and the ability to tow more than four tons, the Yukon is our pick for tackling the biggest winter jobs.
A 5.3-liter V-8 delivers 320-horsepower to the rear wheels, or all four wheels when the 4x4 system is engaged, through a driver-shiftable automatic transmission. We like that it also has a 4WD low gear to keep moving through the most difficult situations.
Although a Yukon SLE costs $4,000 less and has enough seats for one more passenger, we like the SLT because it's better equipped to deal with cold weather, coming with heated front seats and a tri-zone climate control system.
Ponying up another $1,545 for an optional equipment package not available on the SLE adds heated second-row seats and heated leather-wrapped steering wheel among other love-to-have goodies.
When big and beefy are winter requirements, this is the get-'er-done vehicle.
Jeep Wrangler Sport
- Sticker Price: $26,805
- TMV: $25,682
- Fuel Economy: 17 m.p.g. city/21 m.p.g. highway
There isn't a more capable go-anywhere, anytime vehicle than the 2012 Jeep Wrangler. That's why we had to include it on this list.
We favor the Sport trim because it fits into most budgets. But if you don't opt for a couple of options, you'll get a very basic truck with a five-speed manual transmission, crank windows and no air conditioning.
We recommend the driver-shiftable automatic transmission for $1,125 and the $2,245 option package that includes air conditioning. You'll thank us later.
Whatever you do, pay the extra $490 for seat-mounted, side-impact airbags. If you're going to buy a truck with removable doors, you can't expect them to provide much protection in a crash.
If you still have money in the budget, we'd also add the convenience package with full power accessories, including heated outboard mirrors for $685.
Jeep refined the suspension last year and this year gave Wrangler a much more potent 285-h.p., 3.6-liter V-6.
When you've just got to get there, it's Wrangler.
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Pure
- Sticker Price: $43,995
- TMV: Not available
- Fuel Economy: 18 m.p.g. city/28 m.p.g. highway
Some of us just have to have the "next big thing," and that's what landed the brand-new Evoque on our list.
Although it's a crossover, and the only non-SUV we're recommending, the Evoque is highly competent in muck and snow thanks to Land Rover's Terrain Response system.
It allows the driver to shorten the all-wheel-drive's response to slipping wheels by using a control to select the surface -- in this case, snow -- the Evoque is on.
We also like Evoque's sharp styling and luxury features, although we would spring for the $1,000 Climate Comfort Package with heated front seats, steering wheel, front windshield and windshield washer jets.
A two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine gets the Evoque going through a six-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission.
And with 240 h.p., this trendy ride can really go. Land Rover says Evoque can sprint to 60 miles per hour in 7.1 seconds.
- Sticker Price: $107,975
- TMV: $106,679
- Fuel Economy: 12 m.p.g. city/15 m.p.g. highway
We'd like to tell you that the G550 makes sense on some level, but, well, we can't. And that's what we like about it. It's big, opulent and slurps fuel like a drunken sailor on shore leave.
It's the Jeep Wrangler for the well-heeled and unapologetic.
Following an old military vehicle design, the G550 is truck-based and sturdy as a steel girder. It can go about anywhere and through anything.
By far the best appointed vehicle on our list, its base price includes standard luxury tidbits like rearview camera, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather seating and navigation system. It also has heated front and backseats as well as heated outboard mirrors.
Its 5.5-liter V-8 generates 382-h.p. through a seven-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. Its four-wheel-drive system includes a low-range for really tough terrain.
Driving the Mercedes-Benz G550 is like declaring war on winter.
Nissan Frontier Crew Cab PRO-4X
- Sticker Price: $33,725
- TMV: $31,221
- Fuel Economy: 14 m.p.g. city/19 m.p.g. highway
We put the Frontier Crew Cab on our list because even when there's snow on the ground, we occasionally need a pickup truck.
We like this specific version of the Frontier for its flexible cargo tie-down system and extra off-road bits like additional protective skid plates, reinforced shocks and a locking rear differential.
With four doors and seating for five, we think it's about as family friendly as a pickup can get. We are really wowed by the 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system.
For winter driving, we recommend adding the $2,450 Luxury Package that includes all sorts of upgraded goodies, including heated front seats and outboard mirrors.
Delivering output from the 261-h.p., four-liter V-6 to the rear or all four wheels is a six-speed manual transmission. To make life easier, we'd spring for the $1,050 five-speed automatic.
We think of Frontier as the pack mule of winter.
Toyota FJ Cruiser
- Sticker Price: $30,665
- TMV: $29,261
- Fuel Economy: 17 m.p.g. city/20 m.p.g. highway
We like the FJ Cruiser's throwback styling, particularly the retro interior with an instrument panel keyed to the exterior color.
But its prowess in snow is what made this Toyota one of our picks.
The six-speed manual transmission uses a full-time 4x4 system that is always engaged. Spending another $410 (which we recommend) gets you the five-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission with a part-time 4x4 system.
Whichever you chose, you'll get a 260-h.p., four-liter V-6 and a low-range gear for the deep stuff.
Driving home with some popular features such as power-adjustable outboard mirrors, cruise control and rear-window wiper requires spending $2,150 for the Convenience Package. But air conditioning and other power accessories are standard.
Just don't be fooled by its unorthodox looks. The FJ Cruiser rules in snow.
Volkswagen Touareg Diesel
- Sticker Price: $47,345
- TMV: $45,461
- Fuel Economy: 19 m.p.g. city/28 m.p.g. highway
None of our favorites, except the smaller Range Rover Evoque, comes close to delivering the fuel economy of the Touareg Diesel.
That alone is enough to include Touareg on our list of the best ways to get through the snow. But we also like that its three-liter turbocharged V-6 diesel generates 225 h.p. and a whopping 406 pound-feet of torque, allowing it to challenge deep snow and pull up to 7,700 pounds.
The base price includes an eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission, heated front seats and heated outboard mirrors as well as lots of upscale goodies like a rear power liftgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth and iPod integration.
You can step up to the most expensive trim level to add both heated rear seats and steering wheel, but doing so would explode the price by $11,000. We'd just buy gloves.
It may have a silly name, but the Touareg Diesel's fuel efficiency, above-average utility and gobs of standard features conspire to take the bite out of winter.