7 great SUVs for winter

Kick the stuffing out of snow and mud

Our picks of the most capable SUVs for winter driving aren't just about getting around in the snow. There are plenty of vehicles that can brilliantly negotiate a few inches of snow to get you where you need to go. What we've assembled are a bunch of SUVs that can tackle a foot of the stuff and the mud that goes with it. Whether you're hauling snowmobiles, plowing the driveway or just clawing your way off the off the beaten path, these are the go-to SUVs of winter. All have a four-wheel low gear, can haul at least 1,000 pounds of people and cargo (the payload), and tow at least 4,500 pounds. Performance like this does not come cheap. Think low 30s and up. But these prices include four-wheel-drive, automatic transmission, power windows, power door locks, power outside mirrors, at least six airbags, audio system with iPod interface and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as the delivery charge. So let's start with the most affordable of the bunch.

2014 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X

Price: $31,950
Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city/20 highway/17 combined
Payload: 974 lbs.
Max Towing: 5,000 lbs.

Mean and lean, the Xterra is an ideal choice when winter work requires getting around in crowded spaces. Despite its compact dimensions — well, when compared with some of our other picks — everything from the bulging fenders and off-road tires to skid plates and brush guards says rugged and ready. Roughly $5,600 separates the base 2WD version from the top-of-the-line Pro-4X. But we think it's money well-spent, because the price not only includes 4WD but adds such goodies as hill descent control, hill holder, backup camera, navigation system and a Rockford Fosgate-powered eight-speaker audio system. We've also included the optional five-speed automatic transmission for the 261-horsepower 4-liter V-6. Yet this Nissan can get most winter jobs done without breaking the bank.

2014 Ford Expedition Limited EL

Price: $54,000
Fuel Economy: 13 mpg city/18 highway/15 combined
Payload: 1,580 lbs.
Max Towing: 8,700 lbs.

When it comes to pulling a load through snow and slush, the Expedition EL is at the head of our class. The Limited version can tow nearly 4.5 tons with an integrated trailer brake controller to help you avoid any nasty surprises back there. Its leather seating accommodates up to eight, with a third-row split bench seat that automatically folds into the floor with the push of a button. Expedition's winter equipment includes heated outside mirrors and front bucket seats. A power liftgate is among the many upscale Limited trim goodies. On the list of safety features are front and rear parking sensors and a backup camera. A 310-horsepower 5.4-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic make this truck a true beast exactly when you need it.

2014 Chevrolet Suburban LT

Price: $53,555
Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city/21 highway/17 combined
Payload: 1,576 lbs.
Max Towing: 8,000 lbs.

In terms of pure size, this is the biggest honkin' beast on our list. The Suburban LT's an inch longer than the Ford Expedition EL and stretches more than three feet beyond the tail of the Nissan Xterra. No one had even imagined the term “sport utility vehicle” when the first Suburban was built in 1935. So it's a true original. Beyond its storied history, we like it because it can carry a full load of nine passengers and still have scads of cargo room. The LT version includes tri-zone automatic climate control, power adjustable pedals, backup camera, five auxiliary power outlets and a nine-speaker Bose-infused audio system. The 320-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic transmission contribute to a surprisingly smooth and comfortable ride when you're not slogging through the muck.

2014 Dodge Durango Limited

Price: $42,185
Fuel Economy: 14 mpg city/22 highway/16 combined
Payload: 1,420 lbs.
Max Towing: 7,200 lbs.

What gets us jazzed about the Durango isn't simply that it's outrageously competent, but that it looks mean and intimidating just sitting in the driveway. We think the base SXT delivers just about every must-have feature, such as tri-zone automatic climate control, but we opted for the Limited version to add the optional 360-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 required for AWD. That's the most powerful engine you'll find in this slide show — which is saying something — and we suspect you'll like the way it works with the new eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. The Limited has lots of other upgrades, including an 8.4-inch touch screen with Uconnect infotainment interface, rear park assist, backup camera, heated front- and second-row seats, and heated steering wheel. The Durango is a winter workhorse that's also a blast to drive.

2014 Toyota 4Runner SR5 Premium

Price: $39,685
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city/21 highway/18 combined
Payload: 1,625 lbs.
Max Towing: 4,700 lbs.

We've always liked the pure ruggedness of the 4Runner. But its sure-footed off-road performance doesn't mean you can't enjoy a smooth, quiet ride on solid pavement. It can also carry a lot of stuff, boasting one of the biggest payload capacities in our slide show. We picked the relatively cheap SR5 Premium for this list because it comes with most of the winter-fighting features, such as heated outside mirrors and heated front seats, downhill assist and windshield wiper de-icer. There are plenty of tech goodies, too. The 4Runner has been redesigned for 2014 and the "muscular" new look is quite a departure from previous years. But mechanically, you'll feel right at home. The 270-horsepower 4-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission are mostly unchanged, and the driver still has to manually switch from RWD to 4WD.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo E

Price: $35,185
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city/24 highway/19 combined
Payload: 1,320 lbs.
Max Towing: 6,200 lbs.

Everyone agrees: The Grand Cherokee has one of the nicest, most upscale interiors you'll find on any SUV. We prefer to praise its exceptional capabilities on snow and ice. The price listed here includes $1,695 for an all-weather package that not only upgrades the AWD system to Quadra Trac II, offering a neutral gear for ease of towing behind another vehicle like an RV, but includes such winter essentials as an engine block heater, heated front seats and heated steering wheel. Thanks to its 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 and eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission, Grand Cherokee tied for the best estimated combined fuel economy among our picks. We could have opted for a more expensive version with a V-8 engine, but why? This Grand Cherokee covers all our required bases and then some.

2014 Land Rover Range Rover

Price: $83,545
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city/23 highway/19 combined
Payload: 1,806 lbs.
Max Towing: 7,716 lbs.

We saved the priciest and most luxurious choice for last. The Range Rover's leather-lined, meticulously constructed cabin is crammed full of whiz-bang technology and high-end amenities, such as a navigation system and a 13-speaker surround-sound audio system. Its performance on dry pavement is impeccable. Its off-road and foul-weather capabilities are extensive. We especially like the Range Rover's automatic All-Terrain Response System, which calibrates its four-wheel drive for specific surfaces and conditions, such as snow. By using lots of aluminum body parts and other weight-saving technology, engineers extracted over 900 pounds from the Range Rover when it was redesigned last year. That's why this brute manages to equal the Grand Cherokee's list-topping fuel economy. Just remember: The 340-horsepower 3-liter supercharged V6 (with eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission) runs on premium gas.