The prospect of winter driving can be daunting for car owners who don’t have the right set of wheels for the job. A high-performance rear-wheel-drive vehicle can be great fun, so long as the weather forecast calls for warm temperatures and sunny skies. But when confronted by a treacherous snow-covered road, you could suddenly feel like a hockey player who’s skated onto center ice in a pair of roller skates. While many new cars feature some form of stability or traction control, it’s tough to beat the comfort and safety that comes from having all-wheel drive. The extra grip provided by having all four wheels working together helps avoid those white-knuckle moments when driving on snow and ice.
2011 Audi R8 Spyder
The Audi R8 Spyder? Yes, indeed; it’s proof that sports cars needn’t exclusively be fair-weather friends. At a glance, this $128,950 (base price) mid-engine road rocket looks like totally the wrong car for tackling winter weather. But with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system as standard equipment, the R8 Spyder could be the ultimate drop-top sports machine for people living in the Snow Belt. There is a choice of 430-bhp V-8 or 525-bhp V-10 engine, along with a 6-speed manual or paddle-shift automatic transmission. If Santa Claus ever decided to give up his sleigh, he’d choose the Audi R8 Spyder.
2011 Subaru Forester
Subaru has become synonymous with all-wheel-drive, and the Forester crossover is one of the best examples of the Japanese automaker’s handiwork. A handsome new exterior arrived last year, along with an even more spacious and user-friendly cabin. Standard equipment includes all-wheel-drive and 170-bhp 2.5-liter flat-4 engine—although you might be tempted by the more powerful 224-bhp turbocharged engine in Forester 2.5XT. Capable of hauling plenty of people and loads of stuff, the Forester is surefooted and fun to drive.
2011 BMW 335i xDrive Coupe
The BMW 335i xDrive Coupe has debonair style, wonderful steering and a business-class interior dripping in sophistication. You could almost forget that this sleek German coupe also has all-wheel drive hardware working seamlessly beneath you, as the car stays composed on dicy sections of road that might otherwise leave other performance coupes spinning their wheels in frustration. Starting at $47,375, the 335i xDrive Coupe comes with a 3.0-liter 300-bhp inline-6 engine and 6-speed manual or optional automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive system is also available in the 3 Series sedan, but unless you need the extra doors it’s hard not to be tempted by the refined lines of the coupe.
2011 Volvo S60
Volvos have always been safe and solid. The 2011 Volvo S60 takes these fine attributes and wraps them in a seductive new package that is a verifiable head-turner. Under the elegant sheet metal is a 300-bhp turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6, all-wheel drive with Instant Traction, and standard 6-speed automatic transmission. Optional safety equipment includes a Pedestrian Detection system, which alerts the driver if someone walks in front of the car and automatically applies the brakes if the driver doesn’t heed the warning.
2011 Ford Taurus
The Ford Taurus has grown up, and we love the result. Available with optional all-wheel drive, this 4-door family car combines brawny styling, nimble handling and excellent suspension control. Inside the roomy cabin, the instruments are logically arranged and the design looks like it came straight out of a luxury car. The $30,045 Taurus SEL AWD comes with a 263-bhp 3.5-liter V-6 engine and smooth 6-speed automatic transmission. That’s plenty powerful, but the range-topping 365-bhp Taurus SHO gets our vote as being the ultimate all-wheel drive “sleeper” performance sedan.
2011 Buick LaCrosse
If you’re looking for a comfortable ride and whisper-quiet cabin, the 2011 Buick LaCrosse with optional all-wheel drive should definitely be at the top of your list.
You’ll have to choose the 280-bhp V-6 if you want all-wheel drive however, as the 4-cylinder LaCrosse is only available in front-wheel-drive format. This minor oversight can be overlooked since, frankly, the V-6 better suits the plush ride and luxurious cruising nature of the LaCrosse. The CXS model is also available with electronically controlled suspension that adds a sportier edge to the suspension.
2011 Acura MDX
Combining sports sedan handling with the functional packaging of a crossover vehicle sounds like an engineering nightmare. But someone at Acura must be working overtime, because the MDX manages the feat admirably. The list of luxury add-ons is almost endless, with an available entertainment system, back-up camera, active suspension and much more. Yet the biggest trick up the MDX’s sleeve is Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system that distributes power from the front to rear wheels, as well as side to side depending on detected levels of traction.
2011 Infiniti G37x
If you need a stylish luxury sedan with the security of all-wheel drive, the powerful Infiniti G37x ranks as one of our favorites. The styling has been gently refined and the Japanese sport sedan (or coupe) looks better than ever. A 328-bhp 3.7-liter V-6 and 7-speed automatic transmission give the G37x rapid acceleration to match the leech-like grip offered by the optional all-wheel-drive system. New for 2011 is the cheaper (and more fuel efficient) G25x, which comes with a 218-bhp 2.5-liter V-6.
2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is about as subtle as a snowball to the face. You’ll either love the hyper-active styling and razor-sharp steering, or you’ll run away in tears. The gaping grill and towering rear wing are definitely not to everyone’s taste. But the effectiveness of the Evo’s combination of a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and high-tech all-wheel-drive system is simply mind-blowing, even for nonbelievers. Forget about grip on snowy roads; the Mitsubishi Evo feels like it could go racing in zero gravity.
2011 Volkswagen Tiguan
Cute, compact and fuel-efficient, the Volkswagen Tiguan is powered by a 200-bhp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that gives this crossover a peppy feel. When equipped with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system, the Tiguan has a base price of around $27,000. Adding lots of options (and there are plenty to choose from) can quickly push the price much higher. Go easy with the extras and you’ll have a handy (and nimble) all-weather vehicle that delivers up to 24 mpg on the highway.