When winter’s wrath hits hard, a car with all-wheel drive and good tires is your best bet to help navigate the roads safely.

All-wheel drive feeds power to all four wheels and provides maximum forward traction. It is especially helpful in wintry conditions and when driving over moderate off-road terrain. Its lightness and compactness makes AWD the system of choice for cars and crossovers. Many modern systems exact only a slight fuel-economy penalty, and their engagement is seamless.

But AWD has limitations: It does nothing to improve braking or regular cornering. Thus, such systems don't enable you to drive the same way or at the same speed as you would on a dry road.

If you’re considering a new car and live in an area where roadways could be covered with ice, snow, or other traction challenges, take a look at the models below to find AWD choices in a variety of vehicle categories.

These highlighted models were ranked tops in our 2015 auto survey when we asked subscribers to rate their vehicles’ performance in snowy conditions. The results revealed that some AWD and 4WD systems are better than others.

Below, SUVs and wagons are ranked for winter driving based on 47,982 subscriber ratings. All respondents had driven their vehicles without changing to winter tires on at least six snowy days during the winter of 2014 to 2015. The rankings are based on 2012 to 2015 models that have at least two model years’ worth of data. 

1. Subaru Outback

Subaru Outback is on the list of best all-wheel-drive vehicles.

An SUV alternative, the Outback wagon is roomy and functional, and appeals to the practical-minded buyer. It rides very comfortably, with secure handling. Standard AWD delivers reassuring traction in wintry conditions. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder returns 24 mpg overall and drives through a standard continuously variable transmission. Opting for the 3.6-liter six-cylinder makes the car quicker, quieter, and thirstier, conceding 2 mpg. The controls are all easy-to-use, including the touch-screen infotainment system. The wagon’s generous rear seat is spacious enough for three adults. The generous cargo area is comparable to a Forester or Toyota RAV4, with a lower loading height to boot. The optional EyeSight safety suite adds automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.

Read the complete Subaru Outback road test.

2. Subaru Crosstrek

Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek is a small quasi-SUV version of the previous-generation Impreza hatchback, with a raised ride height that gives it enough clearance to slosh through deeply rutted roads. It may appeal to those people who live at the end of a dirt road and don’t want anything big and bulky. The cabin is rather noisy, the ride is stiff, and the 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine occasionally has to work hard, but fuel economy is a gratifying 26 mpg. The costlier Hybrid, which got 28 mpg, has been discontinued for 2017. In the end, the regular Impreza hatch may be a better choice: It’s quieter, quicker, cheaper, and better riding, even if its lower ride height makes cabin access a bit more difficult. A redesign based on the new Impreza arrives this summer.

Read the complete Subaru Crosstrek road test.

3. Subaru Forester

Subaru Forester

Hitting the sweet spot among small SUVs, the Forester delivers a spacious interior, impressive safety equipment and crashworthiness, and outstanding visibility in a right-sized, affordable package. Fuel economy is excellent at 26 mpg overall, especially given the standard AWD. The ride is supple, and handling is very secure. Engine noise is pronounced at times. Controls are straightforward and easy to use. The infotainment and connectivity systems have finally been updated with an intuitive touch screen. Midtrim Foresters bring a lot of content for the money, but it’s easy to crest $30,000 with options packages. A feisty turbo comes with XT trim but compromises the value equation. The optional (and recommended) EyeSight system includes forward-collision warning.

Read the complete Subaru Forester road test.

4. Audi Q5

Audi Q5

The redesigned Q5 gets new styling, increased performance promise, and a growing list of advanced safety features. The new Q is also available with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which lets you expand the cluster between the instrument panel’s large gauges into a larger color screen that can display audio, phone, navigation, and travel information. The standard audio system includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Like the A4, the Q5 is powered by an updated 252-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard. Available advanced safety features include forward-collision warning with automatic braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear-collision warning, and lane-keep assist.

Read the complete Audi Q5 road test.

5. Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon XL

Chevrolet Suburban

If you need space for seven or more people, all their stuff, and towing capacity to boot, few SUVs other than the Suburban will do. This behemoth has a sumptuous and quiet interior, power-folding second- and third-row seats, and available blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert. Beyond that, it’s pretty much your standard hauler, with a 5.3-liter V8 mated to a six-speed automatic and a respectable 16 mpg overall. The touch-screen infotainment system is easy to use, and the magnetic ride suspension on LTZ trims improves ride comfort and handling response and capability. Recent updates include available lane-keeping assist, plus Apple CarPlay.

Read the complete Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon XL road test.

6. Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler

As an everyday vehicle, the Wrangler trails most SUVs, but few are better for off-road use. The Wrangler uses Chrysler’s 3.6-liter V6 and five-speed automatic, which returned 17 mpg overall in our tests. Though the Wrangler may be better than ever before, the ride rocks and jiggles constantly, and handling is clumsy. Wind noise is very loud at highway speeds. Getting in and out is awkward, and the interior is uncomfortable. Off-road performance is legendary, and the Rubicon version performs better there than our tested Unlimited Sahara did. IIHS side-crash results for the two-door are Poor, and the four-door scored Marginal; but offset-frontal and small-overlap results for the four-door are Good. A redesigned Wrangler is on the way.

Read the complete Jeep Wrangler road test.

7. Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon

Chevrolet Tahoe

The Tahoe and Yukon have a luxurious and quiet interior, but the ride is too stiff and the third-row seat is tight. In addition, the 5.3-liter V8 and six-speed automatic combine to form a lackluster powertrain that returned 16 mpg overall. The touch-screen infotainment system is easy to use, and the front seats are very comfortable. The Magnetic Ride Control suspension on some trims improves ride comfort, as well as handling response and capability. Properly equipped versions can tow 8,500 pounds. But if towing isn’t your main concern, car-based SUVs drive better and are roomier. Lane-keeping assist is now available, joining the already-available blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert systems.

Read the complete Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon road test.

8. Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep Grand Cherokee

The Grand Cherokee has a solid, upscale interior; comfortable seats; and a mostly compliant and controlled ride. Handling is competent, fit and finish is excellent, and the eight-speed automatic shifts smoothly. The standard 3.6-liter V6 returned just 18 mpg, though. We also tested the diesel, which racked up 24 mpg overall. Two V8s, a 5.7-liter and the SRT’s 6.4-liter, are optional. The Uconnect infotainment system, with its large, well-labeled touch screen, is one of the best we’ve tested. Appropriately optioned, the Jeep makes a good tow vehicle or a capable off-roader. Recent updates included engine stop-start for the revised V6, Siri Eyes Free, and an easier-to-use shift lever.

Read the complete Jeep Grand Cherokee road test.

9. Toyota 4Runner

Toyota 4Runner

Tough and ready to tackle off-roading adventures, the truck-based 4Runner falls short of most modern SUVs on all other counts. Its rough-sounding 4.0-liter V6 is powerful and reasonably fuel-efficient. But the ride is unsettled, and handling is clumsy. The body leans noticeably while cornering, and the bobbing and bouncing ride chips away at driver confidence. A high step-in and low ceiling compromise access and driving position. The SR5’s 4WD system is part-time only. A third-row seat is optional, and the power-retractable rear window is handy.

Read the complete Toyota 4Runner road test.

10. Ford Expedition

Ford Expedition

This imposing SUV’s 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 delivers more power and better fuel economy than the V8 it replaced. Paired with the standard six-speed automatic, our Expedition returned 14 mpg overall in testing, a 1-mpg improvement. The V6 also has plenty of torque for trailer towing. Regular- and long-wheelbase versions are available, as well as eight-passenger seating that includes legitimate third-row seating for adults. And that’s where the good news ends. The aging Expedition trails the competition because of its clumsy handling, noisy cabin, and low-rent interior. Thankfully, however, Sync 3 replaced the much-maligned MyFord Touch infotainment system.  

Read the complete Ford Expedition road test.

Nissan Juke is among worst models with AWD
Nissan Juke