Growing up in New England, everybody’s aware of the “winter beater.” Not a car to beat winter, but a winter car you can beat the snot out of, through everything Mother Nature can throw at you. You had a nice car to drive around the 11 days when the weather cooperated, and then every fall was consumed with buying some car to get you through the other 354 days.
Over at Speedlist, our pal David Traver Adolphus came up with a list of 10 Fun Cars to Get You Through the Snow (And Any Other Bad Weather.) His list is all well and good, but look, I know Dave. He and I had the same job, and I’m pretty sure he has the same $59.83 in his savings account that I do.
He ain’t buying any Audi A8, I can tell you that.
We wanted to come up with a list of winter cars that were fun, fun to drive, capable, reliable and best of all, under $10k:
Here’s a real-live example of the car that put Audi on the map. 60 Minutes had a field day with this car, and then gave up its reputation for quality journalism with the “unintended acceleration” scandal. This 1986 model is equipped with quattro all-wheel drive, a five-speed standard, and it comes out of California so its sheetmetal hasn’t been perforated by New England salt.
I’m on record saying that I’d rather have a rear drive car with snow tires than an all-wheel drive car with all-season tires. I’d love a 325XiT with both all-wheel drive and snows, though, and throwing in the six-speed manual that this car has is just icing on the cake. This one was a one-owner Texas car with just over 100k for under $9,000.
1992 Mazda Miata
In the super-small car category, Adolphus selected a Fiat 500L, which is fine I guess, but there has never been a better time to buy a first-generation Miata than right now. These cars are going to start climbing in value, but you can still find an unmolested, nice quality car with just over 100k for less than it would cost you to go to community college for a year. This one’s from Florida, too, so the rockers haven’t completely rusted out. With a good set of aggressive snows, this could be the most fun car you ever drove in the winter.
Volkswagen Golf Mk2
For me, the Volkswagen Jetta/Golf is the standard by which all winter beaters for all time will be measured. I had a 1988 Volkswagen Jetta with four snow tires and a crank-open sunroof that was not only good in the snow, but hilariously fun to drive the worse the weather got. It was the only front wheel drive car I ever owned that I liked. This one is unfortunately equipped with an automatic, but even so, will still handle a whole lot better than a basic family car should.
Adolphus went with the Cadillac ATS, but I’m opting for Buick instead. The Cadillac Eldorado of this era was the same car, but came with the horrible 4100 aluminum V-8. The Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toronado were both the same car, with the same snow-beating front-wheel drive, but had a damn near bulletproof 305-cu.in. V-8 in the later years. This one is in remarkable condition with somewhat rare leather interior for around $5,000.
Mitsubishi Montero LS
If getting through winter is your aim, is there anything better than the Mitsubishi Montero? Seating for seven, world-touring four-wheel drive, the new-for-1988 3.0-liter V-6. Mitsubishi had a lot going on in the late 1980s, and it all fell apart soon after this Pajero left the dealership. They’re climbing back out of the ashes now, but this is when the brand was riding high.
Our pal at Speedlist went with the Lexus LS 460 FSport. It starts at just a tick over $80,000. Do you have $80,000 to spend on a car? Neither do we, so we selected the 1995 Lexus SC300. The SC was a car that somehow flew under everyone’s radar, but it’s like a Supra for grownups, with that car’s inline six cylinder and in ULTRA-RARE instances, a five-speed manual. If you find one like this one, it’ll have miles on it, but these cars can routinely surpass 300,000 miles without breaking a sweat. Rear drive with a six, a stick and good snow tires? Sign me up.
There was a time when Volvo made just a regular old station wagon without the XC cladding, and they sold it with a manual transmission. The V70Rs are cool, but typically, they’re high-mileage, expensive and temperamental. The bargain-basement V70 with a stick is a great value in a winter car. You’ll still want to get those all-season tires off, but these can be great cars that eliminate the weak link of an automatic.
I think I’m the only automotive journalist in America that isn’t infatuated with the Nissan Juke. Speedlist recommended the Juke NISMO RS AWD. 215hp through a continuously variable transmission sounds as much fun as sitting through a TED Talk on the benefits of flossing. If you’re going to choose a ridiculous Nissan, why not make it the Nissan Xterra? Styled like a jungle gym and equipped with one of the few part-time transfer cases in SUVs, the Xterra still has a committed following among people who think they like the outdoors.
Adolphus’s wildcard was the Hyundai Genesis 3.8 R-Spec. Perfectly fine automobile, but why not release your inner Uncle Buck and drive around in 5,000 pounds of Detroit sheet metal. I have a soft spot for anything from an orphaned brand, so any Mercury, Pontiac or Oldsmobile will do. Also, two-tone-green leather interior, so I’m calling this a victory.