Contributing Author: Craig Fitzgerald
If you live in 49 of the 50 United States, snow will fall. And if not snow, ice. Even Florida gets .2 inches of snow annually, and it quickly ramps up from there to plowable snow even in states like Louisiana. By the time you get to the 45th snowiest state in the contiguous United States, Alabama, you’re facing annual snowfall of 6.1 inches. What you drive, and how you equip it, can mean the difference between getting to work and waiting for a wrecker.
New England may not have the most snow in the country – that distinction goes to Washington, which sees 650 inches of snow on Mt. Baker every year – but it certainly has the most varied conditions. Snow, ice, rain, frost heaves, and potholes, New England sees it all, sometimes as early as October. The New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA) selects its top winter vehicles in a number of segments every year, crowning one vehicle the Official Winter Vehicle of New England. It’s a pretty good place to start when deciding what to drive.
NEMPA is made up of writers, broadcasters, and content producers from the six New England states, and it presents awards to vehicles in about 20 different classes. We’ll stick to the less expensive classes and cover the top vehicles that won for the SUV, Truck, and Sedan classes overall.
Best-in-Class Midsize SUV/Crossover: Kia Telluride/Hyundai Palisade
2021 is an unusual year for vehicle sales, with tight inventories across vehicle segments. But even prior to the pandemic and the chip shortage, the Telluride was in exceedingly short supply around the country, not only because it’s a terrific winter vehicle, but because it offers everything you’d want out of a Chevy Tahoe, at a fully-loaded price that’s $3,500 less than a 2WD Tahoe LS’s STARTING price.
The Hyundai Palisade is the identical platform. Same engine, same driveline. You may or may not like the aesthetics of one versus the other, but they’re essentially the same car.
In New England winter testing, the Telluride’s all-wheel drive system had no issues coping with the white stuff, though any vehicle – regardless of the drivetrain – would benefit from a set of winter tires.
Best-in-Class Compact SUV: Toyota RAV4
No surprise here. The RAV4 is a staple in New England and its all-wheel drive system digs through everything winter has to throw at you.
Your most difficult decision is going to be which RAV4 to choose. There are 11 different trim levels, with two distinct drivetrains. The conventionally powered RAV4 features a 2.5-liter Force 4-cylinder powerplant, with dual variable valve timing for 203hp. You have to step up to the XLE trim to unlock the option for all-wheel drive.
The RAV4 Hybrid – beginning in the XLE trim level and moving up the ladder – is only available in all-wheel drive. It’s a potent combination, with 219hp, and fuel mileage estimates of 41 city/38 highway and 40 combined.
For the outdoor enthusiasts, Toyota now offers the RAV4 Adventure and the TRD Pro, both with Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD, with a rear driveline disconnect feature for normal driving.
Best-in-Class AWD Wagon: Subaru Outback
When you live in New England, it’s like you’re issued a Subaru Outback when you obtain your driver’s license. They’re all over the place here, from the very first Outbacks built in 1994, all the way up to the most recent update for the 2022 model year.
It’s hard to argue with its performance. Subaru may not have been the first manufacturer to offer all-wheel drive, but it certainly was the first to make it a standard feature across the product line, and keep the price at a reasonable level. Competitive crossover/wagons still offer front-wheel drive at the base level, but all-wheel drive is a standard feature on every Outback trim level, starting at just $26,945.
For 2021, Subaru expanded the trim lineup to include the Outback Wilderness, which will help you get further into the snow than ever, thanks to taller ground clearance, a lower final drive ratio, and grippy Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain rubber. It’s also standard with X-MODE, sort of an off-road cruise control that helps negotiate some pretty scary off-road terrain. It also has a deep mud/snow mode that allows a bit of wheelspin to help clear the tire treads of packed snow.
Official Winter SUV of New England: Ford Mustang Mach-E
For the first time since the New England Motor Press association started the Official Winter Vehicle of New England program, it awarded the “Official Winter SUV” slot to an electric vehicle. NEMPA evaluated the Mach-E with the extended range battery and the eAWD option, which brought the base price up to $55,800, less the $7,500 federal tax credit.
The Mach-E is a pretty amazing vehicle, winter and summer. Even in the eAWD configuration, it’s capable of being brutally fast. The one pedal mode takes a little getting used to, but it delivers excellent range and makes the most use of the car’s regenerative braking.
They’re already beginning to outsell the conventional Mustang coupe, and there’s good reason for it. With 270 miles of range, you could easily use the Mach-E to drive from Boston to Syracuse – the snowiest city in America – and still have 18 miles of range left.
Official Winter Truck of New England: RAM 1500 TRX
At the complete other end of the spectrum, the RAM TRX is about as close as you can get to a trophy truck right off the showroom floor. It’s powered by the 702hp, supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V-8, providing muscle car acceleration out of a full-size pickup.
It’s an odd sensation having that much horsepower in something that rides on LT325/65R18s, and a suspension with 14 inches of travel. You’re sort of teetering up in the cabin while the suspension soaks up everything from potholes to small houses.
Those tires tear through the snow to the asphalt underneath, and with 11.8 inches of ground clearance, you’ll truck right through the pile of snow the plows left at the end of your driveway.
Official Winter Sedan of New England: Genesis G90
The full luxury sedan market has all but disappeared. The conventional players – Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series – all had their lunch eaten by the Tesla Model S and luxury SUVs and crossovers years ago. That’s why it was such a surprise that Hyundai launched its entire brand with the full-size luxury sedan, G90.
It’s a tremendous automobile. First off, it looks great from every angle, when most luxury sedans have been swinging between staid (S-Class) and weird (7 Series). There is no mistaking the G90 for anything else, from any angle.
The other thing that makes it so appealing in New England-like weather is all-wheel drive. You have your choice of AWD, either with the entry-level V-6 or the 5.0-liter V-8. Either engine is terrific, and even with all-wheel drive, the most expensive G90 you’ll find is $80,200, about what you’d spend on a fully-loaded F-150.
The truth is, as long as you’re not attempting to drive all winter on summer tires, even the “bad” choices for winter vehicles are a lot better than they were a few decades ago. Everything is standard with traction and stability control today, so as long as you make a good tire selection, you can get through the winter months with a much broader spectrum of cars than you could in the past.
Craig Fitzgerald began his automotive writing career in 1996, at AutoSite.com, one of the first online resources for car buyers. Over the years, he’s written for the Boston Globe, Forbes, and Hagerty. For seven years, he was the editor at Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, and today, he’s the automotive editor at Drive magazine. He’s dad to a son and daughter, and plays rude guitar in a garage band in Worcester, Massachusetts.