Best Cars to Drive This Winter: Staying Safe, Secure and Assured No Matter the Weather

Best Cars Winter
The Grand Cherokee made it through mud and rocks as easily as the Wrangler

Weather is never extreme. We all know that. So why worry about it. Right?

Um, maybe if your name is Sims and you live in a video game. For the rest of us, not so much. Ignoring weather can be stupid, and even dangerous.

Best Winter Car

It started out as a road but a day of rain changed all that. Even with water up over the door jamb, we stayed nice and dry. Credit: Scotty Reiss for AGirlsGuidetoCars

All it takes is one day of sloppy, rainy weather to make you seriously think about what might be the best car for winter driving—even if you don’t face snow and ice. Just slide through a curve at 25 miles an hour, hydroplane on your cul-de-sac or bounce through a long-forgotten pothole and you start to think that your car needs to protect you as much as it needs to protect itself from bad weather and rough roads.

What are the best cars for winter?

Recently I had the opportunity to take a ride in a variety of models from FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles). As luck would have it, it rained the whole time, rendering the day a true test of the best winter cars and what we really need our cars to do most: keep us safe.

Surprising sedans: Safety features that expect the unexpected

You don’t need to be in a 4 wheel drive truck or Jeep to be able to handle weather challenges, Even the most basic cars built today take into consideration weather extremes, traffic challenges and distracted drivers (other drivers, of course!).

Among the features that help with these challenges are electronic stability control, lane keep assist (and/or lane departure warning), blind spot detectors, traction control, all wheel drive, rear view cameras, forward collision warning and hill hold assist. In any car, these are features that you should have; if they are not offered standard, opt for the trim level or packages that have them (even if they cost extra, these packages are often less than one or two insurance deductible payments!)

Best Winter Car

The 2016 Chrysler 300 is great in the snow –and thankfully, this photo is Chrysler’s; we didn’t have snow on our drive

The Chrysler 200, a smaller sedan, (priced from $21,000 to $27,000) and the full sized Chrysler 300 sedan (priced from $31,000 to $41,000) offer most of these features at incredibly reasonable prices (the high end 300 even adds rain brake support and adaptive cruise with full stop). As sedans, the 200 and 300 are better for drivers who don’t expect that snow or heavy rain will be a regular challenge but want to be prepared just in case.

Crossovers: The best of all worlds

Best Cars Winter

Cutie pie with room for everyone; the Fiat 500L has seating for 5 and flexible cargo space. . Credit: Scotty Reiss for AGirlsGuidetoCars

There’s a reason the crossover is the most popular car in the US: it meets all of our needs, all at once. It’s higher off the ground, so as a driver you’re at eye level with most other drivers, but not so high off the ground that it’s a struggle to get in and out. It’s capable when the snow is deep(ish), keeps puddles at bay and is more capable on wet roads. And, there’s the flexible cargo space they are associated with. Enter the Fiat 500x, (priced from $20,000 to $29,000) Fiat’s first crossover. Fiat took the iconic Italian small car and boosted its size and abilities, resulting in an open, airy cabin with tons of fun and character. Don’t want to feel too grown up in your capable, responsible car? This is for you.

Best Winter Car

A panoramic sun roof and plenty of head room make the interior of the Fiat 500L feel super roomy. . Credit: Scotty Reiss for AGirlsGuidetoCars

We took a test drive in the Fiat 500L, (priced from $19,500 to $24,700) to get a sense of what these cars are all about. When the Fiat was first introduced, I loved the idea of bringing the iconic Italian car to US streets, but I also sort of ignored it; it was too small for my family. When the four-door editions were introduced, I had to look twice: the Fiat has a distinct, creative look that plays on the best of the brand’s Italian design but also, makes no compromises for American drivers. The size and shape of the 500L and 500X accommodate an open, airy cabin that is as character-filled and fun on the inside as it is outside.

Best Winter Car

View from the driver’s seat of the Fiat 500L. Credit: Scotty Reiss for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Add to that lots of smart storage options, safety technology, phone connectivity and seats that fold down for cargo space when you need it, and it’s a distinct car that stands out from the crowd.

Best Winter Car

Another nice detail Beats by Dre speakers in the Fiat. Credit: Scotty Reiss for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Off Road: Driving is full of giggles, even when the road means serious business

Best Winter Car

A pair of Wranglers, the iconic Jeep flagship, wearing mud as a badge of accomplishment. Credit: Scotty Reiss for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Jeep is probably the most-associated name with off road driving, ideal for the adventurous enthusiast and weekend warrior, but it’s also popular among drivers who regularly face rugged terrain and rough weather and need assurance that they’ll arrive safely.

Best Winter Car

The Wrangler’s cabin was nicely appointed and comfortable; my driving companion Jan points out where the window controls are: On the center console. Credit: Scotty Reiss for AGirlsGuidetoCars

When we bought our first home outside the city and started to plan a family, Jeep was our choice. We wanted to be assured that we could get in and out of our driveway, and in and out of the city, no matter the conditions. Even after 14 years of Jeep ownership, we never once took it off road.

Best Winter Car

Getting ready for winter by testing out Jeep’s abilities in the mud and rain. Normally I am not happy to have this much mud and dirt on the front of my car, but this day, that was the goal. Credit: Scotty Reiss for AGirlsGuidetoCars

So it was an eye opener to finally be able to drive through mud bogs and streams and over wooded hills in a Jeep. Our first outing was in the Jeep Grand Cherokee (priced from $29,000 to $49,000) through the mud and muck and we were impressed: leather seats kept us comfortable and stable while the Jeep managed the course. To drive the off road course, we had to put the Jeep into neutral, then shift to 4WD low, which allowed the Jeep to apply power when and where it was needed on the course; often I didn’t even have to ‘drive;’ the Jeep took over when it sensed the need to brake going down a hill or traversing an uneven ditch. 

Best Winter Car

The Wrangler’s gearshift (right) and the 4WD gear selector, which we used when we began driving off road. Credit: Scotty Reiss for AGirlsGuidetoCars

The next vehicle we drove was the Jeep Wrangler (priced from $23,000 to $37,000) the iconic original off road, 4 wheel drive car. I hopped into the Wrangler and was surprised that like the Cherokee, going off road doesn’t really mean roughing it: It was comfortable and filled with luxurious touches like leather seats, storage for phones and other gear, and was outfitted with Chrysler’s UConnect infotainment and navigation system.

It also comes in hard top and soft top versions so you are completely comfy and dry in winter, but can let the summer wind muss your hair in warmer months (or climates). The Wrangler is ideal for people who live in areas with both challenging climates and terrain: It’s great for climbing steep and snowy driveways (Think Vermont and Colorado as well as Topanga and Laurel Canyon).

Off Road abilities for families of 5 or more

So here’s the real challenge for families: If you have three kids, you need three rows. And if you live anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon, you have all this weather to consider, too. Dodge offers two options, the Journey and the Durango.

Best Winter Car

Brooklyn badass: the 2015 Dodge Durango in the Blacktop Appearance package–notice the lack of bling– keeps a low profile on streets of Brooklyn (or in a parking lot filled with minivans). Credit: Scotty Reiss for AGirlsGuidetoCars

The Dodge Durango is a get-it-while-you-can car; Dodge is discontinuing it with the 2015 model year, and this makes me very sad: it’s spacious, seats up to 8 passengers, is well appointed and has very capable AWD. Priced at about $30,000-$45,000, it packs in a lot for the money. And the Journey is a more compact version of an 8-seater; it’s slightly smaller (and seating is a bit tighter) but has all the capability of its larger siblings. Prices from $20,000 to about $35,000, it’s a great option for small but growing families that need flexibility as well as capability.

 Disclosure: I was FCA’s guest to drive the full line of cars, and was provided with travel and accommodations. Opinions expressed here are all my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss