There are some cars we expect to be great for winter driving. The old Quattro-equipped Audis were certainly great in the snow, as were the late 1980s and 1990s Subarus, for obvious reasons. Late ’80s and ’90s Jeep Cherokees also offered surefooted driving, even if their body panels were not fond of whatever your state was spraying on the roads, as were the old CJ Jeeps. For a while it certainly seemed that AMC wanted to corner the market on winter vehicles with its lineup of what would be called crossovers today, at least until French cars started rolling out of Kenosha. But the AMC Eagles still ruled the roads for a long time thereafter until their body panels had also succumbed to salt.
The hit parade of capable winter cars from the recent past also included small four-wheel-drive cars of all sorts, including some now-obscure ones. Remember when Mitsubishi offered the first-generation Montero stateside? The Mercedes-Benz W123 also has a reputation for being a sturdy winter car, and we still see them being used in the dead of winter on occasion despite them being quite aged by now.
All-wheel drive is offered in so many vehicles today it has perhaps led to an over-reliance on it, over winter tires and driving skill. Those learning to drive in the snow for the first time this winter will be doing so in an auto market where AWD is far more commonplace than it used to be. So the “old” family car today is now much more likely to be an SUV from about 20 years ago, with all-wheel drive standard.
But what cars were better in the snow, and for winter driving in general, than they looked?
We’ve heard plenty of tales about the winter prowess of Saabs, backed up by rally history. But hailing from Sweden, we’d expect old Saabs to be able winter drivers even without the benefit of four-wheel drive. The same goes for old Volvos. They managed to be quite capable despite not being particularly agile, relying on rear-wheel drive. At one point we even saw a tired Volvo 340 that had been a winter driver in Maine, even though no Volvo dealers in this hemisphere sold 340s as a matter of course. And that was essentially a Dutch-built, CVT-equipped rear-wheel drive machine that somehow, someone in Maine had been using as a winter beater in the 1990s. Surely there must have been some Subarus around Maine?
Let us know what cars of the past were great in the snow, even though they didn’t look like they would be.
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