Whether it’s to hit the ski slopes, traverse mountain roads, or just make it home safely when the storm hits, it’s a huge benefit to have a vehicle that can get you wherever you need to go when the snow falls. And with their higher ground clearance, all-wheel drive capability, and larger tires, SUVs are the de facto vehicle of choice for winter.
But not all SUVs are created equal when it comes to winter driving. In fact, some crossovers aren’t likely to fare much better than other vehicles on the roads. But some SUVs models are standouts in the field. Let’s take a look at our picks for best SUVs in the snow.
Land Rover Range Rover
The Range Rover is the gold-standard when it comes to luxury on/off-road SUVs. And it’s flagship model is a real standout. The Range Rover has an advanced air suspension system which allows the driver to adjust the vehicle to fit the conditions. The 2014 model’s ground clearance can go up to 11.9 inches when the air suspension is raised.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
The Grand Cherokee has a ground clearance of 8.6 inches which is quite capable but in addition, it has an advanced air suspension system it calls Quadra-Lift®, which afford drivers with more control over suspension and an additional 2.2 inches of ground clearance, up to 10.8 inches. This feature comes standard on up-level Summit and Overland trims.
Quadra-Lift® also allows lowering of the suspension down to 8.5 for easier passenger exit and load and unloading.
Jeep Wrangler Sahara
A standard Wrangler, the classic Jeep’s off-road model mainstay, will get you 8.8 inches of ground clearance. Upgrading to the Wrangler Rubicon will get you 10 inches, while the Wrangler Sahara will clear 10.6 inches.
The Xterra is one of the last SUV models built on a truck-based platform in the compact and midsize classes. While it comes at the expense of fuel economy of 16-mpg and 22-mpg highway, this SUV is tough and built to get where it needs to go. The 2015 Xterra has 9.5 inches of ground clearance.
Subaru XV Crosstrek
We added this model as it is the standout in the subcompact SUV class with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the same as the larger Subaru Forester. While the diminutive crossover has just 148 horsepower, it does offer the capability to perform in all weather conditions. It does so while still getting commendable gas mileage of 25-mpg city and 33-mpg highway with the continuously variable transmission.
Worst SUVs in the Snow
A variety of factors such as tire traction, drive wheels, and weight distribution can impact how SUVs perform in the snow. But based on ground clearance, two compact models stood out as worst SUVs in the snow.
While one of the top models overall in its class, the 2015 Honda CR-V has just 6.4 of ground clearance with front-wheel drive and 6.8 inches with rear wheel drive. The Hyundai Tucson comes in with 6.7 inches of ground clearance.
While these models may make it easy to get in and out of, it comes at the expense of not being able to ford through snow as deep as its competitors. In comparison, the Ford Escape has 7.9 inches while Nissan Rogue is at 7.4. Among non-SUVs, the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen comes in at 5.4 inches.
Additional Benefits of High Ground Clearance SUVs
High ground clearance doesn’t help you just in snow. It also helps you when streets are flooded, when facing rocky roads or other obstacles. The models featured above are good choices year-round. Many of the models above are also featured in our off-road ready SUV page.
Adding all-wheel drive to an SUV helps a vehicles performance in snow and ice but does add weight and sometimes ride height to a vehicle. While some models such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee are the same ride height whether with two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, other have a higher ride height when equipped with all-wheel drive.
Many of the above models also offer hill descent control, which is useful when traveling down snow covered hills. They also may feature hill start assist which helps prevent your vehicle from rolling back when you want to accelerate up a hill.
One downside to high ground clearance is it usually means lesser fuel economy. Outside of the XV Crosstrek, all of the above top SUVs for snow have city fuel economy in the teens. One exception is the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel, which paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission, returns 22-mpg city and 30-mpg highway making this midsize SUV an excellent ski vehicle.