Consumer Reports spent weeks driving on its snowy, unplowed test track to see how much all-wheel drive helps. The engineers found that it does make it easier to get your car moving on a slick surface, such as a snowy driveway. But in handling tests, some all-wheel-drive vehicles struggled to stay on course when equipped with their original all-season tires.
To test braking, Consumer Reports used a Honda CR-V, the best-selling compact SUV. Going 60 miles per hour with its original all-season tires, it took 668 feet to stop, almost the length of two football fields. But when the CR-V was outfitted with winter tires, it stopped in less than half that distance.
The engineers found that using winter tires matters far more than using all-wheel drive in many situations. They provide the best grip for going, stopping, and cornering, no matter what kind of vehicle you drive.
Buying winter tires is an added expense, but they will cost far less than the several-thousand-dollar premium you’ll pay for all-wheel drive.
If you’re going to be driving in heavy wintry conditions, Consumer Reports recommends replacing all of your tires with winter tires, even if your vehicle has all-wheel drive. Consumer Reports has tested more than 30 winter tires, and the Michelin X-Ice XI3 is top-rated.