We headed to snowy Winter Park, Colorado with Rocky Mountain Redline to put AWD cars from Nissan, Dodge, FIAT, Acura, for some Honda through their paces for snowy autocross, drag racing, and donut-making fun. There were no winners or losers, just six great cars and crossovers, all of which can handle inclimate weather with aplomb.
Rather than focusing on performance comparisons, our objective for the day was to experience how vehicles of all shapes and sizes have become adept at handling in snow, ice, and other slippery situations. Advances in all-wheel drive and traction control systems, combined with modern winter tires, mean that there's a winter car for everyone these days. Whether you're looking for an SUV for your family, a playful compact crossover, or a powerful muscle car, you've got lots of choices. Plus, with features like heated seats and heated steering wheels, driving vehicles in freezing cold climates is far more pleasant than it once was.
We kicked off our time on the snow in the 2020 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV AWD. This solid mid-size sedan is better than ever now that it can send some of its torque to the rear wheels. It puts power down smoothly, and is predictable when the weather turns bad. It's also got a comfortable interior, a nice smooth suspension, and a super-quiet engine. Its intelligent all-wheel drive system can send up to 50% of power to the rear wheels when launching, and around 30% to help keep the car stable while cornering, plus its brake based trace control helps the car make tighter and more predictable turns.
The 2020 Acura RDX SH-AWD A-SPEC uses its turbocharged 2.0-liter engine to crank out lots of power and torque - 272 horses and 280 ft-lb. to be precise. Thanks to the turbos, it was also quite happy at the 9000-ish foot altitude, which tends to sap naturally-aspirated engines of some of their oopmh. Acura's super smart SH-AWD system not only can send up to 70% of its power to the rear wheels for a truly sporty drive, but it has real torque vectoring, so it can adjust power independently to either rear wheel for go-kart like cornering. On the snow, it's a really agile vehicle, and has a great aggressive look and exhaust note thanks to the performance-oriented A-SPEC trim. (Photo by Speed-Photos)
The Honda 2020 Honda CR-V 1.5 AWD Touring is a solid everyday crossover for small families, powered by a zesty little 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. Its handling is anything but sporty, but the CR-V held its own on the course, and its AWD system managed to keep us in control through the slalom section of the autocross course. With the traction control nannies left on, it had a tendency to really limit power through the corners, but that's what you want when you're trying to keep from skidding out in a real-world situation.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the day was the 2020 FIAT 500X Trekking AWD. Not only is this compact Italian crossover a joy to look at, it was quite nimble on the autocross, and was even an occasional drag race winner against vehicles with more horespower. The 500X has a weight advantage, being one of the lightest vehicles we drove, along with a nice short wheelbase too. It also packs a new 1.3-liter turbocharged engine that makes 177hp and 210 lb-ft. of torque. There was a little turbo lag off the line, but once you're into 2nd gear and above, this little guy starts to sing, and can keep up with the best of them on the snow.
We got lots of stares from people as we drove through the snow-capped Colorado mountains in a shiny Octane Red 2020 Dodge Charger GT AWD. You'd think a big and heavy muscle car would be ill-suited to winter driving, but you'd be wrong when it comes to this one. Its front axle clutch pack means it can send power to the front wheels in addition to the rear, offering up confident, but spirited performance when the roads turn slippery. Its 3.6-liter V6 is no Hellcat Redeye, but less is often more when it comes to putting down the power in the snow and ice. Its 300 horsepower felt plentiful in conditions like these, and it frequently came out in front during our casual drag race competitions. The rear-biased system also let us hang the tail out plenty, and we were able to powerslide into some pretty epic donuts.
Last, but not least, was the 2020 Nissan Rogue Sport AV AWD . This daily driver was the least powerful vehicle of the bunch, making just 141 horsepower with its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. But snow is a great equalizer when it comes to vehicle performance, and the Rogue Sport managed to keep up with more powerful cars when it came to the autocross course. Its NASA-inspired zero-gravity seats are also really comfortable whether on a long road trip or zooming through the cones. (Photo by Speed-Photos)
At the end of the day, all six vehicles we drove proved safe, comfortable, and capable of handling all of our snow-packed challenges. Thanks to modern all-wheel drive and vehicle safety systems, it's a lot easier to keep today's cars from going sideways when the weather goes sideways. When driving normally, every one of the cars kept us safe and pointed in the right direction. Flicking off their traction control systems let us slide and frolic in the white stuff a bit more. Some vehicles were more playful than others when it came to such things, but traction control and stability systems are designed first and foremost for safety, so it's understandable that not every car could let its tail hang out. We also can't emphasize this enough - winter tires make a huge difference when it comes to driving in deeper snow or on ice, so you'll want to invest in some if you plan on driving in such conditions.
Thanks so much to Rocky Mountain Redline for putting together this great event, and to all of the manufacturers who provided sponsorship and vehicles so we could spend a day playing in the snow.