What's the best car to hit the snow in?

By David Linklater

If you want to be the talking point apres-ski, a classy vehicle is your prime accessory

Having the right car can be the difference between sitting at the bottom or reaching the top of the mountain. Photo / Alan Gibson
Having the right car can be the difference between sitting at the bottom or reaching the top of the mountain. Photo / Alan Gibson

It's the season for ski weekends, which means it's also time for Driven to give some serious thought to which new cars best suit an excursion to the snow.

It's not just about having four-wheel drive and space for ski gear. Assuming there's a road trip involved, the ideal ski car is comfortable over long distances and also engaging enough to keep the driver alert.

Since there might just be a teeny element of fashion-consciousness involved in the sport of skiing (no, really) let's also make sure our vehicles will create an impression on arrival at the mountain.

• Read more Six tips for saying safe on the roads this winter

Audi SQ5

We love the SQ5. It's Audi's first S-badged crossover and if the company was a bit more sure about the enthusiast appeal of diesels, we reckon it would even be worthy of the coveted RS designation. The SQ5 has a killer combination of serious performance from its 230kW/650Nm 3-litre V6 twin-turbo diesel powerplant and excellent economy, with 6.8 litres for 100km.

It's more road-focused than the standard Q5, with lowered sports suspension and 20-inch wheels, and the quattro four-wheel-drive system means it shrugs off rain and snow. The SQ5's artificial engine/exhaust noise polarises opinion, but it's certainly a conversation piece. There are sound actuators inside the cabin and at the rear of the car, which turn the diesel soundtrack into something closer to a throaty V8.

A little something for the end-of-day bragging session when you're finished on the mountain: the SQ5 is substantially faster to 100km/h than the equivalent Porsche Macan.

Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

The latest Jeep Cherokee embraces the crossover ethos more enthusiastically than the previous model. It's now based on a Fiat Chrysler passenger-car platform, which has vastly improved both ride and handling, and the new 200kW/316Nm 3.2-litre V6 engine is matched to a nine-speed (yes, nine) automatic gearbox. The cabin is now a great place to be, with a monster 8.4-inch touch-screen for the infotainment system and a high-quality Alpine audio system.

But Jeep still prides itself on making highly capable all-terrain vehicles. So why not go all the way with the Cherokee Trailhawk? You'll know it by the black bonnet decal and chunky 17-inch painted/polished alloy wheels.

The Trailhawk is the only model in the Cherokee range to carry the Trail Rated designation - not that you'll need that kind of ability on the way to the skifield, but it's still great to know you're driving the toughest type of Jeep. The Trailhawk has off-road suspension, a more sophisticated four-wheel system and a special rock programme on the Selec-Terrain system.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic

Mercedes-Benz launched the GLA this year in front-drive 200 CDI specification. Nice car, but not really the thing for a trip to the mountain. The next step in the GLA family is just the ticket, though.

The just-released GLA 250 4Matic is powered by a 155kW/350Nm 2-litre turbo-petrol engine that's been tweaked by AMG, it has a full-time four-wheel-drive system and the added benefit of an off-road engineering package. It's compact, yes, as you'd expect of a vehicle based on the A-class hatchback.

But the GLA's diminutive size brings advantages of its own, with considerable on-road agility. After all, the A-class is one of the sportiest cars in its segment.

Skoda Yeti Outdoor

The Yeti is off to a good start: it has a snow reference in its name. Yeti has been a favourite of ours from the start, combining crossover credentials with the kind of interior space and practicality you'd expect from a people-mover.

In the facelifted Yeti range, Skoda has made the urban model more hatchback-like and the off-road version a bit more rugged. So the Yeti City now looks like a tall super-mini, whereas the Outdoor stands proud with SUV addenda such as flared wheelarch guards and chunky alloys. The Outdoor also gets a more grunty 103kW/320Nm 2-litre turbo diesel.

You can have a manual transmission, but most buyers go for the six-speed direct shift gearbox (DSG), a slick automated dual-clutch transmission that's just as quick as a manual and even more thrifty.

Subaru Outback Diesel

There are plenty of ski-suitable Subarus to choose from, including the latest Forester and the Impreza-based VX crossover. But we've chosen the familiar Outback for a couple of reasons: first, it's still the only model to combine Subaru's boxer-diesel engine with automatic transmission (the Forester diesel is manual-only for now). Second, it's been a Kiwi favourite for nearly 20 years and the latest facelift model still stacks up well against newer rivals.

The Subaru Lineartronic Transmission is arguably the best continuously variable gearbox on the market; it certainly works well with the 110kW/350Nm diesel engine. The Outback chassis is also still deeply impressive on loose surfaces: beautifully balanced and very communicative. Opt for the $59,990 premium version and you're also travelling in luxury, with leather upholstery, satellite navigation and reversing camera.

Toyota Highlander

In some respects, Highlander is the default choice for a ski vehicle: it's large enough to carry seven people, or five with a whole lot of gear. It's swift and quiet on the road, certainly not short of presence, yet it also has four-wheel drive to get you up the mountain.

Little wonder that this is the car that launched a thousand rental contracts.

So just to set yourself apart from the pack when you're in the skifield carpark, consider the flagship Limited ZR version - a new designation that's aimed at private buyers instead of rental fleets. It comes with the works: wood trim, powered front seats with heating and cooling, an eight-inch touch screen and power tailgate.

Dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure warning and full LED headlights keep you safe on the trip to the mountain, while a rear entertainment package with Blu-Ray player keeps the troops quiet in the back.

- NZ Herald

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