‘Tis the season for slipping and sliding, at least for those of us in the snowy regions of the Northern Hemisphere. With the shift of seasons, we return to the timeless debate of tires and powertrains best-suited for conquering winter conditions, and you know what? It’s a debate that can get rather heated at times, despite the chilly weather.
Of course, we’re talking about the all-wheel-drive versus front-wheel-drive conundrum. Sure, AWD will get power to the ground better, but acceleration is only one-third of driving. Turning and stopping matter even more, and while a skilled driver can make use of AWD in corners, it offers no benefits while stopping. As such, we arrive at the critical question: Are you better off with an AWD vehicle using good all-season tires, or a FWD vehicle on good snow tires?
Our friend Jonathan Benson at Tyre Reviews is back with another comparison video to answer that question. Two Mini Countryman S models are called to duty, one of which has Mini’s on-demand AWD system. That car rides on UK-spec Goodyear Vector 4Season Gen 3 all-season tires, while its FWD counterpart gets Goodyear UltraGrip Performance+ snow tires. The video covers acceleration tests on both a flat surface and a hill, braking tests on snow and ice, a snow circle, and a handling test over a snow-covered road course.
In previous videos, we’ve seen AWD vehicles on summer tires absolutely humiliated by two-wheel drive cars using snow tires. These all-season Goodyears offer decent grip in the snow, however, and it shows in the acceleration tests. It’s no contest – the AWD Mini confidently pulls away for a dominating win, both on level ground and a hill start. However, the AWD advantages end there.
In the snow-covered braking test, the FWD Mini pulled up a car-length shorter. It’s not a huge gap, but when it comes to an emergency stop, that can mean the difference between stopping before the intersection or sliding through it. A similar gap was reported for the ice-braking test, and on the handling course, the FWD Mini on snow tires was slightly quicker than its AWD counterpart. We do emphasize slightly there – the times were nearly identical but they were achieved very differently. As expected, the AWD Mini on all-seasons could accelerate out of corners better, but braking and turn-in were worse.
What’s the conclusion? Obviously, an all-wheel-drive car on snow tires rules winter with an iron fist. Beyond that, the video points out that AWD performance on all-season tires is reasonably close to a FWD vehicle on snows, at least with these specific tires. Still, there’s no doubt that in two out of three driving metrics, FWD on snow tires outperformed AWD with all-seasons. And unless you’re drag racing on snow, FWD will still get you going.