Autocar TO 4×4 OR NOT


Recent snowfall and sub-zero conditions have resulted in a surge of interest from car buyers looking for four-wheel-drive vehicles ­ but exclusive research by has revealed that car buyers could be safer and save themselves thousands of pounds by investing in a set of winter tyres instead.


Jim Holder, Autocar editor said “Of course the ideal scenario is to fit your 4×4 with winter tyres and enjoy the best of all worlds, but faced with a simple choice between the two, our tests indicate strongly that for most people most of the time, they’d be better off both literally and figuratively keeping their current two- wheel drive car and investing in a set of winter boots.”

At a closed test centre, Autocar pitted two Skoda Yetis – each with a 108 bhp diesel engine and each wearing 225/45 R 17 section tyres – against each other on snow and ice-covered roads. The cars were identical in every way, except for one being front-wheel drive only fitted with winter tyres and the other having four-wheel drive but everyday all-weather tyres.

A set of new winter tyres typically costs from £400, while the average transaction price of a used 4×4 is currently just under £15,000, having risen by more than 10 per cent during the recent cold snap according to data from British Car Auctions.

Braking test In a braking test from 22mph ­– a typical speed on snow covered roads even in a built up area –­ the car fitted with winter tyres stopped on average just over 4.5 metres earlier than the four-wheel-drive car, a distance more than sufficient to be the difference between a minor and significant accident.

Cornering test Both cars were driven around a constant radius circle, with the lateral g-force developed by each car measured. While neither car had much grip, the car equipped with winter tyres developed 35 per cent more grip than the four-wheel-drive car.

Acceleration test With all electronic aids switched on ­(as in the real world)­ both cars were driven from a standstill to 40mph on the snow-covered road. Initially, the winter tyre shod car fared best, but from 5mph upwards the four-wheel-drive-car showed its advantage, hitting 40mph 4.4sec faster.

Subjective test As a final test, Autocar’s test drive sampled both cars to give a view on which delivered more confidence. While both cars were deemed good, the car equipped with winter tyres delivered greater accuracy in cornering at all times.

Conclusion While the ultimate security in snow and icy conditions comes from driving a 4×4 equipped with winter tyres, it is clear that car buyers panic-buying 4x4s in the snow could better off financially and in terms of safety by considering equipping their current car with winter tyres instead.

While for most people most of the time a 4×4 clearly gives better traction, aiding acceleration and grip while climbing slippery surfaces, the combination of two-wheel drive plus winter tyres offered significant benefits under braking and cornering.