What makes a good winter car
In my opinion reliability comes as number one when considering what makes a good winter car. Nothing could be worse than a car failure on a cold and dark winter night.
Then there are other features which are very helpful as the cabin warms up quickly, ground clearance, proper AWD and confident drive feel. Also good seat heating and a heated steering wheel certainly helps a lot.
My list of top winter features
- Ground clearance and (Symmetrical) AWD
- Drivability in snow and ice
- Warm cabin
- Heated steering wheel
Our family had the opportunity to drive through cold weather and snow and ice blizzards with our Subaru Forester hybrid. Here’s the whole story and see how it went.
Traveling in this global situation
In this global situation I would not recommend vacation or road trips to anyone. However I needed to go to the funerals and then at the same time my kid had a winter holiday from a school. Which gave us an opportunity to visit our family’s summer cottage. That’s right! Summer cottage in winter is a super nice experience. Cottage is roughly 600 km away from our home and the forecasts promised somewhat cold weather. This means road trip time for our family and I got an opportunity to learn how the e-Boxer copes in a proper winter.
Starting the engine in -28 Celsius degrees
We divided our outward trip into two parts. First night we stayed in Hotel Oscar, Varkaus after driving 300 km. That was because our 8 month old baby does not like to travel that long.
They had very good service in that hotel. Even the weather forecast came to the breakfast table. Waiter told me that they had -28 C that morning and it will get colder, even more than -30 C. I wondered if my Forester would start at all. There would be always a possibility that it would not start at all. As the current generation RAV4 seems to have problems in the colder weather. So it is always possible that cars might have some issues, if even Toyota has them.
After breakfast I asked keys to the electric pole from the reception, so I could connect the electric engine block prehearing on. After 30-40 preheating we were ready to continue the trip. Time to start Subaru. Forester started well without any problems. Only issue there was a warning on the dashboard saying that Eyesight is disabled due to change in the temperature. After 10 minutes of driving, the warning went away.
Of course the car was cold when starting the engine in that weather. Transmission/gearbox and driveline was so frozen that the car kept rpm quite high till it warmed up. But once it reached normal operating temperature, the car felt normal to drive.
The big surprise was that average fuel consumption was well below 9 litres per 100km in that coldness. Speed limit was mainly 80 km/h. Cabin also warmed up quickly. Temperature was set to 22 C with full auto setting. That kept everyone happy and warm inside the car. Even so that I needed to reduce temperature at some point.
Driving through snow and ice with Subaru Forester
I brought my family to the summer cottage and then I went to the funerals. On the return trip the weather was changed. Now it was only roughly -15 C cold but the sun was not shining anymore. Instead of that there was every now and then heavy snowing among strong gusts. This combined with icy road surfaces made news saying that driving conditions are really poor all over the country.
I agree with news broadcasts. Snow powder was all over and especially when there were trucks coming by. And of course roads were very slippery too because of the ice. Main road was in quite good condition but when I approached near our summer cottage it felt that now I have the right car for these conditions. Unplowed narrow road with 20 cm of snow was so easy for Forester. But at the same time it was pure fun to drive it through. Fun thing was that the speed limit on that road was also 80km/h. So it was the same as with the bigger road. However it is essential to have your Forester equipped with proper winter tires. I have experience of those winter tires which are designed to the Nordic winter conditions. These are typically either studded or non-studded. Then there are winter tyres meant for Central European winters, for faster driving at Autobahns. I certainly recommend using those which are designed to the Nordic conditions. The best winter tires in my opinion are Nokian R3 or Continental Viking Contact 7. Mine are equipped with latter ones. And I am super happy about that. Driving feel is excellent with a good grip.
Also when speaking of winter tires, it is important to remember to have higher pressures than recommended by the manufacturer. This is because when the weather gets colder, pressure drops at the same time. Having higher pressures does not harm in any way. It can actually help in the fuel economy.
Subaru Forester and winter features
When comparing Subaru Forester to my top 5 winter features, I would say that Subie checks those all with confidence. It is reliable as it started in -28C like it would start under a palm tree.
X-Mode I did not need that often during this trip. There were few times when I used it but more to get more precise control when reversing in a tight place. Not because there was that much snow.
Forester drives with confidence in snow and ice. Even with relatively high speeds. Although pay attention to the driving conditions. If the road is slippery, e.g. due to ice, good drivability may give wrong signals to the driver. Even Subaru can’t reverse the laws of physics.
Cabin is also warm enough and it warms quickly enough. Auto settings seems to work fine, although I don’t fully understand Japanese logic why it needs to blow with full power at the first. In my opinion lower fan speeds would work better. Which I often adjust manually to avoid turbulence in the cabin.
Floor mats was not on my initial list and is not specially Forester’s features but I’ll mention it anyway. Replacing oem mats with good floor liners helps during winters too. Easier to remove snow from the cabin. Less moisture means less hoarfrost on the windows too.
Why Forester would not be a perfect winter companion
I found a few issues related to Forester and winter. During winter (at least in Finland) it is very dark when you drive outside of cities (or towns). Auto high / low beam does not seem to work at all. First I thought it was not dark enough yet and therefore it didn’t want to change to the high beams. But then one evening I drove in pitch black in the middle of the forest. Only lightsource was reflecting white snow and then actual reflectors on the side of the roads. Purpose for those reflectors are for snow removal so that snow plow trucks see where the road goes. I need to consult the user manual if I can figure out why auto setting did not work. And if that does not help, I need to ask the dealer to take a look at it.
Second issue is related to the lights likewise. Headlights did get nice ice cover blocking light to come through. And led lights do not generate heat that much, so it would melt ice cover away. Scraping might lead to some scratches.
Third thing is that the bottom of the windshield is heated, so it would keep wiper blades free of ice. In my experience it is not that effective.
I’ll keep this short. So far Subaru Forester has been the best winter car I have owned. Those few issues are not deal breakers. And make a sure that you have one of these when driving in winter.