Audience Participation Time: Official Winter Vehicle of New England

On Saturday, I’m headed to an undisclosed location to judge the New England Motor Press Association’s Official Winter Vehicle of New England awards.

For the last decade, NEMPA has selected a number of vehicles in different classes, along with one vehicle selected as “Official Winter Vehicle of New England.”

What I’d like to know from you folks that have been living under the oppressive rule of Old Man Winter is:

What vehicles are you particularly interested in this year, and what would you like to see?

Is there anything about the current slate of four- and all-wheel drive vehicles that you’d particularly like to know that I might be able to provide some information on?

It’s an all day affair that involves a lot of driving and typically a lot of eating, too, so I might send some pictures of the buffet.

Drop me a line and I’ll incorporate your questions as part of the coverage.

NEMPA Winter Vehicle

NEMPA will be judging the Official Winter Car of New England Saturday. If we can find it.

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About Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald is an automotive writer, photographer and editor with credits in Hemmings Motor New, the Boston Globe, Forbes, the Washington Post, Esquire and BoldRide.com
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4 Responses to Audience Participation Time: Official Winter Vehicle of New England

  1. G P says:

    Here in the Midwest, I’ve driven Honda CR-V’s and Subaru Foresters. I’ve become convinced that there is an obvious advantage to all-wheel-drive for traction, but I’m also of the mind that each ground clearance and tire selection are at least equally important. Thoughts on the balance or ratio of importance of each of the three?

    • yankeedriver says:

      Ground clearance is important, GP, but the biggest factor has to be the tires.

      The time in which ground clearance is going to be an issue is probably limited to pulling into the driveway after the plows have left two feet of snow there.

      The time during which better tires are going to help is probably every minute of your commute on a snowy day.

      I’m convinced that all-wheel drive helps, but I’m not convinced that front-wheel drive offers any advantage over rear-drive.

      Thanks for the note!

  2. G P says:

    So then a related question. I was very disappointed by the winter performance of the Toyota Venza, (as you know, a 2009 pick). While it lacked ground clearance, the most notable detail to me was the 19″ wheels with very low profile tires. I wonder if the current trend of oversized wheels has an impact. In other words, on the same vehicle with the same tire brand/model, but in either, say 205/70-15 or 205/45-18 wheel/tire packages, would one or the other provide a performance advantage?

    The importance of tires begs another question: why pick the vehicle of the year? Just pick the tire of the year and shoe up whatever you already drive….

    • yankeedriver says:

      Enormous wheels and O-ring tires are a significant problem for winter drivers.

      The only way around it is to order a set of smaller wheels and dedicated snow tires.

      A search on Tire Rack reveals that nobody sells a winter-rated 205/45-18. The narrowest tire you can get close to that size is 225/45-18, 20mm wider than the 205/70-15. So not only does the 205/70-15 offer a more flexible sidewall, it’s 20mm narrower (better for winter traction), and they’re at least $400 cheaper for a set of four, making the investment in winter wheels a wash.

      To answer your final question: There are a lot of factors in picking a car that’s suitable for a New England winter. Aside from snow performance, some of the things I look for:

      Heated seats: How are they packaged, as stand-alone options, part of a more expensive package, or standard equipment? The S60 AWD surprised me that it carried an equipped MSRP of $43,000, but didn’t include heated seats.

      Visibility: I can’t see out of anything on a sunny day, let alone when I’m backing out of a driveway with eight foot snowbanks. Backup cameras work great in SoCal, but when the lens is covered in two inches of ice, they’re no help. A vehicle with designed-in superior visibility is a win for me.

      Traction Control: More than a vehicle WITH traction control and stability control, I want a system that I can TURN OFF when I need to. Both the Ford Fiesta and the Toyota Prius have traction/stability control systems that you cannot defeat, meaning that if you get yourself stuck on an icy patch midway up a hill, you’re going to stay there until springtime. I can see instances where both of those cars could be rendered immobile on wet grass.

      Remote Start: There is no other option I find more attractive on a frigid winter morning. I fell in love with the Pontiac G6 — of all cars — for this feature alone. Sure, you can have it installed on the aftermarket, but do you really want some high-school dropout cutting into your brand new car’s wiring harness? The fact that it’s covered by the warranty is a bonus.

      Controls: The Subaru WRX is a fun car, but tuning the radio with gloves on is like trying to push a rope uphill. The buttons are the size of Tic-Tacs, and the volume knob is no bigger than an oversized pencil eraser. Compare that to the controls in the Kia Sportage, for example, which are absolutely huge, intuitive and near perfect.

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