Is Hyundai Elantra GT the Right Car for Winter?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 08, 2015

Dear Car Talk:

Is there a rule of thumb about what sort of vehicle is most stable on icy roads -- maybe all-wheel drive versus two-wheel drive, or wide wheelbase versus narrow wheelbase? Last winter I slid sideways off a highway, across the shoulder, through the ditch and up against a fence. Ever since then, I've been scared that my 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT (a little hatchback) is not the right car for winter conditions. The rear end of this car also jumps around a lot on bad pavement.

-- Martin

Well, nothing's great on ice, Martin. Except maybe sled dogs. But Hyundai discontinued those in 2013.

I don't think wheelbase width makes much of a difference. All-wheel drive certainly is better than two-wheel drive. And heavier cars tend to do better in snow and ice than light cars. So your Hyundai GT would not be the first car I'd think of when someone wants a winter vehicle. Although, to be fair, it's no worse than lots of other small, lightweight, front-wheel-drive cars.

If you do decide to keep it, I have two suggestions: One is to get four of the best snow tires you can find -- something like Dunlop SP Winter Sports, Pirelli Winter SottoZero Serie IIs or Bridgestone Blizzaks. If you go to tirerack.com, it has a tire decision tool that will help you choose tires. And you can read reviews of individual tires, to further narrow your decision.

Tires designed for snow and ice not only have tread patterns that help with snow traction, but the actual rubber compound they're made of helps them stay softer and stickier in cold temperatures.

You wouldn't want to drive around on them all year, because they're not as good on wet or dry roads as all-season tires. But for winter traction, four good winter tires will make a difference.

My second suggestion would be to slow down. In snow and ice, every change of direction of the car is magnified because you have less traction. So, while you can make a sharp turn at 20 mph on a dry road and the car won't slide, that same turn at 10 mph, or even 5 mph, on snow might land you in a ditch.

So on slippery roads, you want to do everything very gently. Brake gently. Steer gently. Stop gently. That's a lot easier if you're going slowly, because you can anticipate turns and stops, instead of reacting quickly -- which can result in a loss of control.

Actually, there is one vehicle I just thought of that's great on ice: a Zamboni. Unfortunately, it only comes as a convertible, so you'd really have to bundle up next winter, Martin. But think about it.


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