When winter's wrath hits hard, a car with all-wheel drive and good tires is your best bet to help navigate the roads safely.

All-wheel drive feeds power to all four wheels and provides maximum forward traction. It is especially helpful in wintry conditions and when driving over moderate off-road terrain. Its lightness and compactness makes AWD the system of choice for cars and crossovers. Many modern systems exact only a slight fuel-economy penalty, and their engagement is seamless.

But AWD has limitations: It does nothing to improve braking or regular cornering. Thus, such systems don't enable you to drive the same way or at the same speed as you would on a dry road.

If you're considering a new car and live in an area where roadways could be covered with ice, snow, or other traction challenges, take a look at the models below to find AWD choices in a variety of vehicle categories.

These highlighted models were ranked tops in our 2015 auto survey when we asked subscribers to rate their vehicles' performance in snowy conditions. The results revealed that some AWD and 4WD systems are better than others.

Below, SUVs and wagons are ranked for winter driving based on 47,982 subscriber ratings. All respondents had driven their vehicles without changing to winter tires on at least six snowy days during the winter of 2014 to 2015. The rankings are based on 2012 to 2015 models that have at least two model years' worth of data. 

1. Subaru Outback

Subaru Outback is on the list of best all-wheel-drive vehicles.

An SUV alternative for the nonconformist, the Outback wagon is roomy and functional, and it appeals to the practical-minded buyer. It rides very comfortably, with secure handling. Standard AWD delivers reassuring traction in wintry conditions. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder returns 24 mpg overall and drives through a standard continuously variable transmission. Opting for the 3.6-liter six-cylinder makes the car quicker, quieter, and thirstier, conceding 2 mpg. The controls are all easy to use, including the touch-screen infotainment system. The wagon's generous rear seat is roomy enough for three adults. The generous cargo area is comparable to a Forester or Toyota RAV4, with a lower loading height to boot. The affordable EyeSight safety suite adds blind-spot monitoring and forward-collision warning with automatic braking.

Read the complete Subaru Outback road test.


2. Subaru Crosstrek

Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek is a small quasi-SUV version of the previous-generation Impreza hatchback, with a raised ride height that gives it enough clearance to slosh through deeply rutted roads. It may appeal to those people who live at the end of a dirt road and don't want anything big and bulky. The cabin is rather noisy, the ride is stiff, and the 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine occasionally has to work hard, but fuel economy is a gratifying 26 mpg. The costlier Hybrid, and its 28 mpg, has been discontinued for 2017. In the end, the regular Impreza hatch may be a better choice: It's quieter, quicker, cheaper, and better-riding, even if its lower ride height makes cabin access a bit more difficult.

Read the complete Subaru Crosstrek road test.


3. Subaru Forester

Subaru Forester

Hitting the sweet spot among small SUVs, the Forester delivers a spacious interior, impressive safety equipment and crashworthiness, and outstanding visibility in a right-sized, affordable package. Fuel economy is excellent at 26 mpg overall, especially given the standard AWD. The ride is supple, and handling is very secure. Engine noise is pronounced at times. Controls are straightforward and easy to use. The infotainment and connectivity systems have finally been updated with an intuitive touch screen. Midtrim Foresters bring a lot of content for the money, but it's easy to crest $30,000 with options packages. A feisty turbo comes with XT trim but compromises the value equation. The optional (and recommended) EyeSight system includes lane-departure warning and front-collision warning.

Read the complete Subaru Forester road test.