Snow set: The best plug-in hybrids and EVs for winter driving

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Plug-in vehicles make up a much larger portion of the market in California than in the rest of the nation. And yet many EVs and plug-in hybrids are able enough to take on serious winter driving in Snow Belt states—where getting through the white stuff is an everyday thing, not just something you encounter on the last few miles to the ski slopes. 

To sift out the models likely to do best in the snow, we looked first for all-wheel drive and generous ground clearance—two must-haves that really help in getting through snow drifts and snow banks and navigating back roads with freshly fallen snow. 

Keep in mind that all-wheel drive, as great as it might be in electrified vehicles, is no license to go faster in slippery conditions. Stopping is typically no shorter or more confident.

Also, don’t underestimate the impact of a good set of winter tires. If you never have to deal with unplowed driveways or deep fresh snowfall, a two-wheel-drive vehicle that rides much lower might be just fine. For more, read our many more useful tips on driving electric vehicles in the snow. 

In the spirit of Green Car Reports, we limited our selection to those vehicles that could achieve an EPA-rated range of at least 20 miles on plug-in electric power or at least 25 mpg combined—ideally both.

In the electric category, the slim pickings of all-wheel-drive crossovers mean we can’t be quite as discerning—yet—but with the introduction of many new electric SUVs and trucks over the next few years we’ll be more persnickety. 

Prices we list don’t include the federal EV tax credit, or the many state and regional incentives that might apply.

Plug-in hybrids

2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid – First Drive, Santa Barbara CA, Nov. 2019

Subaru Crosstrek PHEV
Ground clearance: 8.7 inches
Fully electric range: 17 miles
Fuel economy in hybrid mode: 35 mpg
Starting price: $36,155

Subaru knows that it appeals to outdoorsy types, and that even if shoppers choose the hybrid version they’re going to want the same level of go-anywhere capability. So it’s not surprising that the Crosstrek Hybrid really sacrifices nothing—all while adding an EPA-rated 17 miles of plug-in hybrid range and better mileage than the standard Crosstrek. 

The secret weapon for making this happen is some borrowed componentry from Toyota hybrids and the Prius Prime—combined with the the mechanical prowess of Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system as used in other models from the carmaker. 

While we would have liked to see Subaru get more out of its 8.8-kwh battery, in real-world follow-ups we’ve seen more than that rating. In mild weather, from our experience, the Crosstrek Hybrid can beat its EPA range rating of 17 all-electric miles, while it earns 35 mpg combined after you’ve run through the charge. 

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid

Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid
Ground clearance: 7.3 inches
Fully electric range: 22 miles
Fuel economy in hybrid mode: 25 mpg
Starting price: $37,390

The Outlander Plug-In Hybrid is the most successful plug-in vehicle you might never have heard of—but chalk that down to the brand’s low-key image in the U.S. more than anything else. To Mitsubishi’s credit, it hasn’t been making the Outlander PHEV in token amounts; cumulatively it’s among the top plug-in crossovers in the world, with well over 200,000 sold.

Mitsubishi\’s system is unique in its layout among plug-in hybrids. Two propulsion motors (one in front, one in back) move the vehicle most of the time—with precision and traction for the mud and snow. The 117-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4 is mostly used, via a generator, to send electricity to those motors, but in some cases it’s clutched into the front wheels. A 4WD Lock Mode helps get you out of tough stuff. 

This model also has one very special ace card: It remains the only plug-in hybrid from any brand to include DC fast charging (on the CHAdeMO standard)—shortening the time to less than 25 minutes for an 80-percent charge, or about 3.5 hours on a typical Level 2 charger. In suburban-style fair-weather commuting conditions we’ve seen as high as 25 miles on a charge. The Outlander PHEV also has a 1.5-kw AC power supply. 

2020 Audi Q5 TFSI e

Audi Q5 TFSI e
Ground clearance: 8.2 inches (non-hybrid)
Fully electric range: 20 miles
Fuel economy in hybrid mode: 27 mpg
Starting price: $53,895

The Q5 is Audi’s best-selling model, and adding a plug-in hybrid version while keeping Audi’s tenacious quattro all-wheel-drive system seems like a recipe for success. With an electric motor sandwiched between a 2.0-liter turbo-4 engine and 7-speed dual-clutch automatic—with the system making a combined 362 hp and 369 pound-feet of torque—the Q5 plug-in hybrid has better drivability than some of the other new PHEV vehicles we’ve sampled. A Level 2 charge takes less than 2.5 hours.

This plug-in version of the Q5 packs in the goods to keep some usable plug-in range even in frigid weather. Both a heat pump and an “eco” mode for the climate control should help conserve energy when you have constant needs to keep the windows defogged. There’s also climate preconditioning to get the Q5 completely up to temperature while still plugged in without using battery charge or turning on the engine. 

Battery electric vehicles

2020 Tesla Model X

Tesla Model X
Ground clearance: 9.0 inches (in Very High mode)
Range: 351 miles
Starting price: $86,190

The Tesla Model X Long Range Plus now includes a range of 351 miles, according to Tesla. While you can expect a range drop of 20-40 percent in cold winter weather, that still puts the usable range above 250 miles as you tackle the blizzards. 

The Model X has one of the most delicate traction-control systems we’ve experienced, and Tesla’s Slip-Start mode is helpful in the snow. An air suspension is included, and beyond the normal 7.0 inches of ground clearance you can select a “Very High” ground clearance of 9.0 inches—enough to tackle freshly fallen snow, traverse a tall snow bank, or take a rutted trail.

2019 Audi E-tron

Audi E-Tron
Ground clearance: 8.2 inches
Range: 204 miles
Starting price: $75,795

Audi vehicles with all-wheel drive have always been excellent machines for churning through the snow. And the fully electric E-Tron SUV is no exception. It has 3.0 inches of total adjustability in its air suspension and can go from its normal ride height of 6.8 inches up to 8.2 inches of ground clearance when needed. Its heat-pump system and various pre-conditioning features should help make sure you don’t lose too much of its 204-mile range. 

2019 Jaguar I-Pace First Edition

Jaguar I-Pace
Ground clearance: 7.8 inches
Range: 234 miles
Starting price: $70,875

Just like the E-Tron and Model X, the I-Pace has a dual-motor all-wheel-drive system, and it’s the precise control and linear delivery that makes these models more confident in the snow than most gasoline models. The I-Pace can be adjusted from 5.6 inches normally up to 7.8 inches as you need it, and if the snow melts it might be useful to know that this SUV is good for a moderate degree of off-roading and nearly 20 inches of water fording.

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