I'm planning on doing as much ski touring/mountaineering as possible this year in Scotland but I have zero confidence in my Ford Fiesta to handle acess roads in winter.
What are some good budget (say under £5k) 4x4s that would be up to the job? Don't need anything big, just enough space for me, my partner and our gear.
We had friends out in NZ who swore by their old Suzuki Jimny. Is that a good shout here in the UK or are there better options?
get some winter tyres! My old Ford Focus with winter tyres and a cheap (£50) set of snow chains was brilliant. The fiesta might even be better as it is lighter.
> get some winter tyres! My old Ford Focus with winter tyres and a cheap (£50) set of snow chains was brilliant. The fiesta might even be better as it is lighter.
From the perspective of driving through 14 Finnish winters - it's not about the car, it's only about the tires. 4x4s are surprisingly rare in Finland, even among country people.
I've been amazed by how good Michelin CrossClimate have been in snow since moving back here (in Finland I always used studded tires in winter), but the cross climates stay on year round.
Might be worth a shot and see how far we get. Just thinking of the Ben Lawers access road in particular where I've seen a lot of people get into messy situations. I suppose in many cases that could just be down to people driving without winter tyres and chains.
We had a Toyota Platz in NZ and it always got the job done with a good set of snow chains but we never took it too far off piste..
I have been looking for a 4x4 to get down field tracks to the river. The Suzuki Jimni meets my needs and I think it might meet yours too. Not had bad reports from two local mechanics. I would also support Toby with his winter tyre reccomendation. I used them in Switzerland and they really do work.
There’s a limit to what’s possible of course - I’ve bailed out of that road and slithered back down.
but for 90% of winter access winter tyres will do the job at a fraction of the cost.
years ago I watched 4WDs concertina into each other on a hill by My daughters school. My nasty focus just chugged up dodging the debris. Same winter I tested the focus against My brothers Shogun with normal tyres. Pulling away on hard snow , stopping etc
you can guess The result .....
what’s the difference between 4x4/AWD and a regular 2WD. You need a tractor to pull the 4x4 free.
get good tires and your all set. Atleast until there is so much snow that you run out of clearance. The small 4x4s will then get stuck on the next drift.
The number of people with 4*4s in Helsinki is shooting up - there are gigantic Volvo XC90s and those fancy Audi estates with 4wd everywhere you look.
Not that it really matters as we don't seem to get any snow anyway!
The first few winters I was here I was amazed at how well our tiny hatchback did with just standard winter tires. Got to Ylläs and back in winter through some quite heavy snow with no trouble one year!
I can't help but iterate that a fiesta with winter tyres is a properly good thing.
Last time I did Kinder Downfall I got there through heavy snow in a fiesta passing numerous 4x4s trapped in the snow.
I'd also add that not driving like a tit helps a lot!
Learnt to drive is a ford fiesta with winter tyres during 09/10. Really capable and nothing more needed for 90% of Scottish roads.
Ben lawyers is the only high road without gates. I have used chains here before. Sadly every other road will have closed snow gates before you need chains and 4x4.
Stick with the fiesta, get good tyres, chains (maybe a lesson?) and buy more free time off work with the money left.
Some judgement is required too.
I was driving to Fersit on a singletrack this February in my VW Polo with CrossClimates. It was an early morning, road was untreated and quite icy. I decided to carry on, driving no more than 10-15mph.
I ended up going in an S shaped downhill bit. I clear the first turn, but the car is completely unresponsive. Luckily, there was a barrier, the front bumper took the hit and I got straightened out.
This should have been a sign I was an idiot and I should have left the car in the passing place to wait for the sun to come out. No!
I kept driving until a steep uphill section on compressed snow that turned into ice. This time, there’s no barrier at the bottom - it could get messy really quick. I can’t get grip. I get out to get some grit nearby and my trainers just had no grip whatsoever and started sliding down.
Spent a fair bit of time gritting the road until an SUV showed up who kindly helped me and told they’ve been stuck few days ago too.
Left the car in a safe spot and just had to walk further. The bumper is still scratched down to the plastic, but passed MOT fine and can’t be bothered to fix it by now.
I should have just been more cautious and adjusted the plan instead of risking it. I’m unsure if better driving skills would have helped...
I had a trip to Oulanka (near Arctic Circle/Russian Border) in March a couple of years ago. Even the major road from Kuusamo was under hard-packed snow. The few 4x4s I saw were all municipal or commercial vehicles. Private cars were mostly 2WD Volvos and VWs, and a surprising number of BMWs.
I'm very much an armchair expert, but a good way I've heard people talk about this sort of thing is that while 4wd will let you accelerate harder / make it up a steeper slope / keep going in more slippery conditions than a 2wd car, it won't have any effect on your braking ability, or ability to go round corners, or ability to avoid sliding off a road sideways. That's where winter / all season tyres come in.
A few years ago I went to Iceland in early spring and hired a hyundai i10, which came with studded tyres (admittedly a step up from normal winter tyres!). We had absolutely no problem driving it on snowy driveways / minor roads etc.
As others have pointed out 4wd cars likely have more ground clearance, allowing you to get through deeper snow before your front bumper becomes a snowplough.
But also as others have pointed out the further your car gets you in bad conditions, the more likely you are to get in some serious bother.
That said if you did want to have maximum possible mobility then something like a Jimny would probably be a good shout if you put some winter / all season tyres on it with chains in the boot - not too heavy, decent ground clearance, capable 4wd setup. They are well regarded as off roaders. Take a shovel though!
Maybe also consider a dacia duster - not quite as capable but think they do OK in difficult conditions, and will be cheaper than a jimny of equivalent condition, and much more spacious. Sure you'd be able to manage with a Jimmy for 2 people but there won't be tonnes of room!
If you want a 4x4 get a 4x4 but I think the number of occasions it's going to make a difference accessing hills is tiny.
But if you don't have the skills, then you'll just be stuck in a ditch or drift in a nasty...
Or all four wheels pointing to the sky in the ditch. Which is rather common in the US near big ski-resorts.
I had a natty old Subaru Impreza Wagon, the normally aspirated one with a 2l boxer engine. Been looking at them again recently and they go for anything between 1000-3000 quid depending on miles and age. The brilliant thing with them is that they come with a low ratio gear box (which you don't get on the saloon or other subarus that I've seen) and that combined with a set of good snow tyres and you will pretty much get anywhere as long as you have the clearance to get over the snow. I remember one year going up to Torpantau when there was a good foot or more of snow on the ground and we pottered up to the top. All the other vehicles up there were land rovers etc... the next year I went up with a Nissan Navara, similar conditions and it was far sketchier. If you look for one, make sure it's got that low ratio lever - looks like a second handbrake lever only smaller...
> But if you don't have the skills, then you'll just be stuck in a ditch or drift in a nasty...
> Or all four wheels pointing to the sky in the ditch. Which is rather common in the US near big ski-resorts.
I overtook more Chelsea tractors in UK winters driving a 206 with winter tyres than I've had hot dinners ( well almost) .
Edit. Part of the problem is the width of modern tyres, pointlessly wide. Get down to 175s on a winter tyre and you'll get anywhere.
Agree with all whom say winter tyres, unless the snow is only deep on the last few miles up a dead-end glen, or somewhere else rarely visited, clearance and chains are a moot point as the road will be blocked by stuck vehicles, and you won't be getting any further.
Often the most challenging park of the day is getting out of the car park due to packed snow, refrozen to ice and then highly polished. Ice axes and a bag of grit in the boot help to roughen up the surface.
If you are getting to first on unploughed roads, then clearance and low ratio helps. But for those few occasions is that worth £5K versus £500.
Yep, winter tyres. Most roads in Scotland are kept well gritted and ploughed, or the gates are closed. As someone else said, the biggest problem tends to be getting in and out of car parks and possibly the last mile or so in some remote glens. I've been driving a rear-wheel drive van for the last couple of years. I keep a bag of grit, a shovel and a pair of snow socks available in winter. Used the grit and shovel to get out of car parks a couple of times, and the socks once. There have only been a handful of times where I haven't been able to get where I wanted to go. The majority of those were due to other vehicles without winter tyres blocking the road. For the handful that weren't, I doubt I would have attempted them in a 4x4 either.
Best car I ever had in winter was my old 1994 Nissan Micra!
The first year I got winter tyres for my seat leon, I went up the Lawers road unploughed with 6" of fresh no issues whatsoever. In fact, my mum's freelander with its all year tyres was waay worse in the snow.
If it's bad enough that you can't het up it with 2wd and snow tyres, going back down isn't much fun!
Pedantry note - Cross climates are rated as a winter tyre, but they're not a full winter - they have the tread, but not the very soft rubber, so ultimately you can do better. But they are a very good tyre for driving round mountains in most conditions (Norwegian 'summer') on most types of crappy road so for most of the UK a good compromise.
A point to note that if any car is struggling with low speed hills, like in a car park, and it's front wheel drive, then reverse up it. It puts much more weight over the driving and steering tyres.
For me this was a major benefit to the Scooby I had - going downhill was far more secure as you could wack it in low ratio and the engine braking you got kept the car nicely under control. Having lived last year in the Dolomites with only snow tyres on a 2wd, I would say my Imprezza was far better than it at handling tricky conditions. It was also better than the forester I had after it which had a auto gearbox (why did I get an Auto?) which was heavy by comparison. Your thing about the micra - they are super light, much like the imprezza... I loved that car... miss it all the time!
> A point to note that if any car is struggling with low speed hills, like in a car park, and it's front wheel drive, then reverse up it. It puts much more weight over the driving and steering tyres.
A bit like they did with Katy in 'Ice Cold in Alex'.
Its not the car its the driver & most importantly those four black rubber things called tyres.....
I live up here in the Highlands & travel to remote places for mountaineering & Ski-ing. In the 26 years I've been driving up here, in cars from small old VW Polos on normal tyres to other VW group cars on winters...& ALL of them 2WD (FWD)...good winter tyres with the 3 mountain peak & snowflake rating is the best. (I currently run a dedicated set of Michelin Alpin A5 for winter as 225/45R17)....overtaking bigger Landrover's, 4x4 SUVs, etc. on normal tyres whilst driving in a small car with winters on is a hoot..the looks on their faces!!...
Basically the Councils close the snow gates on many roads if they can't be bothered to clear them as often as they used to in the past. On roads where there are no snow gates, you can scrap the underside of your car if there is deep snow. BUT how much ground clearance do you need???
95% of the time its black ice, slush & about 2inches at most of snow on the roads...or its compacted down...
In the remaining 5% is mainly when trying to use laybys or carparks when the access has NOT been cleared & there is a "wall" of 12inches & more snow to get through....
> So the conclusion is the best solution is a 4x4 with winter tyres.
I watched it too and had one of those "no shit Sherlock" moments.
Even with dedicated winter tires on my 4x4 is pretty sketchy (they're 275s)
> Even with dedicated winter tires on my 4x4 is pretty sketchy (they're 275s)
Floating on the snow and barely biting into it.
Yep. Best vehicle I had in the snow was a T4 van - skinny wheels with all the weight over the driving ones.
+1 for the cross climates. 1 tyre .. all seasons.
If you need more convincing:
[Jump to 2.20]
On winter tyres, watch out I you have a van or a 'van conversion' like a Doblo/Berlingo/Kangoo as you'll find the tyre requirement is listed as "C" rated (Commercial) tyres. Despite the size being the same (except for the C letter added at the end) a dealer won't fit non-C tyres. I found this out when I wanted to put Michelin CrossClimates on my Doblo, as they don't make a C version despite making the right nominal size. In the end I had to go with Goodyear Vector 4-Seasons through limited choice.
I'd endorse everything that's said about winter tyres so far (even 4 season ones are a big help). I'd only stop short of recommending the Doblo as it has limited rear ground clearance due to the semi-coil suspension decks in the current model. Otherwise I've been happy driving them through winters in the hills for the last 20 years. Overseas markets can get a 2" raised model.
How safe are winter tires for driving on normal (non winter) road conditions? Is there a loss in performance? Increased wear? Etc?
The reason I ask is because there must be a reason why people don't just fit winter tires and use them all year round?
Winter tyres have a softer rubber compound, so theoretically wear quicker, no real performance issue in summer...they still have a speed rating far in excess of the law.
But also its better to have good deep tread for standing water, wet, snow and slush. So if you used them all year, by the next winter you'd have less performance. I try and drive more smoothly in winter, not just that its more sensible (poorer viz, trees/branches down round corners, pot-holes developing rapidly, standing water, deer by the road etc), but also to try and avoid scrubbing the winter tyres. I did keep my winter tyres on all year when I knew I was getting rid of the car, by the next dump of snow the performance i.e. grip was far less when worn...not surprising really.
A colleague who lives at over 1000ft inland in Scotland, uses mud and snow rated tyres all year, but puts new ones the start of every winter for this reason. Yes, he does get through a set of tyres a year!
Thanks, that's helpful
Well. As pointed out. Proper winters will wear out faster. And as they are for the cold, they are also likely to shear.
So don’t use proper winter tires If it is going to be +5 or more.
All seasons (or european ’winter’ tyres) are better for a bit of snow and less than +10. They still suck in comparison to real winter tyres in winter and same applies for summer.
> Might be worth a shot and see how far we get. Just thinking of the Ben Lawers access road in particular where I've seen a lot of people get into messy situations. I suppose in many cases that could just be down to people driving without winter tyres and chains.
A few years ago my then-Octavia with winter tyres cruised up that very road without any hassle at all
Edit : look on eBay for 2nd hand winter tyres from Germany , I had a couple of sets with 7mm of tread on and they were fine . Do it before it snows as unsurprisingly the first day it snows the price goes up .
> Yep. Best vehicle I had in the snow was a T4 van - skinny wheels with all the weight over the driving ones.
Yep. I used to have a Citroen Dyan, skinny tyres, high clearance. It would be out and about, cutting about with the land rovers, when other cars just couldn’t make it. Totally rubbish heating system though - driving to work whilst scraping frozen condensation off the inside of the windscreen wasn’t so good.
You might pick up a 3door RAV4 for under £5000, but they are thin on the ground. With winter tyres it was a wonderful car. If only you +1 in the car, you can remove the back seats and have a massive boot for all your gear. I drove mine through deep snow on roads that were virtually impossible. That is banked to the top of the walls. Oil the handbrake leads as they can freeze up in extreme cold. I've had 3 over the last 15 years and never ever been stuck.
> How safe are winter tires for driving on normal (non winter) road conditions? Is there a loss in performance? Increased wear? Etc?
My last set of winter tyres, before I switched to all-seasons, I ran through the summer with no problems at all. (I was being mean because I planned to sell the car later in the year, but the ordinary tyres were getting a bit close to needing replacing the last time I'd swapped them off for the winter tyres, and I didn't want to have spend the money to replace them and then have the buyer get all the benefit. The car wasn't so old that a set of new tyres would have justified asking extra money.)
One of the often overlooked advantages of winter tyres is that they are better at clearing water, which can give them a bit of an edge on wet roads. Living as I do in Scotland, that can be beneficial all year round.
> The reason I ask is because there must be a reason why people don't just fit winter tires and use them all year round?
They do wear faster in warmer conditions, but in my case that was moot because they only needed to last until I sold the car a few months later with the ordinary tyres back on it. They actually still had plenty of tread left when I did that anyway - they absolutely do not fall apart at the first glimpse of a warm, sunny day, contrary to the impression that some people seem to try to give.
And yes, as you get close to the limit they probably do perform less well than ordinary tyres on a warm, dry road. But TBH how close to the limit should one really be aiming to get on a public road? Mine coped just fine when I had to do an emergency almost-stop because someone in front of me decided to do an last-minute left turn in to the camp site they were about to drive past.
At the end of the day, though, driving year-round on winter tyres isn't something I'd set out to do as a matter of course - hence why I now drive all-seasons.
(Some people will say that the cost of switching to and from winter tyres works out the same because you're wearing two sets of tyres. I reckon that depends on the mileage you typically do: a low mileage user may end up with two sets of part-worn tyres that need to be replaced anyway due to their age. It also doesn't take into account the potential ancillary costs. I had none because I had the winter tyres on a separate set of wheels so I could easily swap them over myself, and I stored the set not being used in the garage. But some folks aren't able to work that way e.g. because they are short of room at home, end up having to pay a tyre fitter twice a year to swap their tyres over on the same set of wheels, and to store the set of tyres they're not using.)
Yes, plenty in the ditch every snow day on the road up to our local hill, Santa Fe. The victims seem to be a fair mix of 2, 4 and all wheel drive. But overwhelmingly Texas plates, much to everyone’s amusement. There was a pick up suspended about 15 feet up in the trees for a couple weeks last year, pretty spectacular.
Not that you’re going to, but whatever you do, don’t buy a pickup truck. I know quite a few people who have to put a few hundred pounds of gravel in the back to keep them on the road in the winter.
> Yes, plenty in the ditch every snow day on the road up to our local hill, Santa Fe .... overwhelmingly Texas plates....a pick up suspended about 15 feet up in the trees for a couple weeks last year, pretty spectacular.
Nice... My main experience was mostly from UT. So not that many TX plates. And for some "odd" reason, the primary cars I saw were indeed big Suburban kind of 4x4s...
In the tree, that was a sight to be seen.
Oh, central Europeans also has a similar MO as do people on the mountain states... Instead of Texans its the people from NL that are laughed here.
In our part of the southern French Alps we laugh at drivers from Marseille - very few Dutch make it this far south.
Good to know... my experience in the haute maritime (sp?) is a bit limited.
I would expect that it will be a tad different with in IT as well.
We have done very well out of honda crvs.
Buy at around 10years old for £3 to £4k and run to scrap, this typically takes 5 years.
The soft road er 2 to 4 wheel drive helps out when it is needed.
Great dogging wagons, big boot and enough leg room to carry 4 adults comfortably on the long journey north.
> Great dogging wagons, big boot and enough leg room to carry 4 adults comfortably on the long journey north.
Are there no dogging spots closer?
I get about a bit
> In our part of the southern French Alps we laugh at drivers from Marseille
When I lived further south I was driving over to Veynes to the supermarket one Saturday afternoon in February and it was sleeting. As the road climbed over a small col all the traffic bunched up as everyone started putting snow chains on (it was slushy at best).
I pulled out and steadily passed everyone - FWD Volvo V40 with fat winter tyres. It amazes me how many people chance driving to the Alps without winter tyres. Some British bloke then started chucking snowballs at my car and hurling abuse (I was French plated) as apparently I was 'jumping the queue' despite simply just moving past everyone who was stuck.
> very few Dutch make it this far south.
We'd get loads coming over the Col de la Croix Haute but mostly in the summer and usually caravans - seeing the first Dutch carvavan of the Spring was like seeing migratory birds coming back telling you summer was coming.
Yes we do get the Dutch in summer, but probably more Belgiums
Last time I drove over a snowy Col de la Croix Haute (several years ago, normally use the Route Napoleon) it was slow moving traffic going northwards for a long while but OK with chains (no winter tyres). Then the car in front started to zig zag all over the road before ending up sideways across the road. I & some others went to try to help to discover a guy in total panic, with a 6 month old child on the back seat. No winter tyres, no chains & apparently he'd never driven in snow before (car had Marseille plates so possible). We turned him round & last saw him going back southwards.
A few hours later we arrived at the start of the autoroute to Grenoble to find that the Gendarmerie had shut the road over the col, but the autoroute had been cleared of snow so the drive on to Grenoble was easy although we looked for a cheap hotel rather than carrying on to Paris as planned.
Car booked into the garage tomorrow morning for a change of tyres, no snow yet but some verglas in the shade on recent mornings.
I use Uniroyal Shark Skins and despite not being winter tyres they are great in the wet and ok in snow/slush. They are a soft compound and probably do not last as long as some but I worry more about stopping on wet roads than saving a bit of money. I usually drive up to 40k miles a year between Scotland and the Midlands.
I am just trying Cross Climates on the front and they seem pretty good. Well I did stop without skidding when a heffer ran out of an open gate.
> A few hours later we arrived at the start of the autoroute to Grenoble to find that the Gendarmerie had shut the road over the col, but the autoroute had been cleared of snow so the drive on to Grenoble was easy although we looked for a cheap hotel rather than carrying on to Paris as planned.
I used to live in La Jarjatte and back before Covid made a lot of business trips from Lyon airport so have done the Col early morning/late at night in the snow countless times - mostly its lorries that get stranded. Doesn't help that its a sheer drop on one side (I was once stuck behind a lorry that had blown over in the wind on there - could've been messy.
Last year I was coming back from the airport in a massive dump of snow in November and found a woman stranded in her car in a snow drift on the road up to Lans-en-Vercors. She ad no winter tyres depite living in Correncon (a ski resort), where we gave her a lift to, in a 4x4 with winter tyres thankfully because in Correncon the snow was heavy, unploughed and a foot deep.
My driveway is north-ish facing and 35º slope in places so 4x4 and winter tyres are necessary for when I haven't had chance to get the snow blower out.
If you can find an old Subaru of some form with some high grade winter tyres (Michelin, Good Year..etc) you'll be unstoppable. That said, most cars with winter tyres will see you down pretty much any British road bar deep snow which is very unlikely.
Wee front wheeled drive cars with winter tyres behave behave real well in snow as the low weight will cause much less issues going downhill.
Would also recommend getting a full set of cheap rims (breakers yards can be good for this) if you have storage space for them as it'll make changing over in autumn and spring real easy.
I've opted for all season tyres at the minute as living in Scotland, wet performance seems to be most critical. Not yet convinced by their performance in snow though.
(Central) European Winter tires, or so called All Season tires are really quite shite in winter conditions. Miles better than summer tires though.
And to be honest, I think they'd be about perfect as a winter tire for UK. Those that live in really remote places in say Scotland will prolly also benefit from real winter tires, but for majority it is going to be an overkill... if you can't get up the road with all seasons, then it will be closed anyway ;).
And bar a heatwave the temps can be "winter" in Scotland year round. That being said, summer tires will again perform better than all seasons when it's dry.
I've been using Nokian Weatherproof SUVs on our big Multivan as a summer tire... not perfect but quite ok. Got e'm when we drove to 'Bleau for a longer trip a few years back... As where I live, winter tires are required by law during winter... We have proper studded tires as well, but you're not allowed to drive on 'em in most of GER or FRA... So we use those year round, and if he conditions dictate, I'll switch on the studded tires (we have both on their own rims), which is what I'll do when we drive further north for a longer stay again.
I live in Sheffield and have a set of proper winter tyres (snowflake symbol) on steel rims which I fit every winter. They make a fantastic difference even on our urban steep hills, also on the Snake Pass when it's snowing. (as long as the way is not blocked by other cars slewed across it) This is manly due to the rubber which remains soft and flexible at low temperatures.
I do think they work out cheaper overall, especially if you take into account loss of rubber on summer tyres when wheel spinning like mad stuck in a carpark or on a hill
Mat Wright has climbed Serenata (Font 8C) at Impossible Roof - his first of the grade.