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I’m Moving To Chicago: Do I Really Need All-Wheel Drive?

Hello, everyone, and welcome to a very special edition of Letters to Doug! It’s special in the sense that this week, unlike in prior weeks, I actually have a modicum of expertise in the topic being discussed. So let’s get started!


But before we do, please remember that you, too, can participate in Letters to Doug! Just send me an e-mail at with your automotive question, and I will carefully consider it for publication. And remember: all names will be changed to protect the letter writer, in case you want to ask a stupid question like whether it’s acceptable to buy an automatic NSX.

This week’s letter comes to us from a reader named “Dave,” who writes:

Hi Doug,

I’ve always lived in the south where the weather never really meant you needed AWD, so I have never had to think about AWD from a safety perspective. But this July, my girlfriend and I are moving to Chicago, which I’ve heard is slightly chilly.

I have always wanted a Mustang GT, and the new ones only solidified this want of mine. But I have to ask, is a Mustang GT with the latest stability technology a safe and viable option for me during a Chicago winter, or should I look elsewhere for a sporty AWD car like a Subaru WRX or wait for a Focus RS?

I refuse to consider an SUV (unless someone gives me a Macan...)!

I thoroughly enjoy reading your work on Jalopnik and I’m hoping your expertise could be extended my way.

Have a great day!


Well, “Dave,” it just so happens that you’ve come to the right place with your question, because I’ve gone through this exact same situation myself. First, I lived in snowy Colorado for the 18 early years of my life; then, I moved to sunny Atlanta for the next eight years; and now, I live in Philadelphia, which is kind of a combo platter of both, with a side order of violent crime.


And what I’ve learned, from all this experience, is the following: you absolutely do not need all-wheel drive in snowy areas. But boy, does it help.

I say this because my parents made do in Colorado for years without any sort of four- or all-wheel drive vehicle, back when I was a kid. This was long before this whole “all-wheel drive” kick got started; long before people began to need all-wheel drive; long before the American family began to see two-wheel drive as an evil child destroyer, like scarlet fever, or vaccinations.

In fact, when I was growing up, my father exclusively owned Toyota Camrys. And not the rare Camry All-Trac they made for a few years with all-wheel drive. Oh, no. He owned base-model, front-wheel drive Camrys, chosen solely on the basis of their lack of options and offensive seating fabrics. And you know what? We did just fine, we had no problems, and we got through our lives with only the occasional winter storm where we had to abandon the car nine blocks from our house and trudge through the snow like a Siberian family in the 19th century.

But here’s the thing: we also made do without side airbags, and anti-lock brakes, and three-point seat belts, and automatic climate control, and a backup camera. But now it’s 2015, and all those things are readily available, so they’re kind of nice to have.


The same can be said for all-wheel drive. Years ago, all-wheel drive wasn’t really very common, so you just sort of made do without it. But now, all-wheel drive a lot easier to get. Performance cars have it. Luxury cars have it. Family sedans have it. You no longer have to really make any sort of automotive compromises to get all-wheel drive, unless you really wanted a new Passat, in which case we, as a society, are making a compromise by continuing to include you in it.

Now, directly back to “Dave”’s question: can you drive a Mustang GT through a Chicago winter?


Once again, the answer is: Yes, but…

Yes, it’s possible to drive a Mustang GT through a Chicago winter. Throw some snow tires on there, carry around a nice ice scraper, and make sure your phone’s emergency contact information is up to date. You’ll still slide around a bit, but you’ll probably be OK. Probably.


But here’s the thing: we no longer live in a world where you have to drive a Mustang GT through a Chicago winter. Yes, you can do it. What will happen is, you’ll nurse your Mustang GT through the entire brutal winter, only to finally be able to open it up again during Chicago’s annual five days of summer.

But this involves exercising care, and caution, and restraint for something like eight months out of the year. Whereas if you’d just get an all-wheel drive performance car such as a Subaru WRX or a Volkswagen Golf R, you would never have to exercise any restraint, because all-wheel drive is magical, infallible winter driving potion that renders you invincible. At least this is what I have learned from people who drive Toyota Sequoias.


So my suggestion is this: only buy a Mustang GT if you think you’ll enjoy it so much during the summer that you can justify carefully feathering the gas pedal at every stoplight during the spring, winter, and fall. Otherwise, consider a slightly less powerful Mustang. Or an all-wheel drive sports car. Or a Toyota Sequoia.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.


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You just opened up Jalopnik’s single most fervent debate.

Prepare for hundreds of people coming on here saying “I drove my 500 whp RWD car through 8 feet of snow with winter tires and there was a AWD car stuck but I used my car to pull it out and blah blah blah...”

Face it people: AWD and winter tires is better than 2wd and winter tires.