Best compact SUVs in winter conditions put to test by Consumer Reports

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The Subaru Forester was put to the test on Consumer Reports' snow-covered auto track.

Compact SUVs are the hottest segment in the auto industry. They're promoted as all-wheel-drive vehicles that can go anywhere in any weather, especially snow.

But before you get overly confident, Consumer Reports found big performance differences in all-wheel-drive vehicles.

At its snow-covered auto track, Consumer Reports put three of the most popular small SUVs to the test: the Honda CR-V, the Subaru Forester, and the Toyota RAV 4.

All were equipped with their standard all-season tires.

"All-wheel-drive SUVs aren't all the same," said Mark Rechtin, Consumer Reports' car editor. "Their tires, their stability control, their all-wheel-drive systems, when taken together, that's what determines how well they will perform in the snow."

All were several seconds slower accelerating from 0 to 60 in the snow than on dry pavement. But there was a 2.3 second difference between the Forester and the RAV 4.

The Forester also did markedly better climbing a hill covered with fresh snow.

"The Forester's drive system allows for a certain amount of wheel slip, which really helps it maintain momentum while it's climbing a hill," noted Rechtin.

In their braking tests from 60 miles per hour, the RAV4 and Forester were able to stop in about the same distance, though about twice as far as on dry pavement. But the CRV took an extra 50 feet to come to a stop.

The handling course showed the most dramatic differences. The RAV4 had a tough time cornering, with unresponsive steering. The Honda CRV's stability control kept it from spinning out, but it required a lot of driver input to stay on course. The Subaru Forester cornered the way advertisements make you think an all-wheel drive should perform.

All in all, the Forester did the best of the three in Consumer Reports' all-wheel-drive winter competition.

But keep in mind if you're heading to the mountains this ski season, Caltrans often puts "chain controls" on mountain roads when weather conditions dictate. In some of these instances, you'll have to put chains on your tires, or at the very least carry them in the vehicle.
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