All SUVs are not equal, especially on the ice.
When we talk about modern cars, it’s obviously SUVs, such as Mercedes-Benz GLA, Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Peugeot 3008. Don’t ask why, everybody (except us and you maybe) loves these cars. Driving in the city every day, there are probably a few advantages to use a SUV (fashionable effect aside), but when you ride on snow and ice, at over 1800 m altitude, a crossover totally makes sense.
You know it as well as us, not all SUVs are equal. In everyday life, Fiat Panda 4×4 and Mercedes-Benz GLA are probably the two most distant cars in the segment. But what about in winter? in the mountain? under heavy snow? and on ice?
Let the crossover’s adventure begin
We went out of our temperate and comfortable city to join the Wild Wide Alps for driving small modern 4X4 in their natural environment. Let’s face it, they become more and more urban and that’s precisely why we don’t like them. Will they really reconnect with their roots? One way to find out: ESP off!
So, we went to Alpes d’Huez with Evodrivers, a French driving school, for a crossover winter test drive. Next to the Fiat Panda 4X4 and Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG were Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q4, Fiat 500X 4×4, Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Peugeot 3008 ready for an ice track session.
And you, pick your favorite car.
– A Ferrari 355 GTB?
Very good choice but no, I said a SUV!
– A Mercedes-Benz G-Class?
Still not in the list. But we got a GLA.
Well, I choose for you. I want them all!
I had the chance to test them one after the other on the ice track and sometimes on snowy open roads. To make it simpler, I classified these cars according to three categories of use: safety first, cool despite them and really fun to drive. All you have to do is to choose your fellow traveler.
These are super secure cars. Driving you think you’ll be able to have fun. Well no. Too bad. It’s starting to drift? Then the car says “NO-WAY: I switch off everything, we’ll see what you’re going to do now. Don’t want to risk damaging my pretty plastic bumper. “.
These are actually serious family cars. Because of traction and various driving assistances, these cars will leave the home-school-house regular trip only once every 5 years to spend a week in the mountains during winter holidays. And when you know that a modern car is sold after about 5 years of use, it will unfortunately see snow once. And it will do the job very well. Fair enough.
1 – Peugeot 3008 BlueHDI 180 EAT8: ideal car if you’re still haunted by a snowball fight
3008 is definitely a safe car, it will be able to reconcile you with the snow. Special mention for the sharp chassis, and the Dynamic Rolling Control (which allows to link the two rear shock absorbers and to limit the cash movements). However, behind the wheel we can feel very little understeer, thanks to front-wheel drive.
Its ESP (not really disconnectable as often) flashes like a Christmas tree on the dashboard and it’s rather painful, specially when the car automatically removes sport mode when it feels a loss of grip. Safety 1 – Fun – 0. Unfortunately we haven’t fun with the 3008, even on the ice, but a strong safety feeling.
Then let’s be honest, who really likes its 4X4 design on the front and minivan shape on the back (oops we’re gonna make enemies).
2 – Honda CR-V 1.5 VTEC Turbo & Hybrid: perfect if it’s the last car available at car rental
Let’s start with what I appreciated. I liked the CR-V’s comfort. In the driver’s seat you feel like on a cloud. Bumps, snow, ice, everything is smooth with CR-V’s suspension.
On the ice circuit, its 1672kg makes it understeer (obviously). It’s almost impossible to take a correct path. At this point the cloud turns into a big elephant on ice skates. Unless you drive very very quietly.
Soundproofing seems very well made: while eyes of the whole family are weighed down in calm and serenity, quiet electric motor leaves its place to a loud sound: gasoline engine has woken up.
To sum up, this car does the job, it drives you in a comfortable interior, without too much pollute, from point A to point B.
Cool despite them
Initially these are cars aren’t very fun but are nice despite them. When you come on board you tell yourself that everything will be sad and tasteless, and finally no, you will take some pleasure! And that’s a real surprise. I already hear you: “he takes pleasure in a hybrid SUV and he says he likes tastefull cars. “. I answer: “I like well-balanced cars”.
They are dedicated to adventurous fathers, those who wear suit to accompany their children to school and then go surfing all the day.
1 – Fiat 500 X 2.0 Multijet 4×4: be stylish in all circumstances
We didn’t like the steering wheel (too smooth), ESP is very present and the sound of the diesel engine is terrible. This 500X deserves another engine, more expressive, another gearbox, more responsive, and a front-end more communicative as we have already subtly suggested.
However, we loved the torque (350 Nm max) and its relative agility. Fiat 500X waddling turn on the ice, thanks to a well-balanced car and an efficient 4-wheel drive. That’s pretty fun.
Anyway, stop lying, it’s the cutest crossover and it’s already a lot.
2 – Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: a promising name!
It must be said, this Mitsubishi Outlander is at the end of its career. That’s why it will not be attacked on its look (especially if it will be replaced by Engelberg Tourer concept car we have discovered at the Geneva International Motor Show 2019).
What’s remarkable with this juggernaut: its price. We’re not really used to talk about this but with the Outlander you have a big family SUV 4X4 rechargeable hybrid with which all terrain is allowed (smart for mountains drive) for… less than 40 000 €. Yeah guys, it’s possible.
With two electric engines of 95 and 82 ch and a new 2.4 L gasoline engine of 121 ch, the Outlander isn’t a rocket but it’s a well-balanced car. Despite almost 2 000 kg and all seasons tires, it’s a safe and pretty fun car to drive on ice track. Ignoring engine sound (classic hybrid), I began to appreciate the car, especially its steering wheel and its integral transmission (Mitsubishi experience requires).
Really fun to drive
Everything is in the title, these cars are for big kids. Those who assume responsibilities but who will never let an opportunity to have fun. The kind of mother who let her kids take the bus while she is drifting on a frozen field.
We spotted three cars that could match these profile. Two of which you certainly suspected and one that will really surprised you. Drumroll.
1 – Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG: discretion not assured
When I boarded the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG I wondered where I was. Inside I felt like I was in a coupe, on the outside I felt in front of a crossover. You can experience it at home: crossover – coupe – crossover – coupe – GLA – C-Class coupe – GLA – C-Class coupe, it’s amazing.
Interior is very Mercedes, both a bit austere and a little too shiny, but I must admit that we got used quickly. Especially alcantara everywhere as on the GLA’s steering wheel. No new MBUX system (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) inside the GLA, but we don’t care, we’re here to ride in the snow, not to talk to a car.
When you press start you hear a quite characteristic roar. This hoarse sound comes from very far, from the depths of the small 4-cylinder 2.0L Mercedes engine reworked with passion by AMG. Just enough to feel important behind the wheel of this 381 ch mini silver arrow. Yes, 381 ch, you read that right. It seems to be the most powerful 4-cylinder in the world: AMG has made this city car a real little rocket.
On the ice circuit, we feel a very well-balanced car that warns you when it going to drift. “Hello buddy, I warn you, I’ll over-steer there, hold onto the wheel! “. This is the perfect mix to enjoy with confidence the bluffing capabilities of the car. The GLA is based on the A-Class which is a front-wheel drive. AMG has therefore chosen to install the 4MATIC all-wheel drive, in order to return up to 50% of the torque to the rear wheels. It offers fun (in addition to perfect traction) to the small SUV, specially with a self-locking differential on the front axle. This Mercedes is strong on the outside and so easy to use on the inside, it’s very startling, as a velvet fist in an iron glove.
This setting is both a strength and a weakness, in my opinion. We can imagine that almost anyone can have fun, a lot of fun, behind the wheel of this GLA 45 AMG after only a few minutes ride. And that’s great. However, when it’s your own car, the one you paid for it and you are driving every day, I’m afraid that the feeling of fully knowing the car comes quickly. And boredom right after. Where is suprise in all this?
On open road, you can fully enjoy its engine, thanks to GLA Race mode. The roll? I don’t know this word aboard the GLA 45 AMG. It hits the sharply roads like nobody. Nothing to tell about the double-clutch gearbox, except in automatic mode where you have to run, run, run at high rpm… and then put it in gear manually.
The small 2.0L is very playful even if I feel its limits around 5500 rpm. Anyway, I think this car could be the perfect little crossover for the mountain. Why? Because it’s compact, safe, easy to use and fun. Very fun. If I lived in Alpes d’Huez it would certainly be my daily car. I will add long-range headlights, a spare wheel on the trunk, a roof rack, and the whole village would hate me because of my discret downshifting.
2 – Fiat Panda 4X4: the most vintage cars on sale
When we saw a Fiat Panda 4X4 we said to ourselves: “are you sure we are in 2019? “. Suddenly, I realized its design and I asked myself: “why? “. Finally, aboard on the ice track, I said: “My god yes! “.
In fact, this Panda 4X4 is made as an oldschool car. No electric motor, no driver assistance, no differential lock, no automatic transmission (yes, there is a good old six-speed mechanical box and a tiny twin-cylinder TwinAir 0.9L 85 ch distributed on all four wheels, in case of loss of grip at the rear).
What’s cool with this Panda is its simplicity. It’s light, 1090 kg only, and despite a quite fuzzy direction, it gives a lot of information to the driver. It’s an archaic pleasure (in a good way) and that’s playful in all circumstances. We feel safe even when we have fun ride on the ice track.
It’s definitely the good surprise of this test, especially starting at 15 999 €. It’s an unbeatable price / fun ratio. Only down side, you have to get used to its “unique” shape and not be allergic to hard plastics. If we wanted to make a perfect car we’ld put a Fiat 500X body on a Fiat Panda 4X4 with an Abarth 1.4L Turbo-Jet engine.
3 – Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q4: all the charm of Italy, qualities and shortcomings
At the bottom of the track, despite its winter white camouflage, we only see you. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio shines bright like a diamond. According to me, I find it even more beautiful and elegant than its sister Giulia. Whoever doesn’t agree let comment it now or forever hold his peace.
I know very well the Alfa Romeo Giulia, its QV and Veloce 280 ch version. The last one shares a 4 cylinders 2.0 L 280 ch and a Q4 all-wheel drive system with the SUV.
On the ice, Stelvio in dynamic mode, it’s a real dancer. Foot over the accelerator, it’s on / off. By toe pressure, I can make it roar and drift from turn to corner. It’s with astonishing ease that the car over-steers. Finally, it turns quite late because of its big SUV buttocks, which can be a bit surprising if you take too much confidence. ESP is lookout which is frustrating sometimes: “engine there, engine over there”. Indeed, we can’t regrettably disconnect the ESP on this 280 ch version. Too bad.
However, steering wheel is very communicative and roll is well managed. On open road, it’s weight that count. And that’s why brake can be tricky. Indeed, you can lock the wheels and drift on the ice for several meters smiling to the passerby, while the passengers admire the Italian finishes. On the menu, foamed plastic, very hard plastic and real walnut woodwork. At first it’s pretty and well designed, it feels very good. Then we discover dubious plastics that, in the long run, may irritate a picky owner. Comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, we feel flexible suspensions made for a daily city use and seats which aren’t contoured very well.
Fortunately, we don’t feel that anymore, when we are putting pedal to the metal. Half a second after pressing the accelerator (yes there is a surprising little latency), the sound of the 4-cylinder out of the exhaust and inebriate the entire car.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q4 is the most rational option among cars tried with Evodriver: refined, comfortable, with a real sporty character, but also discreet when he has to be, it’s probably the best compromise. Exuberant style, volcanic character and rough finishes make this Stelvio a multi-skilled car that can accompany you at supermarket, Country Club or Tomorrowland Winter Festival. What more can you ask for?