What kind of system do you like best (part-time 4wd, full-time 4wd, clutch-plate awd, viscous-coupling awd, etc.) and if you were going to build a dedicated winter monster, what vehicle/mods would you pick? Share your experiences and theories!
I used to have a Jeep Cherokee with studded Winterforce tires. That thing was an absolute beast during snowstorms and had an unexpected advantage elsewhere: street parking downtown. As snowbanks can eat up as much as half a street in residential downtown areas, a smallish 4X4 can be pretty useful. The high clearance makes it harder to get high centered and the low range can get you (or others) out of trouble with ease. I often found myself parking the XJ on top of snow banks where no other car would have dared to venture.
This being said, the XJ had a few shortcomings too. First, it was a bit limited by the part-time nature of its transfer case. I did not want to leave it in 4wd all the time for fear of breaking something and shifting from 2 to 4wd was tiresome and not very effective, especially in half dry/half snowy or icy conditions. Also, the handling, especially at highway speed, was ok, at best. Finally, it was getting old and needed repairs, which is why I ended up getting rid of it.
Now, this is my first winter with my ’06 Outback 3.0R. Perhaps my expectations were too high or perhaps I am just a bit blasé by the Jeep’s abilities, but I am not as impressed as I thought I would be with its snow and ice performance. Don’t get me wrong, the thing is 100% more surefooted than my GTI, but it’s not as grippy and/or predictable as I thought it would be. I haven’t got stuck yet, but it slides a bit more than I’d like and understeers a lot in low friction situations. I realize this probably has more to do with tire selection (the car came with Toyos and they suck; I swear by Nokians), but I also found that its more sophisticated awd system than the Jeep can be a disadvantage sometimes as I witnessed a couple weeks ago. We had a snowstorm which left about a foot of heavy snow on the ground which turned into heavy slush on the street. In these conditions, the awd system in the Subie struggled to send power to the wheels with the most traction. During slow turns, it almost felt like it was being quartered under its own power, tugging and pulling in all directions under throttle application. A simpler system would have spun its wheels a bit, but would have been a bit more predictable I think. There is also no low-range on the Subie and downtown street parking is not as easy as with the Jeep as I need to be more careful with the bodywork and especially bumper covers (snow banks can often hide hard-packed snow or ice blocks that can be damaging).
All this to say I’d prefer something like my old XJ, but in a newer package and with a awd setting on top of the 2wd, 4hi and 4lo settings. I know the Liberty had the NV242 transfer that did just that, but in such an undesirable package otherwise that I’d prefer something else… such as a JK Unlimited with a 242 swapped in, for example... I would also like an e-locker in the rear for really nasty situations when a 4X4 can become a no-wheel drive. A front mounted hitch could be useful for helping out others who got stuck. Unfortunately, I don’t think Nokian makes studded tires for JK sizes…. bummer.