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Thursday Throwdown: Winter Sports Cars

By Aaron Turpen

Sports cars just aren’t for winter driving. Right? Wrong. Here’s a list of fun-driving sports cars that excel in winter weather. Our list has a good mix of high-performance and luxury sports cars. Something for everyone. All but the C63 are available in all wheel drive.

Unlike most of our Thursday Throwdowns, however, this one is not a face-off so much as a round up of contenders for allowing you to stay sporty in the dead of winter. Many of the cars we’re listing here aren’t really competitors with one another given the range of price tags. The Nissan GT-R, for example, is nowhere near the same buyer’s market as is the Chrysler 300C.  Yet both are superb winter driving vehicles that also just happen to offer sport performance. Never mind the fact that you could buy two or more of the Chrysler for the triple-digit price of the monster GT-R.

So sit up straight and get ready for a hot ride through some beautiful sports cars that happen to also do well in winter weather. Hey, if you can’t convince your spouse that these are family cars, you might be able to use the “but Honey, it drives well in the snow” line.

Audi RS 5

audi-RS5The Audi RS enjoys a reputation as the most high-performance of the Audi A5 and S5 lines. In both coupe and convertible form, the RS 5 is a monster on road and track. It features  450 horsepower V8 engine that powers through a seven-speed automatic transmission at up to 8,000 rpm. Audi’s signature all-wheel drive finishes the performance and aids the tight handling of this great machine.

The Audi RS 5 is aggressive, fun, and steady in all weather conditions. Just be sure to ditch the stock summer tires for all-weather rubber.

BMW 335i xDrive

bmw-3-seriesThe BMW 335i is part of the 3-Series of Bimmers and is considered the sports model for the line. Powered by a 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbocharged engine outputting 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. The xDrive designation is the all-wheel drive version of the 335i and is what gives the car its winter prowess. Fuel efficiency is about 24 mpg on the combined EPA cycle or 23 mpg combined if you opt for the manual transmission. Either transmission is a good choice for the sport driver, though many will find the manual shifting to be more fun.

As an entry-level luxury sedan, the BMW 3-Series is sporty and fun to drive as a 4-cylinder, but is relatively sedate compared with the 335i and its turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine. Although some reviewers have complained that the steering is lackluster, it is still BMW-precise and nicely balanced. It has a lot of power to push this small car through slush and snow.

Also important for winter (or any other) driving is crash testing, in which the BMW 335i rates well. Be safe out there, especially on icy roads. The NHTSA gives it an overall 5-Star rating while the IIHS gives it a top rating of “Good.”

Cadillac CTS

cadillac-cts-2014
2014 Cadillac CTS

Fully redesigned for 2014, the Cadillac CTS is now a real looker and has become a mover and shaker in the luxury car market. Sports car buyers are likely to want to get the Cadillac CTS Vsport with its turbocharged V6, but that model has only a rear-wheel drive option and is not best in winter driving. For that, look toward the turbocharged four-cylinder at 272 horses and 295 lb-ft of torque or the 3.6-liter V6 with its 420 horsepower and 430 lb-ft 321 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. The latter delivers excellent driving characteristics and speedy performance with an AWD option. You only lose one MPG in the EPA’s combined rating for upgrading to that six pack from the four as well.

Finally, we note that the CTS achieved a 5-Star overall safety rating from the NHTSA.

Chrysler 300C AWD

chrysler-300cIt’s big, it’s powerful, and it’s a great looker. The phrase you’re looking for to describe the 300C is “large and in charge.” This is quite possibly the last of the big, American sports sedans. With the AWD option, it handles beautifully. With the gigantic V8 options, it becomes a throaty monster as well. Sport driving enthusiasts would likely look towards the SRT8 trims for performance. While that big 470 horsepower V8 is tempting, it comes only in rear-wheel drive with a five-speed automatic that won’t win awards for winter road handling.

Instead, we look towards the 300C AWD model with its more manageable 5.7-liter V8 producing 363 hp and 394 lb-ft of torque. This throaty beast still outputs great numbers and good sound, but does so through that same five-speed automatic, but to all four tires. Although the Chrysler 300 is big and heavy, it handles like a much smaller car while giving winter AWD performance to rival most crossovers. The Chrysler 300 also scores top ratings at both the NHTS and the IIHS for safety.

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

mercedes-benz 350 AWD
If you need AWD, take a look at the 350.

This is the only non-AWD sports car on our list, but it handles exceedingly well in inclement weather despite being rear-wheel driven. For those who need AWD, the C350 4Matic is another good option. And its V6 offers far better fuel economy. The C63 AMG, however, carries the Merc performance title with tuning from AMG that includes a 6.2-liter V8 outputting an astonishing 451 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque through a seven-speed automatic transmission. An optional Edition 507 package raises the HP even higher, up over the five mark to 507, if you can believe that. This gives 0-60 speeds in the four second range.

Crash testing from both agencies also gave the Mercedes-Benz C-Class top ratings across the board.

Nissan GT-R

Image by Otis Blank via Flickr cc.
Image by Otis Blank via Flickr cc.

Known often as “Godzilla,” and for good reason, the GT-R is the powerhouse of Nissan’s lineup of cars. It’s a supercar by every definition of the term, with superior handling and cheek-flapping acceleration. It is capable of allowing even the most novice of pilots become an ace almost from the moment the key is turned. About the only thing this car is missing is a throaty, loud-mouthed exhaust note.

The lack of a bass note comes from the GT-R’s uber-powerful V6 engine which rivals the output of most eight-cylinder offerings in other cars. The twin-turbo 3.8-liter handmade engine generates a monstrous 545 horsepower and 463 lb-ft of torque through its equally impressive six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Say that three times fast. Finally, the advanced all-wheel drive system is standard in the GT-R and performs equally well on sunny days on the track as it does on icy roads in the dark of winter.

Subaru WRX STi

2015 Subaru WRX STi. Image by Eric Vilendrer via Flickr cc.
2015 Subaru WRX sti. Image by Eric Vilendrer via Flickr cc.

Named after the World Rallycross in which Subaru is often dominant, the WRX and its high-performance STi variant are very well-known amongst sports car enthusiasts. The STi is a monster of a little car whose small price tag despite its high output has made it popular among sport driving enthusiasts, especially those who don’t require pavement for their fun. Although the 265 horses the base WRX outputs is great for this small car, the intercooled, turbocharged 305 horsepower that the STi outputs is even better. Add in limited-slip front and rear differentials, one of the tightest sport suspensions on the road, and standard AWD and you have one heck of a little winter sports car. All of this can be had in either a sedan or hatchback body style. The six-speed manual is standard and preferred in the STi.

If you’re shopping for a winter sports car, make sure you check that CARFAX report. Every listing on Carfax Used Car Listings comes with a free vehicle history report.  So get out there and have fun, no matter the weather.

If buying a winter sports car is not a financially viable option at the moment, be sure to check our tips on Winterizing your Car.

6 thoughts on “Thursday Throwdown: Winter Sports Cars”

  1. None of these are “Sports Cars” by any reasonable definition of the type. The may well be sports sedans at best, or sporty coupes etc, but a proper sports car – no.

    1. So what is a sports car if the GT-R and the STi aren’t? I suspect you have some narrow definition that only fits your chosen favorite.

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