Today is Halloween. Wow, that got here fast. It seems like only yesterday it was summer and 92 degree outside. But summer is no longer here and the warm weather is quickly fading. Before we know it, it will be Thanksgiving and downright cold. Then December will get here and it will be freezing, depending on where you live, of course. In many parts of the country, and the world, with the winter months comes snow and truly bad weather. The kind of weather that makes even short drives to the store not worth it.
BMWs have a sort of bad reputation for winter driving. To be fair, this is mostly from people who don’t know cars. In winter, I couldn’t speak to one non-BMW driver who didn’t criticize my E36 in the snow, when the truth is that I seldom was stuck. I’ve always claimed that there aren’t many bad cars for the snow, but bad drivers. Obviously there are many cars that are far superior than others in snow and some cars that aren’t so great. But proper tires and knowledge of snow driving can get almost any car through a decent snow storm. Trust me, I once drove through an entire New Jersey winter with a rear-wheel drive E36 328i with awful-for-winter Dunlop summer tires and got stuck a total of one time. The driver matters most.
Having said that. There are better cars for winter than others and not all BMWs are created equal in that respect. There are just some BMWs that I flat-out would not want to drive when the ground becomes frozen. An M4 is one of those cars. But there are BMWs that are far better and that can actually be fun when the ground turns white. So let’s take a look.
As BMW’s largest SUV, the X5 has the most ground clearance of any Bavarian. It’s large enough to traverse over some pretty sketchy terrain and can handle some pretty deep snow. Its xDrive system is also pretty handy when the road gets slippery. While it doesn’t have the low-range transfer case and locking differentials of a Land Rover, the xDrive system is pretty clever, in terms of sending power to the correct wheels when it needs to. You won’t be tackling Moab in an X5, but it should handle some snow just fine. The xDrive35d is the one to get for bad weather areas, though. Its torquey diesel engine will help tremendously and start up every time, no matter how cold it gets. The X5’s only real downfall is its weight. It’s a big ole girl and all of that weight makes it hard to pull it through some rough snow. Good winter tires are a necessity for the X5, but equipped with the proper tires, an X5 xDrive35d should be plenty fine for the average driver in some pretty bad snow.
The 328i xDrive Sports Wagon is probably the most fun BMW in the snow. While it won’t traverse massive snow mounds, if there’s just a couple of inches on the road, there’s not many cars I’d rather be in. Its xDrive system will help it keep traction in powder and will even allow some tail-out shenanigans when you have the chance. With the Sports Wagon, you get the 3 Series’ legendary chassis and handling dynamics, meaning that you can stay in complete control of the 3er with ease. I would also choose the 328i over the 328d, because the petrol engine would be a bit more fun, even though the torquey diesel would be a bit better suited to snow driving. And the reason for the wagon choice over the sedan is that it allows for more practicality for gear for skiing or any other winter activities. Plus, it’s just cooler. Now if only BMW would give us a manual option with it. Winter tires are recommended, but all-seasons should fair decently, as the 328i isn’t going to be doing any serious snow driving due to its sedan-level ground clearance, so heavy snow isn’t in its future anyway. But winter tires are always recommended when snow starts to fall.
This is probably the oddball choice of the group, as most people wouldn’t think of a rear-wheel drive electric car as their first choice for the snow. However, it’s actually far better-suited for snow than people think. Its incredibly light body means that it can just hop over snow like a mountain goat. Also, its electric torque means that it can put smooth power down instantaneously. This can be treacherous to those who aren’t careful, though, as all of that torque hitting instantly can cause wheels spin. Especially with those skinny tires. However, the wheels of the i3 are very tall, giving each tire a decently large contact patch. So if careful, the i3 can actually be pretty good in the snow. However, this is only the case with very good winter tires. We’ve tested the i3 in the snow with excellent Nokian winter tires and it performed incredibly well. Good tires mean everything for winter driving and especially so on the i3. Plus, if you get the right winter tires, you can have some rear-drive fun without much fear. As long as the roads are clear and you’re being safe, of course.
Now, you don’t always need an SUV or a hatchback or wagon to drive in the snow. In fact, body style only matters in terms of ground clearance. A luxury sedan with all-wheel drive and proper tires will do just fine in all but the most extreme conditions. The BMW 5 Series is one of BMW’s best sedans, despite it being a bit older than all of its competition. It has an excellent chassis with great steering and fantastically stable suspension. So snow shouldn’t be an issue with xDrive. Much like the 328i Sports Wagon mentioned earlier, all-season will probably do fine, as the 5er doesn’t have SUV-style ground clearance, so heavy snow is out of the question. But good winter tires will make it excellent in snow as opposed to just adequate and when safety is in question, you never want adequate. But the 535d xDrive will fair better than the 328i wagon because of its more supple suspension and luxurious handling. So it will be safer and more stable, but it still has sharp enough dynamics to save your butt if necessary.
The X1 xDrive28i is probably BMW’s best off-roading SUV. We testing it in some pretty rough terrain in Mexico and it took a serious beating without batting an eye. Seriously, it got to the point where we thought we were gonna break the little X1, but it chugged through like a champ. It’s no Jeep Wrangler of Land Rover Defender, but it will handle some pretty rough stuff before tapping out. It’s light, has decent ground clearance and a very clever Haldex all-wheel drive system. Equipped with the proper tires and the X1 will surprise many Jeep enthusiasts. In Mexico, my driving partner had just gotten back from a Land Rover press event and had said that what he went through there wasn’t much tougher than what we encountered with the X1, which isn’t supposed to be more than a shopping mall-strolling, soccer mom crossover. The X1 can hang in the snow, I promise, and it will actually be fun, too.