Top 10: Safest Winter Cars

24th Oct 2014


With the winter months now upon us and road safety on everyone's mind, we thought it would be appropriate to run down a list of what we believe to be the safest cars for winter driving. There's lots of different cars from different brands in all shapes and sizes - mostly SUVs.

To qualify for this list, the vehicle must be fitted with a four wheel drive system and score 5-star for safety in Euro NCAP crash tests. Unfortunately, this rules out cars such as the Fiat Panda 4x4 (4-stars) and the Audi TT (current model has not been tested by Euro NCAP).


1. Vauxhall Mokka

About the Vauxhall Mokka

Launched in 2012, the Vauxhall Mokka has been popular with buyers thanks to its good looks, excellent practicality and low running costs. Vauxhall say: 'this innovative new model combines the road presence of an SUV, with the dynamic handling of a sports hatchback'.

Engines, transmissions and MPG

The engine and gearbox setup we've chosen is the 1.7 CDTi 4x4, with 128bhp of power and 221 lb-ft. (300 Nm) of torque. It accelerates from 0-62mph in 10.1s and achieves 57mpg on the combined cycle. Unfortunately there are no automatic 4x4 Mokkas, you'll have to have a 2WD variant if you don't drive stick.

Another 4WD option is the 1.4T (turbo) petrol model, with 138bhp of power and 147 lb-ft. (200 Nm) of torque. This model is slightly quicker to 62mph than the diesel, taking just 9.1s. As you'd expect with a petrol model, its MPG figure is lower than the CDTi model, at 44mg combined.


There are three trim levels to look out for on the Mokka, Exclusiv, Tech Line and SE. All specifications can be purchased with the 4WD drivetrain.

Exclusiv specification: Switchable Electronic Stability Programme, Dual-zone Electronic Climate control, CD/MP3 CD player/aux-in socket, DMB digital radio, Steering wheel mounted audio controls, Cruise control, Multi-function trip computer, USB connection with iPod control, Bluetooth® functionality, Leather-covered steering wheel, Steering column adjustable for reach and rake, Daytime running lights, High beam assist, Rain-sensitive windscreen wipers, Remote control central locking, Electrically adjustable/heated/foldable door mirrors, Electrically operated front and rear windows, Front fog lights, Front and rear parking distance sensors, Stainless steel exhaust tailpipe, Sterling silver-effect 18-inch alloy wheels, Intelligent four-wheel drive (4X4 models only)

Tech Lines add: Satellite navigation and a Space-saver spare wheel

SE Models add (over the Exclusiv):

Leather seat facings, Electrically heated front seats, Ergonomic sports front seats, Rear seat centre armrest with drinks holders, Electrically heated steering wheel, Driver's sunglasses holder, Chrome-effect exterior door handles, Alloy-effect door sill covers, Dark-tinted rear windows, Midnight silver-effect 18-inch alloy wheels.


In terms of safety, the Mokka scored 5-stars on the Euro NCAP test thanks to its stable passenger compartment and good protection for the head and knees, as well as good protection against whiplash. Standard safety equipment across the range includes: ABS, cornering stability control, 2-stage airbags for the driver and passenger, front/rear curtain airbags, lateral airbags, height adjustable front seatbelts, seat belt force limiters, 3x3 point rear seatbelts, electronic stability control, front and rear seatbelt pre-tensioners, front side airbags and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

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Vauxhall Mokka

2. Land Rover Freelander 2

About the Freelander

Originally launched back in 1997, the Freelander has provided access to all the ruggedness, off-road capability and luxury that the Land Rover brand provides at a more affordable price, and became popular for this very reason. When it was launched, the press release said 'The all-new Land Rover Freelander 2 redefines the compact premium 4x4 class. New from the ground up, Freelander 2 delivers outstanding on-road performance as well as the class-leading off-road ability of a true Land Rover'. 

Engines, transmissions and MPG

Most people went for the 2.2 Td4 Diesel engine with an automatic gearbox when they were purchased from new. This combination provides 157bhp and 295 lb-ft. of torque, though no acceleration figures were available. It can achieve 33mpg on the combined cycle, which is not bad for a fairly large 4x4 that was released in 2006. Later models did manage to improve on that figure with a de-tuned engine and a revised auto gearbox that bumped the car up to 40mpg from 2010.


As with all Land Rovers, the specification of the used examples depends greatly upon what option boxes were ticked when the car was new. There's also over 20 different variants over the lifespan of the Freelander 2, so we'll just run through the spec on the most popular SE model. 

SE models from 2008 feature as standard: cruise control, front/rear parking sensors, driver information module, navigation system, telephone integration system, trip computer, radio/cd player with MP3 and 9 speakers and headphone sockets in the rear, steering wheel audio controls, auto wipers/lights, electric folding door mirrors, electric sunroof, electric windows, auto climate control, electrically adjustable driver and passenger seat, half leather upholstery, 60/40 folding rear seat, heated front seats and tilt/reach adjustable steering wheel. Well specc'd then!


The Freelander 2 was marked as a 5-star car by Euro NCAP, and was praised for its ability to protect larger and smaller occupants sat in different seating positions. Children sat in the rear were also very well protected. Safety equipment includes: 3x3 point rear seatbelts, dual stage driver/passenger airbags, ABS, electronic brake force distribution, side airbags, curtain airbags, roll stability control, hill descent control and traction control.

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Land Rover Freelander

3. Volvo XC60

About the Volvo XC60

A list of safe cars would not be complete without a Volvo in there, so we've picked the XC60 - the smaller brother of the popular XC90 SUV.

Engines, transmissions and MPG

The most popular engine choice in the XC60 is Volvo's tried and tested 2.4 diesel, and it's available in various states of tune. Most of the ones on the used market are 4WD, but there are some that are 2WD only and these will have better economy. The one we've got here is the D5 [205] with a manual gearbox, producing 202bhp and 310 lb-ft. (420 Nm) of torque. It's good for 42mpg, but if paired with a geartronic automatic gearbox the economy drops to 40mpg. The manual accelerates from 0-62mph in a useful 8.5 seconds, and on to a 130mph top speed. Not bad for a very practical and very safe family car.


The specification of the XC60 varies widely depending on the model. The SE Lux Premium (pretty much top of the range) featured in the picture has as standard: cruise control, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth compatibility, satellite navigation, high performance audio with 8 speakers, USB/Aux ports, DAB digital radio, steering wheel audio controls, bi-xenon headlamps with cleaners, auto-dimming rear view mirror, electric front/rear windows, front fog lights, power tailgate, silver roof rails, twin tailpipes, auto wipers/lights, electric folding mirrors, electric driver's seat, humidity sensor, 40/20/40 split folding rear seat, auto climate control and leather faced seats.


The Volvo XC60 is so safe that it was named in the top 5 safest cars of 2009 by Euro NCAP themselves, who of course awarded the car with a full 5-star rating. The XC60 is helped by a collapsible steering column and a multitude of safety gadgets, which include: 3x3 point rear seatbelts, ABS, electronic brake force distribution, dual stage airbags, electronic all-wheel drive with instant traction, whiplash protection system, hill descent control, roll stability control, side airbags, dynamic stability control, traction control, emergency brake assist, electronic parking brake, inflatable curtain, roll over protection system and seatbelt pre-tensioners.

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Volvo XC60

4. Audi A4 Quattro

About the Audi A4

The Audi A4 is the sister car of the top-selling VW Passat. Fitted with a more premium interior and a posher badge, the A4 has sold in its droves since it was launched way back in 1994.

Engines, transmissions and MPG

The A4 comes with a wide variety of petrol and diesel engines, with the majority of them turbocharged for efficiency. A lot of them are shared with the VW Passat, but what sets the A4 apart from that car is the fact that they can be specified with Audi's legendary Quattro drivetrain. This is one of the most advanced AWD systems in the world, and Audi is credited with bringing 4WD to the masses in the late 1980s. The engine we've chosen is the fairly common 2-litre TDI engine, but in 167bhp tune and mated to the Quattro four-wheel-drive system. It delivers on both fronts in terms of performance and economy, managing 0-62mph in just 8.3 seconds while still returning 47.9mpg on the average cycle. Combined the Quattro 4WD system, this car is all things to all men.


The A4 is available in standard trim, Technik, SE and S-Line trim, as well as Black Edition and S-Line Special Edition. The one shown in the image is an S-Line model, and features as standard: concert radio/cd player with MP3/AUX, chrome exhaust tailpipes, integral indicators in the door mirrors, electric front windows, front fog lights, rear window sun screen, heat insulating glass, electric/heated door mirrors, S Line body styling, leather handbrake, leather gearknob, half leather upholstery, multifunction S Line steering wheel, auto climate control, height adjustable front seats, 50/50 split folding rear seat, front sports seats and a height/depth adjustable steering column.


From 2008 onwards, the Audi A4 was (and still is) classed as 5-star car by safety experts Euro NCAP. It was praised for the 'negligible distortion of the passenger compartment' and for scoring maximum points in the side impact tests. Standard safety equipment on the model in the picture includes: 3x3 point rear seatbelts, adaptive driver and passenger airbags, ABS, electronic stability programme, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, traction control, electromechanical parking brake, front side airbags and emergency brake force distribution.

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Audi A4

5. Nissan Qashqai (1st generation facelift)

About the Qashqai

The Qashqai features in pretty much every list of used cars that we do, simply because it covers almost all the bases, including being a very safe winter car.

Engines, transmissions and MPG

While most Qashqais come fitted with Nissan's excellent 1.5 dCi diesel engine, it was not available with the 4WD drivetrain. For that, you need the 2-litre dCi, which generates 147bhp and 236 lb-ft. (320 Nm) of torque - a decent amount for towing. This is enough to propel the Qashqai to 60mph in 10.6 seconds and achieve 40mpg combined. Later Tekna models however improve these figures to 9.6s and 47mpg, so look out for those models on the used market. Auto models get slightly less to the gallon at 36mpg, and are slightly slower to 60mph (11.6s).

From 2012, Qashqais could be fitted with a new 1.6-litre dCi engine, and in 4WD format these cars achieved 55mpg combined, while still maintaining good acceleration and performance; they will however command a premium on the used market.


N-Tec models of the Qashqai were one of the most popular specification choices, and they feature as standard: Bluetooth, satellite navigation, rear view camera, cruise control, trip computer, radio/cd player, auto lights/wipers, electric folding door mirrors, panoramic glass sunroof with electric blind, rear privacy glass, front fog lights, silver roof rails, aluminium pedals, 60/40 split folding rear seat, dual zone climate control, lumbar support, height adjustable driver's seat, leather steering wheel, front/rear armrests, alarm, immobiliser and 17" alloy wheels.


Other than the driver's chest, the Qashqai scored maximum points for driver and passenger protection during crash testing by Euro NCAP. It also scored maximum points on the side impact tests too. This is all achieved thanks to a lengthy safety equipment list which features: ISOFIX child seat anchorages, ABS, brake assist, emergency brake force distribution, 3x3 point rear seatbelts, driver/passenger airbags and airbags in the sides and roof.

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Nissan Qashqai

6. MINI Countryman ALL4

About the MINI Countryman

Introduced in 2010, the MINI Countryman divided public opinion with some seeing it as a shameless extension of the MINI brand. Others however see it (and rightly so) as a MINI that families can use as an only car, with all the looks and interior design of a regular MINI but in a much more practical package.

Engines, transmissions and MPG

All three engine options, the 1.6-litre petrol, the 1.6-litre diesel and the 2-litre diesel can be chosen with MINIs 'ALL4' four-wheel drive system.

The ALL4 1.6-litre petrol produces 120bhp and 118 lb-ft. (160 Nm) of torque, and accelerates from 0-60mph in 11.5s and achieves 42mpg combined. This can also be chosen with an automatic gearbox, though reducing the mpg figure to 40.

The ALL4 1.6-litre diesel produces slightly less power than the petrol with 110bhp, but considerably more torque at 199 lb-ft. (270 Nm). It's actually slightly quicker than the petrol, accelerating from 0-60mph in 11.2s, and manages 60mpg on the combined cycle.

The more powerful 147bhp ALL4 2-litre diesel is available on the Cooper S trim level, achieving a 0-62mph time of 9.4 seconds and 59mpg combined, so this is the pick of the engine range. Cooper S diesel models will however be much more expensive on the used market.


There are three main trim levels on the Countryman: standard trim, Cooper and Cooper S. Cooper models feature as standard: Bluetooth, USB, engine start/stop button, run flat indicator, rear parking sensors, 6 speakers, DAB digital radio, AUX input, bike rack prep, anti-dazzle mirror, chrome door handles, electric front/rear windows, follow me home headlights, LED front fog lights, silver roof rails, electric and heated door mirrors, LED daytime running lights, air conditioning, 60/40 split folding rear seat, height/reach adjustable steering column, remote central locking, Thatcham alarm and 16" alloy wheels.


As we said at the start, cars must have a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating in order to feature in this list, and the MINI Countryman is no exception. The passenger compartment 'remained stable' during crash testing, and safety equipment on the Cooper model includes traction control, ABS, 3x3 point rear seatbelts, stability control, cornering brake control, crash sensor, hill start assist, ISOFIX child seat anchorages, front head airbags, driver/passenger side airbags, driver and passenger front airbags, tyre pressure warning and electronic brake force distribution.

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MINI Countryman

7. Skoda Yeti

About the Skoda Yeti

The Skoda Yeti broke new ground for the Skoda brand when it was launched in 2009, and was greeted by widespread critical acclaim. Top Gear even went as far as to name it their Family Car of the Year that same year.

Engines, transmissions and MPG

Most Yetis are 2WD, but 4WD drivetrains can be specified with either a 2-litre TDI diesel engine or a 1.8-litre TSI turbocharged petrol engine.

The most popular engine by far is the 2-litre TDI, and comes in three states of tune: 108bhp, 138bhp and 167bhp. In the more common 138bhp, the engine produces 236 lb-ft. (320 Nm) of torque, and accelerates from 0-60mph in 9.6s, achieving 48mpg on the combined cycle in 4WD format. Both the 138bhp and 167bhp engines can be mated to an automatic DSG twin-clutch gearbox.


There are 12 different specification levels on the Skoda Yeti, and it would take forever to run through them all. Therefore, we'll just give you an overview of the standard equipment on the Elegance model featured in the picture.

Elegance equipment includes: rear parking sensors, Bluetooth, cruise control, trip computer, rev counter, off-road button, radio/cd player with MP3/AUX, black roof rails, auto dimming rear view mirror, electric folding door mirrors, privacy glass, bi-xenon headlights, electric heated door mirrors, electric windows, lumbar support, multifunction steering wheel, cool box in glove compartment, full leather upholstery, height/reach adjustable steering wheel, flexible rear seating and heated front seats.


Crash tested in 2009, the Skoda Yeti was praised by Euro NCAP for a passenger compartment that 'remained stable' during the test, and scored an impressive 92% for adult occupant protection. Safety equipment on the Yeti Elegance includes: 3x3 point rear seatbelts, ABS, driver/passenger airbags, side airbags, a multitude of electronic safety devices, height adjustable front seatbelts, curtain airbags and a drivers knee airbag.

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Skoda Yeti

8. Ford Kuga

About the Ford Kuga

The Ford Kuga has been around since 2008 and is a popular and practical SUV that ticks all the boxes required to be a safe winter car. We'll focus on the newer 2nd generation model here, but the 1st generation is worthy of featuring in this list too.

Engines, transmissions and MPG

More often than not, the Ford Kuga is fitted with a 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine. It's available in two different power outputs: 138bhp and 163bhp, and both are available as 4WD and both are available with an automatic 'Powershift' gearbox and 4WD.

The 138bhp 4WD choice manages 0-60mph in 10.4s and achieves 47mpg. This is reduced to 46 mpg for the automatic version (Zetec trim level only).

The 163bhp 4WD choice manages 0-60mph in 9.6s and achieves 49mpg. This is reduced to 46mpg for the automatic.


There are four trim levels available on the current shape Kuga: Zetec, Titanium, Titanium X and Titanium X Sport. The most popular is the Titanium, and the X Sport model adds a body kit and big wheels to an already very well spec'd SUV.

Titanium models feature as standard: cruise control, engine start/stop button, Ford SYNC Bluetooth, trip computer, Sony DAB radio/cd player, MP3/AUX, 8 speakers, multifunction steering wheel, Quickclear heated windscreen, auto lights/wipers, electric front/rear windows with global closing, scuff plates, front fog lights, electric heated door mirrors, 2nd row air vents, 60-40 split folding rear seat, climate control, half leather seats, lumbar support, reach/rake adjustable steering column, remote central locking, Thatcham alarm and 17" alloy wheels.


As with the other cars in this list, the passenger compartment of the Kuga remained stable during crash testing, and front seat protection was good for people of all sizes and sat in different positions. Standard safety equipment on the Titanium model includes: 3x3 point rear seatbelts, driver and passenger airbags, ABS, electronic brake force distribution, side airbags, traction assist, front and rear curtain airbags, intelligent protection system, tyre pressure monitoring system and hill start assist.

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Ford Kuga

9. Kia Sportage (Third Generation)

About the Kia Sportage

This third generation Kia Sportage took the UK SUV market by storm when it was launched in 2010. Its striking looks and upmarket interior have won favour with motoring journalists and owners alike, and the reviews couldn't be more favourable.

Engines, transmissions MPG

For 4WD purposes you'll need Kia's 2-litre 134bhp diesel engine, which pushes the car from 0-62mph in 10.9s and on to a top speed of 112mph. Top speed isn't that important however; what is important is the towing capacity, which is 2000kg, achievable thanks to the 236 lb ft. (320 Nm) of torque. The 2-litre diesel engine is available with either an automatic or manual gearbox.


KX-3 models feature: Bluetooth, cruise control, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, trip computer, radio/cd player with MP3, touch screen audio, steering wheel audio controls, auto lights/wipers, electric folding door mirrors, electric windows, fixed panoramic glass sunroof, front fog lights, LED daytime running lights, privacy glass, rear spoiler, climate control, full leather seats, height adjustable driver's seat and 18" alloy wheels.


The Sportage scored an impressive 93% for adult occupant safety in its Euro NCAP crash test, meaning that it of course achieved the full 5 star rating. Standard safety equipment on the KX-3 model featured in the picture includes: 3x3 point rear seatbelts, ABS, EBD, active front headrests, dual front airbags, full size curtain airbags, side airbags, height adjustable front seatbelts, trailer stability assist, tyre pressure monitoring system, hill start assist and ESP/traction control.

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Kia Sportage

10. Volkswagen Tiguan

About the Volkswagen Tiguan

The Germans are somewhat specialists in safety and four wheel drive cars, so it feels right that we end the list with the VW Tiguan. It's enjoyed good success in the UK, with its good looks, excellent safety credentials and premium interior winning favour with British buyers.

Engines, transmissions and MPG

As with most VW products, the 2.0 TDI engine dominates the range and is available in either 138bhp or 167bhp tune.

The 138bhp 2.0 TDI produces 236 lb-ft. (320 Nm) of torque and is good for 0-60mph in 10.2 seconds. It manages 44mpg on the combined cycle with a manual gearbox, or 39mpg with an automatic.

The 167bhp 2.0 TDI produces 258 lb-ft. (350 Nm) of torque and drops the 0-60mph time considerably to just 8.6s. This engine manages 42mpg combined with a manual gearbox and cannot be mated to an automatic.


Again as with all VW products, there's a massive amount of different trim levels including S, SE, Sport, Match, Bluemotion Tech Match, Summit, Escape and R Line. Here is the specification on the popular SE model: trip computer, touchscreen radio/cd/mp3/aux player, heat insulated glass, tinted glass, electric/heated door mirrors, range adjustable headlights, chrome radiator grille, air conditioning, 60/40 split folding rear seats, height adjustable driver's seat, rake/reach adjustable steering column and 17" alloy wheels.


The safety credentials of the Tiguan are very good indeed, and the passenger compartment remained stable during crash testing. Safety equipment includes: 3x3 point rear seatbelts, curtain airbags, ABS, ESP, curtain airbags, side airbags, driver/passenger airbags, height adjustable driver's seat and electronic parking brake.

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Volkswagen Tiguan