To most car enthusiasts, winter means fuel stabilizer, a car cover, a good wash and wax, and a comfortable heated garage for their weekend or sports car to lay dormant until the sun and warm weather return in the spring. For a select few enthusiasts though, winter means snow tires, four driven wheels, and finding some way to tame the coolness that you will invariably emanate if you drive any of these cars through the winter.
Enthusiast cars are usually relegated to warm weather, but the right enthusiast cars can be driven 24/7, 365 days a year, and for those who love the idea of form as much as function, these cars are for you.
It’s worth mentioning that while it’s not a must, a true winter car will have all or four wheel drive, and that’s why you’ll notice that all cars here do. These are the coolest winter cars that won’t break the bank: they aren’t reliable, and most aren’t fuel efficient or practical, but they are dripping coolness, good in the snow, and they can all be found for under $15,000.
2003 Audi RS6
How cool does a biturbo, dual overhead cam, 4.2 liter V8, limited-production Audi sedan that makes 450hp and 415lb-ft of torque sound? And how much cooler is it that it’s fifteen years old!
Developed by Audi’s performance division, Quattro GmbH, the RS6 was an E39 M5- fighting monster that could take down even the Ferraris of its day, all with enough seating for Grandma and the kids on the way to Christmas Mass.
Making it cooler yet, the RS6 was produced in limited numbers; Audi shipped over just 1,200 RS6 sedans to the U.S. in 2003, and a mere 90 to our northern neighbors in 2004. So what makes such a special super-sedan such a great winter car? Quattro, that’s what!
Audi’s intelligent all-wheel drive system, dubbed Quattro, in conjunction with its force-fed V8, gave the RS6 enough forward power and grip to counter the rotation of the earth, so snow-covered December roads are certainly no match for it. Throw on a set of snow tires, and the RS6 will get you anywhere, anytime, and turn heads while doing it.
2008-2014 Subaru WRX STI Wagon
Rally cars epitomize what an all-weather and all-terrain sports car can do, so why not buy one yourself?
Unfortunately, the real rally racers are not road-legal (but how cool would that be?) so we’ll have to settle for the next best thing: a Subaru WRX STI, in wagon form, of course. Subaru’s STI cars (standing for Subaru Technica International) are based on their rally car brethren, so they really are about as close to a road-going rally car as you can get.
In the 2008-2014 generation, referred to by Subaru fans as the STink or Eagle eye model (referring to the shape of the headlights), the STI packs 305hp and 290lb-ft of torque under your right foot, coming from a turbocharged 2.5 liter boxer 4-cylinder engine.
This all can be had with a clutch pedal for even more cool and fun points, and the power is sent to all four wheels. The boxer engine configuration—so called because the pistons fire at or against each other on a flat plane, like they’re boxing—in combination with the undeniably cool-looking rear end make the STI wagon one of the coolest winter cars money can buy. You get rally-car inspired engineering and abilities, that classic Subaru boxer sound, and the practicality of a wagon. What’s not to love?
1999-2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 4/4S
Porsches are already inherently cool all by themselves, but there’s a point where they can reach the pinnacle of coolness, and that’s when an AWD variant wearing winter shoes and a roof rack passes by mere mortal SUVs on the way to hit the slopes.
While the 911 is often placed on a pedestal for its sporting and backroad-carving pedigree, they are definitely no one-trick pony. In 1998, Porsche introduced the world to the all new and redesigned 911. Much to the chagrin of Porsche die-hards though, that new 911, known internally as the 996 generation, featured a slew of changes, and that all new design had a highly criticized headlight shape, among other ire-raising departures from traditional Porsche styling.
Most notably though, the 996 brought with it the first ever water-cooled engine in a 911, replacing the air-cooled engine the brand became famous for. So the 996 was never really embraced by enthusiasts, but that means they’re cheap!
So as long as you’re not a hard-core Porsche traditionalist, I’m sure you’ll love the 996. And there’s a specific variant that you want for winter-driving duty: the Carrera 4 or 4S. The Carrera 4 turns all four wheels and their power comes from a flat 6 (of course.)
Being Porsche though, the model nomenclature is a bit confusing, so let me give you a quick rundown: 1999-2001 Carrera 4s featured a 3.4 liter flat 6 making 296hp in 1999, and 300hp in 2000 and 2001.
The 2002-2004 models received a slightly larger engine, with displacement bumped to 3.6 liters, and engine output now up to 320hp. Also, in 2002, the Carrera 4 coupe was dropped, so if you wanted an all-wheel drive 911 without a turbo (and thus within our budget) you had to go for the Carrera 4S, which was now available as a coupe.
You can blame Porsche for all the confusing model changes and naming. Anyway, the bottom line is that there are few things cooler than an all wheel drive 911 with its signature flat six singing its way up a snowy mountain pass. (Until an RS6 comes along, that is!)
So there you have it: my top three coolest winter cars that can call your garage home for less than $15,000 dollars. I’m sure you’ll find, however, that as you browse the internet fueled by your new-found desire to drive a cool car in the winter, some of these icons can be tough to find for under $15,000, but… trust me, it can be done. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit online, car shopping for cars I don’t have the room for even budget for.
Happy shopping, and don’t forget your winter tires! Also, in case you want to check out a few additional options, I’ve included some honorable mentions:
2000-2002 or 2004-2005 Audi S4
2007-2016 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
2004-2007 Volvo S60R