I'm looking for a car/SUV with AWD or full-time 4x4, but I really only want a manual transmission. I drive in a lot of deep snow, so ground clearance can also be a problem. What are my options?
SUVs that pair a manual transmission with AWD or full-time four-wheel drive include the Toyota FJ Cruiser, Subaru Forester, Subaru Outback and Jeep Patriot. The FJ is the most beastly and truck-like out of the bunch, with 9.6-inches of ground clearance — it will laugh in the face of deep snow; c’mon, just look at it.
The Forester, Patriot and Outback are all car-based models and have less ground clearance than the FJ, but will offer more a more civilized ride when you’re not plowing through snow banks. If you’re considering a car also, as you mention, the snow you need to get through can’t be super deep; if that’s the case, the car-based models will do fine. Subaru models with the most ground clearance include the Outback 2.5 XT Limited trim, with 8.7 inches, and the Forester 2.5 X, with 8.1 inches of clearance.
The Patriot has a multitude of “Freedom-Drive” packages with levels of offroad worthiness. We explain the Freedom Drive packages here. Only the Freedom Drive I package is available with the manual transmission, though. There’s a feature that locks all four wheels into motion for the heavy stuff, but the Freedom Drive I package is not one of Jeep’s Trail Rated packages — it sits an inch lower than Trail Rated versions. The available Freedom Drive II with a continuously variable automatic transmission is Trail Rated, however, with 9 inches of ground clearance and a two-speed transfer case.
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