Scraping windscreens this morning. Winter is not yet done. And yet, so far this winter there has been little need for winter tyres or four wheel drive in the central belt of Scotland, a big change from the previous two winters.
There's been plenty of snow elsewhere, so when I was commissioned to write a piece about 4WD in the snow, I thought, 'nae problem!'
Heading north through Perthshire there was plenty of snow on the hills but little at road level, so I turned off at Dalwhinnie and headed west to Spean bridge. Same again, snow on the hills, no snow on the roads. Turning north up the Great Glen towards Inverness, still no snow.
However, I did manage to find a stretch of snow-covered, frozen forestry-type road with corners, hills and descents. In VW’s 4Motion Haldex system, the rear wheel drive only comes into play when the front wheels have lost grip, otherwise it’s a FWD vehicle.
It offered little more grip in the corners than the standard van and not much more under braking, especially on one descent with ditches on either side of the road, and slithery noises underfoot, but all ditches were avoided!
However, the one manoeuvre which showed its true benefit was the stop and start halfway up an icy hill. Even sitting still with the brakes on, the van could just be felt sliding backwards!
Anyway, it pulled off without any drama and even a full bore take-off was accomplished with ice-polishing ease.
I other words it offers better traction going forward, but where the system really excels is where the ground is soft and mucky. So is 4WD the saviour of the incompetent? Not necessarily.