One of the biggest myths in the automotive world is that the only thing you need to conquer snowy and frozen roads during cold winters is an all-wheel drive car, preferably a tall-riding SUV with fancy chrome roof rails, tough-looking plastic cladding and big "AWD" badges.
Does all-wheel drive help? Without going into technical details, sure it does, depending on the condition of the road and the situation you're in, as well as the type of four-wheel drive system fitted on your car.
However, what most car salesmen won't tell you is that, the biggest single factor in driving safely and secure on paved roads during winter months is the type of rubber mounted on your wheels.
Yes, the all-wheel drive Subaru Forester can be very capable in the snow, but not when it's rolling on summer tires that start losing their grip once temperatures fall under 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 5 degrees Celsius (the exact opposite applies for winter tires – they don't deliver above these temps).
And while a rear-wheel drive BMW M3 of the E46 generation may sound like a bad idea on the snow, try driving it with a set of four (always on all four corners, not only the driving wheels) dedicated winter tires, and you'll be surprised how good it can be – just as long as you don't try to defy the laws of physics…
If you can afford it, you can have the best of both worlds by having specific winter and summer tires, preferably fitted on different rims (eBay, Craigslist and brand-specific forums can be very useful for buying affordable, used or remanufactured OEM rims), which you can swap towards the end of fall and the beginning of spring.
As for all-weather tires, even though many tire specialists like to call them "no season tires" because of the inherent compromises in their design and build, they can be useful in certain regions without heavy winters and overly hot summers.
In the videos below, you can see how well a powerful RWD car like the M3 behaves on the snow with dedicated winter rubber and how it compares to other cars.
Update: TireRack, through is legal representatives (read law firm - and not via its press arm), informed us in a lengthy letter that the company demands the removal of the word "TireRack" and the associated / embedded YouTube videos we had added to this original post purely for informational purposes, and we quote:
"Your use of the Tire Rack Works in connection with your blog may constitute copyright infringement. Furthermore, your use of the Tire Rack Mark suggests (wrongly) that your blog site is associated with or approved or sponsored by Tire Rack, which may constitute trademark infringement."
Needless to say, we have no affiliation with the company and this was never implied in our article (the exact, and only words we used, were "along with two relative clips from TireRack" – that's it, and we did so to give credits) and the sole reason we included the two related YouTube videos was to show how winter tires differ from summer tires. Go figure…