Snow Driver: BMW 330xi $36,550

Mountain Life
Snow Driver 0104

Just before the first chill of winter, my friend Toya wanted to visit an amusement park. "I love roller coasters," she said. On the appointed Sunday, however, heavy rain spilled from the sky. I suggested we take a drive instead. "Trust me," I said. "It's the perfect day for it."

That it was—for someone driving a BMW 330xi. BMW only offers AWD as an option on sedans, but they get it right. On dry roads, the drive train sends 62 percent of its power to the rear wheels, which yields the sensation of rear-wheel drive. But when the Dynamic Stability Control system senses a loss of traction, it powers or brakes individual wheels as needed.

Toya and I headed for a serpentine mountain road I know, where I dropped the car's sporty manual into third gear. The 3 Series' exterior styling may be a bit sedate, but the guts can't be beat. And the tires stuck to the asphalt, even in standing water. At the top, I made a U-turn and loosed the 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder's 225 horses, making a very hard run down through the tight turns. Not a hint of hydroplane. I glanced over. Toya looked unwell. "I guess I got my roller coaster ride after all," she said.