The Volkswagen Golf is an iconic hatchback that ticks all the right boxes for lots of people all over the world.
They’re extremely practical, fun to drive, have good build quality, and are relatively affordable.
All these qualities have made it one of the best-selling vehicles of all time, and it’s been winning over people’s hearts for almost half a century.
But a lot of people do wonder how good this little hatchback drives in the snow. Read on to find out…
Here is the short answer to whether the Volkswagen Golf is good for snow and winter driving:
The Volkswagen Golf is excellent in snow, front-wheel-drive versions can handle slippery conditions just fine although the all-wheel-drive models will provide even better traction. Golfs come equipped with a wide array of driver aids and safety features that optimize driving in the wintertime.
Is the Volkswagen Golf Good in the Snow?
The standard Volkswagen Golf does fairly well in moderate snow — just like any small front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicle. Of course, to get the best out of it during winter, you’ll need to put on proper snow tires so you can get more traction.
Its ground clearance stands at 5.5 inches which is on the higher end of the scale when compared to the other small hatchbacks in its class.
Of course, the all-wheel drive (AWD) versions of the Golf — such as the Golf R and the older R32 — will definitely give you more traction and handle better on snowy roads.
VW Golfs have always had an all-wheel drive option since the second generation Mk2. But the FWD models are still more popular and plentiful.
Even without AWD, front-wheel drive vehicles are inherently better in the snow than rear-wheel drive cars.
The added weight of the engine over the front wheels give the tires more traction.
FWD cars are also more predictable to drive in the snow, especially for less experienced drivers, because the front wheels are pulling the vehicle forward.
In a RWD car, the back of the vehicle can easily start sliding and drifting when you give it just a tad too much gas.
In addition, Golfs are lighter than larger sedans, SUVs and trucks, which means it’s easier to get them going even when there’s not much traction.
They’re also less likely to get stuck in deep snow.
All modern golfs also come standard with stability and traction control, ABS, as well as a host of modern electronic safety features to keep you from sliding all over the road when things start getting slippery.
What Features Will Improve Winter Driving?
Volkswagen Golfs are extremely popular worldwide, and are used in all sorts of conditions.
Of course, they’re not going to be as capable in really deep snow as vehicles with true four-wheel drive systems and really high ground clearance.
But in light to moderate snow, even the FWD Golfs will always get you to where you’re going with very little drama.
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at some key features of the Golf that can make winter driving more bearable.
Electronic Stability Control
Like all modern vehicles, all VW Golfs come standard with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), also sometimes known as Electronic Stability Program (ESP).
The ESC system keeps you from losing control when driving on snowy and icy roads by keeping track of the vehicle’s speed and direction, as well as where the steering wheel is pointed.
When the car’s computers detect that you’re about to start skidding and sliding, it will automatically apply the brakes and cut power to the wheels to slow down the car and allow you to regain control.
Stability control is extremely useful when going into or out of corners, especially when there’s less traction available on roads that are wet or covered with snow and ice.
The Golf comes with a Traction Control system which Volkswagen has labeled as Anti-Slip Regulation.
It automatically cuts power to the drive wheels and applies the brakes when the system detects that the wheels are spinning too fast for the current speed of the vehicle.
When there’s snow or ice on the ground, it’s often hard to move the vehicle from a stop, especially if you’re trying to go uphill.
With the Traction Control on, you’re able to maximize your tires’ available grip and get the car moving quickly.
It also keeps you from losing control of the car if you accidentally step on the gas too much.
All-Wheel Drive (AWD) is standard on the Golf R and the older R32 — making them the best option if you’re looking for a hatchback that can easily handle winters with lots of snowfall.
It’s also featured in the station wagon versions of the Golf which is known as the Golf SportWagen in the U.S. and Canada, and as the Golf Variant or Golf Estate in other countries.
There’s also the Golf Alltrack, which is based on the AWD station wagon but with more ground clearance — making it the ultimate Golf for really bad winter conditions and even some off-road driving.
Volkswagen’s 4Motion AWD system automatically sends power to the rear wheels when the front tires start slipping.
It can also shift power from side to side.
This gives additional traction when trying to move out of deep snow or up steep inclines, and better control when cornering on slippery roads.
Electronic Differential Lock
All models of the Golf come with an Electronic Differential Lock (EDL) which helps you get more traction when one of the front wheels starts to spin.
It automatically applies the brakes to the spinning wheel to get the other wheel to turn and move you in the right direction.
This is especially helpful on the FWD-only models such as the Golf TSI, the TDI and the GTI.
It’s not only a great feature for driving in the snow, but also improves the car’s handling during normal driving conditions.
Related: 11 Best & Worst Volkswagen Golf Years (With Facts & Stats)
Engine Brake Assist
Suddenly downshifting too much while the engine is at medium to high RPMs can cause the car to skid.
It’s more likely to happen when going downhill on a slippery road.
This is more pronounced on Golfs with manual and dual-clutch (DSG) transmissions.
But with the Engine Brake Assist (EBA), the car will automatically modulate the engine braking torque to prevent the wheels from slowing down too much or locking up completely.
Antilock Braking System
The VW Golf comes with an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) as standard.
This keeps your tires from losing traction during heavy braking.
The system keeps track of how fast the wheels are spinning during braking and modulates the brake pressure to the wheels when they’re about to lock up.
By automatically preventing your tires from skidding, the car can maximize the available grip and come to a stop faster.
Electronic Brake Force Distribution
In addition to ABS, the Golf also has Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) which automatically adjusts how much brake pressure the front and rear wheels receive.
Normally, more brake pressure is sent to the front wheels because that’s where most of the car’s weight and tire grip is.
But when the rear is loaded with more weight, the car will send more braking force to the rear wheels to compensate and improve braking efficiency.
Hydraulic Brake Assist
The Golf also features Hydraulic Brake Assist which applies additional brake pressure depending on how quickly the brake pedal is depressed.
The system anticipates emergency braking situations, and helps you stop quicker just in case you didn’t step on the brakes hard enough or long enough.
Heated Seats, Side Mirrors and Windshield Washers
The Golf comes with heated seats which is a nice creature comfort during the winter.
It also comes with heated side mirrors and windshield washers to improve visibility and your overall driving safety in really cold weather.
Does the Golf Have Snow Mode?
Only the Golf Alltrack comes with a dedicated Off-Road Mode which many people consider as its version of a Snow Mode.
When you select the Off-Road Mode, the car will automatically engage Hill Descent Assist.
This will allow you to easily go down steep grades at a set speed without even having to touch the brakes or the accelerator.
On snowy and icy roads that go downhill, you can easily apply too much brakes, or step on the gas, and lose traction.
The Off-Road Mode makes these tricky situations less of a concern.
On other VW Golfs, you can also turn off the traction control (ASR) if you need some wheelspin to get you out of deep snow.
You may also be interested in our VW Golf Tune-Up & Maintenance Costs Guide.
Can You Install Additional Snow Gear on a Golf?
You can install all sorts of snow gear on any VW Golf to make it a better winter vehicle.
Whether you have a FWD or AWD Golf, the first thing you need to fit on it during the winter is a set of proper snow tires on all four wheels.
This will make the car more sure-footed and easier to handle on snowy and slippery roads.
In really extreme winter conditions, you can also put on tire chains, snow socks or studded tires.
How Much Snow Can a Golf Handle?
The Golf has a ground clearance of 5.5 inches.
This is quite decent for such a small hatchback and is one of the higher ground clearances available in its class.
The GTI version is a little lower at 5 inches since it’s the sportier version.
In general, these ride heights will get you through moderate winters and occasional heavy snowfalls, as long as the roads are not covered in 4.5 inches or more of snow.
The AWD Golfs can plow through deeper snow banks much easier compared to the FWD versions because of their extra traction.
AWD Golfs are less likely to leave you stuck in deep snow because when the front wheels start spinning, power will be sent to the rear wheels to help get you going.
The Golf Alltrack will do much better in really deep snow and some off-road driving.
Aside from its AWD system, it has a ride height of 6.9 inches which is similar to most crossover SUVs.
How Does the Golf Handle Low Winter Temperatures?
The Golf uses modern fuel injection so you won’t have to worry about poor engine performance or hard starting when it starts getting really cold.
It will start up without any drama as long as your battery is good.
Its engine computer (ECU) will automatically adjust parameters like the air/fuel ratio to deliver optimum performance no matter how bad the weather is.
The Golf also comes with heated seats to keep you warm and comfortable even if you’ve just gotten into the car.
It also has heated mirrors and windshield washers to help with visibility.
Can a Volkswagen Golf Drive on Ice?
The Golf can be driven on icy roads as long as you have the proper tires although extra care must be taken when driving on ice.
It’s got lots of safety features like stability and traction control, electronic differentials, advanced braking systems, and lots of pre-collision features.
It’s also relatively lightweight compared to larger SUVs and trucks which makes it easier to steer and stop when the roads get too slippery.
Larger vehicles have more inertia when they’re moving, and need more grip and braking power to come to a stop.
You may also be interested in our article: Infiniti Q50 in Snow & Winter Driving
Does the Golf Have 4WD?
VW Golfs have had AWD options since the second generation Mk2.
In more modern versions of the Golf, you’ll find AWD in the Golf R, R32, SportWagen, Variant, and Alltrack models.
Volkswagen uses their proprietary 4Motion AWD system which has seen a lot of development over the years.
It’s actually based on the Haldex system which is also used by other brands such as Audi, Mercedes and Volvo, so it’s quite proven and reliable.
Although, it performs differently since it’s been tuned by Volkswagen specifically for their applications.
What About Older Golf Models and Winter Driving?
Older VW Golfs will still do fairly well in the snow whether it’s a FWD or AWD model.
Volkswagen started fitting driver aids like traction and stability control, and ABS on the Golf since the third generation Mk3 roughly 30 years ago, which make them safer to drive in the winter even for less experienced drivers.
The Golf R32, which was introduced in 2003, is one of the best winter drivers from its older lineup.
It has a powerful VR6 engine and, most importantly, a very capable AWD system which can help you easily power out of deeper snow.
Does the Golf Need Snow Tires?
In order to safely drive any vehicle in the winter, you’ll need proper snow tires — and the Golf (even its AWD variants) is no exception.
All-season tires don’t work very well when temperatures drop because the rubber compound they use will start to harden up and provide less grip.
Snow tires also have deeper grooves and special treads so it can get more traction when the snow starts to build up.
You may also be interested in our article: How Long Do Audi A3 Last?
Can You Mount a Snow Plow on a Golf?
You shouldn’t put a snow plow on your Golf, even if you have the more extreme Golf Alltrack which has higher ground clearance and AWD.
Snow plows will ruin your Golf’s bumper and bodywork, and should really be attached to vehicles that use a ladder frame.
In addition, to be really effective at plowing through deep snow, the vehicle needs to have some weight to it and a proper four-wheel drive (4WD) system with low gearing so it can bulldoze through hard-packed snow.