Originally Posted by GrizzlyFD
Just my $0.03 here...
A 4WD vehicle with snow tires will almost always perform better than an AWD vehicle with comparable tires. The problem with AWD is that it waits for a problem (wheel slippage) before the system engages.
A 4WD vehicle always powers all four wheels when the FWD system is engaged, it doesn't wait for a problem.
Ignoring tires (which are probably the biggest factor in traction vs. slippage on snow/ice) you should look at the weight distribution of the vehicle. If you have a light rear end as most cars do, you will always lose traction because AWD vehicles are predominantly RWD until wheel slippage occurs and then some of the power is transferred to the front wheels. A better system is when the vehicle is normally front wheel drive and upon wheel slippage, the rear wheels are engaged.
One of the best and pretty inexpensive vehicles for the winter are the Jeep wranglers and the old cherokee's. All Jeeps have a 4WD system, and you can get a wrangler, v6, 6speed for under $20K. Get a good set of snow tires and chains and you will be unstoppable.
I agree with others here; you have seriously underestimated the modern AWD system. Modern systems have what I will call "VDI" or vehicle dynamics intelligence. It is truly a miracle of modern technology, and a boom to the towing industry. Not only does it provide extra traction to boost traction and encourage more agressive winter driving, it also uses a keen understanding of vehicle dynamics and reacts fast enough to catapult people into the ditch before they know what's happening.
First consider what happens when an emboldened driver looses traction at the front drive wheels as they barrel along a corner. The computer almost immediately senses that the front end is almost lost and needs only a little help to put the vehicle in the ditch. It then provides this help by directing power to the rear and the accompanying weight transfer unweights the front wheels ensuring that they continue in their radial direction towards the ditch.
Sometimes the driver has very quick reflexes and is able to prevent this by removing his foot from the throttle before he hits the ditch. In this case the the combined effect of first providing traction to the rear and then removing it causes a rocking motion which accentuates the trailing throttle oversteer, and the vehicle goes into the ditch bass-ackwards.
Another wonderfull device is ABS and traction control.
The ABS prevents the driver from locking up the wheels and building a chock of gravel or snow in front of them in deep snow or gravel, and thus lengthens the distance required to stop.
The traction control effectively removes the option of swinging your rear skidding your tail end out of the way when you wouldnt have time to make a full (like carved) turn, as well as removing the possiblility of momentarily getting an extra push from spinning the wheels to send a brief stream of slush/snow/ice rearwards to make it over that last hump.