This last weekend I went skiing as I normally do during the winter. It was snowing and as I trekked up the canyon to the ski resort, I didn't give much though to the road surface. The Honda Element has a part-time all wheel drive system, and combined with the winter tyres, it made the trip as effortless as driving up in the middle of summer. A colleague of mine was not so lucky though. On the same road at the same time as me, he was trying to make it up in a two wheel drive Chevy Malibu. He said that it was slippery and gruesome most of the way up, but his problems didn't really start until they were nearly at the top. The driver in front of him decided to stop to pick up an uphill hitchhiker, but did so by stopping in the middle of the road so nobody could get past. My colleague had to stop, and once he'd lost momentum, getting going again was a complete nightmare. The car was sliding side to side and the tyres couldn't get a grip, and when he did manage to get going, he could barely manage 20mph without sliding. Coming down the canyon was even more sketchy because the road hadn't been ploughed, but again my Honda dealt with it as if it were a dry day. I didn't realise how much difference the all wheel drive and winter tyres made until I came across a two wheel drive sedan going down the hill. We were making steady progress but we got to a long straight and he pulled over and gestured me to pass him. I did and within two corners, I'd lost sight of him in my mirrors. He was obviously also having a really hard time.
So whilst I pay the price for all wheel drive in terms of reduced gas mileage in the summer, in the winter I don't consider it to be a luxury around where we live. It's a necessity if you're going to drive on snow.