For the most part, it's about the tires. I always put 4 snows on my BMW's over the years with great results. My RWD E39 540i 6-speed was a beast in the snow and slick stuff, as long as it wasn't crazy deep.
Totally agree. I have a FWD car (PT Cruiser), a RWD car (Miata) and they both do excellent in winter. Tires? Continental ExtremeWinterContacts.
I've run "ice radials" since my first set of Cooper Weatheralls for my truck more than 20 years ago. They vary a bit from each other, and I've tried Michelin X-Ice, various models of Bridgestone Blizzaks, Nokians, and Coopers, which so far, the best "true truck", as in not P-rated (which means Passenger Car) variants, but even cheap Chinese $40 Wall-Mart specials are markedly better than all-seasons, as I've bought some tires for the kids' and they were an eye-opener to drive on. If that's all you can afford, go for it.
The biggest thing these days are modern vehicles and two things ... catalytic converters and anti-lock brakes. The anti-locks polish the approach to intersections and the cats mean there is a lot of tailpipe moisture until the vehicle is fully warmed up, so when a car or truck accelerates after a stop, they dump water between the crosswalks which freezes on contact with below-freezing pavement. So the whole section from approach to past the threshold of the far corners is icy.
The Conti's are the best passenger car tires ever, I am amazed at their snow grip, which you don't always get in a winter tire that is designed for ice traction, and they still are 95% as sticky as the best on ice and great in wet cold weather pavement. Not even noisy. Drove more than once when the snow was so high that the car is plowing with the plastic under-engine "skid plate" which is really to control airflow underhood, or the front dam, and no problems with traction.
For the truck I've settled on Cooper AT-3's which are more of a snow tire than an ice tire, but they are M+S rated and have the mountain/snowflake. The key to driving a heavy vehicle like that in winter is smooth power and brake application. Right foot discipline.
RWD or FWD, they drive differently but there is no reason not to use a RWD vehicle in winter. If you have some experience with them (even FWD cars are easy to spin with understeer and unexpected bite which can take an inexperienced driver by surprise), it's not a case of FWD is the only way to go as some believe. AWD is OK but you don't stop any faster.
Contrary to what some believe, if you have uneven F-R wear, put the tire with the most bite on the rear. That goes with FWD vehicles as well; otherwise understeer on declining radius curves, like a cloverleaf or freeway exit ramp, will introduce a spin. With RWD you can drive with the throttle, nudging the vehicle to be tail happy or nose-heavy without understeer, as you see fit.
I actually *like* driving in winter, it's fun and with experience not dangerous, although you do have to be paying attention. I feel sorry for people who can't experience low-traction driving, it's a gas sometimes and just as controllable as on dry warm pavement. It's kind of like on summer gravel only more so. A Dirt Track racer would know what I'm talking about.
It must be said, though, that the near-extinct manual transmission (both cars) is so much better in winter than an automatic (the truck).
By the way, this topic was dead for "more than 30 days", although not by much, but the reason I'm posting is, if you can spare the money, the real deals on good winter tires are happening right this minute. Check out online stock and have them sent to your local store, or just call around. They don't want to inventory them, so it's at cost or less right now. Buy something fresh for next winter.