Best cars for Canadian winters

13 minute read Published on Feb 21, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

A street in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, it's not plowed and many parked cars covered with snow.

As the Canadian winter blankets our landscapes with snow and ice, the quest for a reliable, safe, and comfortable vehicle becomes more crucial than ever. From snow-covered roads to icy or slushy highways, we understand the importance of having a car that not only navigates these harsh conditions but also keeps you and your loved ones safe and cozy.

Whether you’re in the market for an all-wheel-drive (AWD) powerhouse or a family-friendly SUV, we’ve got you covered. In this blog, we dive into the world of winter-worthy automobiles specifically tailored for the unique challenges of Canadian winters.

The best winter cars for driving in harsh Canadian winters

The Toyota RAV4, Subaru Outback, and Honda CR-V are just some of the vehicles on our list of the top 10 vehicles that are widely recognized for their performance in winter conditions. Here, we provide a detailed overview of each vehicle, highlighting their features and why they stand out as great options for winter driving in Canada’s great outdoors:

Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 is a popular choice for those seeking a reliable and efficient vehicle for winter driving. Available with AWD, the RAV4 provides improved traction in snow and ice. Its Multi-Terrain Select feature allows drivers to choose modes that optimize performance on various surfaces, including mud, sand, rock, and snow.

The vehicle also offers a comfortable interior with available heated seats and a heated steering wheel, making it a cozy refuge from the cold. The RAV4’s reputation for reliability and excellent fuel economy makes it a practical and cost-effective option for navigating Canadian winters.

Honda CR-V

The Honda CR-V stands out as a versatile and reliable choice for Canadian winters. Equipped with an available Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control System™, it provides excellent traction on snowy or icy roads. The CR-V’s efficient 1.5L turbocharged engine balances performance and fuel economy, making it practical and cost-effective for daily commutes.

The interior boasts heated seats and dual-zone automatic climate control to ensure a comfortable journey, even in the coldest weather. The spacious cabin and ample cargo space make it ideal for families or individuals needing extra room for winter gear.

Furthermore, Honda’s suite of safety features, including the Collision Mitigation Braking System™ and Road Departure Mitigation System, adds an extra layer of security for winter driving.

Subaru Outback

The Subaru Outback stands out for its standard Symmetrical AWD system, providing exceptional traction on icy and snowy roads. It’s equipped with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which is significantly higher than typical sedans, allowing it to handle deep snow with ease.

The Outback also features X-MODE, which optimizes engine output and transmission ratios to improve driving on slippery surfaces. Its EyeSight Driver Assist Technology offers additional safety for challenging driving conditions.

Additionally, its heated seats and steering wheel provide extra comfort during cold Canadian winters. With a reputation for durability and safety, the Outback is a reliable companion for winter adventures.

Volvo XC90

The Volvo XC90 combines luxury with practicality, making it a premium choice for Canadian winters. Its AWD system ensures excellent grip on slippery roads, while the vehicle’s robust construction and high safety ratings provide peace of mind.

The XC90 also boasts a range of features like heated seats and a heated steering wheel, enhancing comfort during cold weather. Its advanced safety technologies, including Pilot Assist and Blind Spot Information System, add an extra layer of security in unpredictable winter conditions. The vehicle’s robust build and ground clearance are well-suited for snowy conditions, providing peace of mind for drivers facing harsh Canadian winters.

Ford F-150

The Ford F-150 is a robust choice for winter driving, particularly for those who need a vehicle with significant towing and hauling capabilities. Its available four-wheel drive system provides excellent traction on snowy and icy roads.

The F-150 also offers features like an electronic locking rear differential and Hill Descent Control, which are beneficial for maintaining control in slippery conditions. The interior is roomy and comfortable, with options for heated seats and a heated steering wheel. It’s high ground clearance and powerful engine options make the F-150 a dependable vehicle for tackling harsh winter conditions.

Audi Q5

The Audi Q5 is a compact luxury SUV that excels in winter driving with its Quattro AWD system, providing superior traction and stability in adverse weather conditions. The vehicle’s sleek design doesn’t compromise on practicality, with features like heated seats and a heated steering wheel adding comfort in cold weather.

The Q5 also offers a smooth ride with its adaptive suspension, making long winter journeys more comfortable. Safety features such as Audi’s Pre Sense Basic, which prepares the vehicle for impact in case of an imminent collision, ensure additional security during winter driving.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Renowned for its rugged capability, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a powerhouse in challenging winter conditions. Its four-wheel drive systems, particularly the Quadra-Trac II® and Quadra-Drive® II options, provide exceptional control and traction on slippery roads.

Inside, the heated seats and steering wheel, along with the Uconnect® infotainment system, offer comfort and connectivity, enhancing the driving experience during long winter months.

The vehicle’s high ground clearance and Selec-Terrain Traction Management System allow drivers to adapt to varying conditions, from deep snow to icy patches. The Grand Cherokee’s robust build and powerful engine options, including a V8, make it suitable for both urban and off-road environments in winter.

Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler is an iconic choice for those seeking adventure during Canadian winters. Famous for its off-road capabilities, the Wrangler’s four-wheel drive systems, like the Command-Trac® and Rock-Trac® 4x4 systems, provide exceptional traction and control on snowy, icy, and uneven terrains. Its high ground clearance and rugged construction make it nearly unstoppable in challenging winter conditions.

The Wrangler also offers a range of engine options, including a powerful V6 and a turbocharged four-cylinder, to suit different driving needs. It has heated front seats and a heated steering wheel for winter comfort.

The removable roof and doors might be more summer-oriented features, but they add a unique versatility to this vehicle. The Wrangler’s advanced safety features, such as Blind Spot Monitoring and Forward Collision Warning, enhance its suitability for winter driving.

Nissan Pathfinder

The Nissan Pathfinder is a robust, family-friendly SUV ideal for navigating Canadian winters. With its Intelligent 4x4 system, the Pathfinder can adapt to various winter driving conditions, offering modes for snow, sand, and rocky terrain.

This system helps maintain traction and stability on slippery roads. Powered by a 3.5L V6 engine, the Pathfinder combines performance with efficiency, suitable for both city driving and longer winter trips. Its spacious interior, with three rows of seating, can comfortably accommodate families and groups, and the heated seats and steering wheel add to the winter comfort.

The Pathfinder also shines in terms of safety, featuring Nissan’s Safety Shield 360, which includes Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, ensuring a safer drive during the snowy months.

Hyundai Santa Fe

The Hyundai Santa Fe is a well-rounded option for winter driving, offering available HTRAC All-Wheel Drive for enhanced stability and traction. The Santa Fe’s 2.5L Turbo engine ensures responsive performance in challenging conditions. Its comfortable, high-quality interior, featuring available heated front and rear seats, creates a cozy environment during cold months.

The Santa Fe also excels in safety, with features like Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist and Safe Exit Assist, providing peace of mind in winter weather. The vehicle’s sleek design and advanced technology, including a user-friendly infotainment system, make it both practical and enjoyable for daily winter drives.

What to consider when choosing your winter car

When selecting the best winter car for driving in Canada, it’s essential to consider several features, including all-wheel or four-wheel drive capabilities, ground clearance, heating features, and overall reliability in harsh weather conditions. A well-equipped vehicle for winter conditions ensures your safety and enhances the overall driving experience during the colder months. Below, we discuss these essential features in further detail:

Winter tires

One of the most critical factors for driving in Canadian winters is the type of tires on your vehicle. Winter tires are designed specifically to perform in temperatures below 7°C, snow, and ice. They have specialized rubber compounds that remain flexible in cold weather, providing better grip and traction than all-season tires.

The tread patterns on winter tires are also designed to channel snow and slush and reduce hydroplaning. Even if a vehicle has an all-wheel or four-wheel drive, winter tires are essential for optimal performance in winter conditions.

Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive system

Four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) systems provide power to all four wheels, improving grip and stability on slippery surfaces like snow, ice, and mud. AWD is often found in cars and crossover SUVs and operates automatically to distribute power between the front and rear wheels as needed. On the other hand, 4WD is typically found in trucks and off-road vehicles and may include selectable modes for different terrains. Both systems benefit winter driving, providing better control on snowy and icy roads.

Due to their superior traction, AWD or 4WD is preferable to front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive in extreme winter conditions. The balanced power from AWD and 4WD distribution helps prevent wheel slip and provides better control during acceleration, turning, and braking. In contrast, front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive power only the front or rear wheels, which can lead to loss of traction and control in adverse weather conditions.

Driver assistance features

Modern vehicles often come equipped with driver assistance features that can be particularly useful in snow-driving conditions. Features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, lane departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, and automatic emergency braking can help prevent common car accidents in challenging driving conditions. Additionally, rear-view cameras and parking sensors become indispensable when visibility is reduced due to snowfall or fog.

Anti-lock braking system (ABS)

Anti-lock brakes prevent the wheels from locking up during braking, allowing the driver to maintain steering control during an emergency stop. This is particularly important on icy or slippery roads when losing control during braking can lead to skidding or sliding.

Traction control system

Traction control helps prevent wheel spin during acceleration by reducing engine power or applying brakes to specific wheels. This feature is incredibly useful in winter conditions, where tires might struggle to find grip on snowy or icy surfaces. It helps maintain stability and prevents the vehicle from sliding.

Heated elements

Comfort is also a factor in winter driving. Heated seats and steering wheels can make your car much more comfortable in cold weather. Features like heated mirrors and windshield wiper de-icers can improve visibility, which is crucial in snowy conditions.

Ground clearance

Higher ground clearance can be beneficial in deep snow conditions. It prevents the vehicle’s undercarriage from getting caught in snow and improves overall maneuverability. SUVs and trucks typically have great ground clearance compared to sedans and hatchbacks, making them more suitable for driving in areas with heavy snowfall.

Tips for driving in the snow

Driving in the snow requires different skills and precautions compared to regular driving conditions. Here are some tips for safe driving during a harsh Canadian winter to help you drive safely and confidently during the winter months:

Prepare your vehicle

Before winter hits, make sure your car is serviced and winter-ready. This includes checking your battery, antifreeze levels, heater, defroster, lights, and brakes. Install winter tires for better traction and handling. Read up on our winter car maintenance tips here.

Have a winter car emergency kit

Prepare for roadside emergencies by having an emergency kit specifically for winter conditions. Your winter car emergency kit should include essentials like blankets, a flashlight, and non-perishable foods and water to keep you safe and prepared in case of breakdowns or unforeseen situations during cold weather.

Understand your vehicle’s capabilities

Know whether your vehicle has AWD, 4WD, ABS, and traction control. Understanding how these systems work can help you use them effectively in snowy conditions:

Practice winter driving

Practice driving in snowy conditions in a safe, open area when possible. This can help you understand how your car handles in the snow and how to manage skids.

Always clear your car of snow and ice

Before you drive, remove snow and ice from your car, including the roof, windows, mirrors, lights, and hood. Snow left on the vehicle can obstruct your view or fly off and endanger other drivers.

Plan ahead

Choose routes that are likely to be plowed and salted. Avoid hills and narrow roads if possible, and allow extra time for your journey. Also, keep an eye on weather forecasts and road condition updates. Technology and apps can provide real-time information on road closures, traffic, and weather warnings.

Stay calm in skids

If you start to skid, remain calm. Steer gently in the direction you want to go and avoid slamming on the brakes.

Use lower gears on hills

When climbing hills, use a lower gear to increase traction. When descending, a lower gear can help you control your speed without relying too heavily on your brakes.

Review your car insurance

Before winter begins, review your car insurance policy to ensure it meets your needs and provides adequate coverage for winter-related incidents. Having the right car insurance coverage provides an essential safety net for the unique challenges of winter driving.

How your car insurance can protect you in extreme weather

The key to driving in snow is to be cautious, patient and prepared. But, even with the right precautions, winter driving carries inherent risks, so it’s important to have the right insurance coverage for peace of mind. Whether you live in Vancouver, Calgary, or St. John’s, car insurance policies for winter conditions will look different as Canadian winters vary in extremes nationwide.

Here’s how having the right type of car insurance coverage can offer peace of mind when you’re driving on icy roads:

Liability coverage

Liability car insurance is a mandatory aspect of car insurance in most places and becomes even more important during winter. This coverage pays for damage and injuries you cause to others if you are at fault in an accident. Given that snowy and icy conditions can lead to a higher likelihood of accidents, having adequate third-party liability coverage is crucial. It helps protect your financial security by covering costs that can include other people’s medical expenses, vehicle repairs, and legal fees in case of a lawsuit.

Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage

Uninsured motorist coverage is crucial for protecting yourself against costs incurred in an accident where the other driver is at fault but does not have sufficient insurance. During winter, the chances of accidents increase, and unfortunately, not all drivers carry adequate insurance. This coverage steps in to cover your medical expenses and, in some cases, car repairs if the at-fault driver cannot pay. It’s a layer of financial protection that can be especially valuable in unpredictable winter driving conditions.

Collision coverage

This coverage is important year-round but can be especially useful in winter. Collision coverage helps pay for repairing or replacing your vehicle if it’s damaged in a collision, regardless of who is at fault. This includes accidents involving another vehicle, hitting an object like a light pole or guardrail, or even single-car accidents where you might slide into a ditch or hit a snowbank—all of which are everyday situations during the winter, especially during snowy conditions or if you hit a patch of slippery black ice.

Comprehensive coverage

This type of insurance is essential for covering damages to your vehicle that are not caused by a collision. This is particularly relevant in winter due to the increased risks from environmental factors. For instance, heavy snowfall can cause branches to fall and damage your vehicle, or a hailstorm can leave dents and broken windows.

Comprehensive coverage ensures that you are protected against these kinds of incidents, which are more common in winter months. It also typically covers theft, vandalism, and damage from animals, providing a broad range of protection.

Emergency roadside assistance

This feature of a car insurance policy can be immensely helpful in winter. If your vehicle breaks down, you get a flat tire, or you’re stuck in a snowdrift, roadside assistance can provide services such as towing, jump-starting a battery, changing a flat tire, or pulling your car out of a snowbank. This service can be a lifesaver in cold and hazardous conditions, ensuring you’re not stranded in potentially dangerous situations.

Final thoughts

Navigating Canadian winters demands a vehicle equipped to handle the unique challenges of snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. Whether you opt for a robust SUV or a reliable sedan, remember that the right insurance coverage is just as crucial as the car you choose. At BrokerLink, we’re dedicated to helping you find the most suitable insurance quotes for your winter driving needs.

Understanding the specifics of car insurance in Canada, such as how much car insurance is per month in Ontario, can vary based on numerous factors, including the type of car, driving history, and the coverage you need. Our insurance experts can guide you through the process, ensuring your winter journeys are not just safe but also well-protected. With the right car and proper insurance, you’ll be set to conquer the Canadian winter roads with confidence and peace of mind.

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What kind of car is best for winter driving?

The best kind of car for winter driving typically features all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD) systems for improved traction on snowy and icy roads. Features like good ground clearance, anti-lock brakes, traction control, and heated elements also contribute to a car’s suitability for winter conditions. Compact SUVs and crossovers are often recommended for their balance of size, efficiency, and winter capability.

Which car is best for winter driving in Canada?

In Canada, where winter conditions can be particularly harsh, cars like the Subaru Outback, Volvo XC90, and Toyota RAV4 are highly recommended. These models are favoured for their AWD capabilities, reliability in snow and ice, and features geared toward safety and comfort in cold weather. However, the choice also depends on personal preferences, such as size, fuel efficiency, and budget.

If you have any questions, contact one of our local branches.