Best Cars for Winter Driving in Canada

The response to this question is probably extensive as the Canadian vehicle market is very nicely populated with vehicles that perform the best in the country winter conditions. The fact that you see a car available in the market, is the first indicator that it is conceived for facing the winter. That is why in the following article I want to focus on the actual factors that will help you define which is the best cars for winter driving in Canada.

Critical Factors for Choosing the Vehicle

Most vehicles perform in a common way during the non-winter seasons (without going to high-performance aspects of engineering of Porsche, Maserati... you know what I mean). With this, I say that all vehicles accomplish the mission of bringing you and the rest of the passengers from Point A to Point B without any additional driving or engineering efforts.

Now, during winter, conditions are very adverse and is where the fact of going from Point A to B is way more related to some vehicle specific features:

Ground Clearance

The distance between your vehicle body and the ground (commonly known as "ground clearance") is vital depending on the areas you live in. It is strictly attached to the actual habits you have more specifically when parking. I live in Montreal, and parking on the streets is a viable alternative for everyone because the snow gets cleared out pretty fast and you can drive out after a few minutes of shoveling your car.

I mentioned in previous articles the story of a friend of mine who got caught by a snowstorm at work, and when he returned home, he had to shovel the last two final blocks to get his brand new Honda Civic to his driveway.

All-Wheels-Drive

Traditionally, known as 4x4 (or 4WD), the concept has evolved to a more flexible name: AWD. All-Wheels-Drive has been applied differently by many manufacturers as Mercedes-Benz or Nissan, with some way different intelligent force distribution of the torque based on many driving conditions.

Years ago, all four wheels were pushing forward at the same time while now it depends on how safe, steady and optimal this traction is required by the drive.

Winter Tires

In some provinces, Winter Tires are mandatory by the law and have to be changed, usually between Dec 15th and March 15th. Legally, but most of the times, you change them before and after that specific period. Winter tires are vital, for being safe out there. 

Tires can be replaced at any time, but still, it is essential to mention the fact that, no matter what vehicle you choose, you will need these. It is not a factor "attached" to the vehicle but definitely won't make any difference how smart your AWD is and how separated are you from the ground if you do not have the right grip to the floor (or ice/snow).

Those are the Key Factors I Use

And with this, I mean that those are the ones I use to deprecate outstanding options. For example, I love the 2020 Civic Hatchback, but I know I won't be able to use it on some specific parts of Canada during the winter.

By this, I'm not deprecating the Civic. I'm just saying that if I have one and I want to go to a chalet during a snowy weekend, it may be a good idea to rent a bigger vehicle than taking the risk on this trip.

Canadian Winter Means "Under Zero 4 Months"

When I have to explain someone what the winter is, I use the following table (for my experience of many Montreal winters):

   Weather Conditions       Average amount of Days   
Total Winter  120 (4 Months)
SnowStorm (+10cm of snow) 10
Frozen Rain 8
Crazy Cold (under -25) 14
Wet, Icy and Slippery 90

Now, no one knows how this normal distribution will be during the four months span of the winter. This means that you will have to deal with this no matter what. Some days you'll be staying at home, most days you'll be commuting to work, but chances are you will always return to the same place: your home.

This is why the actual selection process depends on the more predictable fact, that you will have to go back home regularly at least two times a day during weekdays. 

Your Daily Commute will say the final words

So, depending on where you live, there are better and worst alternatives for facing the winter (or those average 10 days of tough conditions). But before jumping into it, I will refer you to a couple of articles where I relate specifically to read my articles about: Winter Driving Tips I always take into account Winter Driving Mode: Follow Everyone Else's Trail.

Luxury Vehicles go into more detail

On this list, I will focus only on popular vehicles, not on the Luxury ones. Of course, luxury vehicles go way further respecting small performance details on these conditions, but I will leave that differentiation for a different article, not for this one.

You live in Suburban Areas

If you are located in sub-urban areas parking on a driveway or even an indoor garage, I suggest you get an SUV with good ground clearance. Mid-size SUVs perform pretty well in these areas:

You live in the City

Cities receive the same amount of snow as any other place but are usually cleared faster than any other place. This means that even under hard conditions, Compact Vehicles will perform nicely and, of course, the Mid-size SUVs mentioned before. But if you are looking for a better mid-point, crossovers will be my highest suggestion:

Compact vehicles

Compact SUV/Crossover

You live In a Town

And let's assume "a Town" is a small residential place next to suburban areas. This means that you will need to deal with "less" snow clearance operations and you will have more "in-house" space to move like a long driveway, ample parking space and more are in fact to park.

The more significant and stronger your vehicle, the better for these regions. In fact, most people living in towns park their small vehicles during the whole winter and use alternative bigger options like Mid-size, Full-size SUVs and Pickup Trucks.

Full-size SUVs

Consider Crew Cab Pickup Trucks

Most sold vehicles in Canada (by far) are pickup trucks. I would also suggest considering these in any of the previous situations. You can start by reading the Best Trucks in Canada list and the full list of Pickup Trucks in Canada.

About the author

Jorge Diaz is a passionate car lover, winter driver & Software Engineer. For the last 10 years, he has built Online Solutions used by more than 5,000 companies across the globe. He founded LeaseCosts in 2016 with the purpose of simplifying and helping Canadians to better understand the complex market of car leasing in Canada. You can connect with Jorge at Leantrepreneurship.com or send him a direct message.