Winter presents Canadian motorists with unique challenges
Winter presents Canadian motorists with unique challenges; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge
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Ottawa, Ontario – With all the hot air that comes out of Ottawa, it’s perhaps surprising that Canada’s capital is so cold in the winter. Some sources have Ottawa ranked second in the world (behind Mongolia’s Ulan Bator) when it comes to cold weather capitals. This complements Ottawa’s second-longest outdoor skating surface (the Rideau Canal) and our “second best airport in the Americas,” (Macdonald-Cartier International Airport).

But last winter was the first time I found myself well and truly stuck in my car since…well, I can’t remember since when. Ottawa residents endured a staggering 458 centimetres of snow (coincidentally, the second largest recorded accumulation…) during the winter months of 2007-2008, so getting around was challenging, to say the least. And it was cold, too; really cold.

The car that couldn’t was a Volkswagen Golf, usually unstoppable. It battled gamely, but it would have needed a plough and tire chains to make it down my street one snowy winter night last year. That’s just about all you saw on the roads at that time: graders, and trucks with ploughs.

Winter presents Canadian motorists with unique challenges
Winter presents Canadian motorists with unique challenges; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

So this winter, we’ve decided to road test a range of vehicles in a series we call, “Bring it on!” We’ve asked manufacturers recommend and supply us with family vehicles that they feel owners can count on to get them where they’re going in tough winter conditions. As you’ll see below, these vehicles have all-wheel drive (although many models can be purchased with front-wheel drive). And we expect that they will be riding on winter tires (more on that later).

As the series progresses, we’ll explain the differences between various all-wheel drive systems and traction controls and test them where it counts: on side-streets, at intersections, up hills and along slippery roads. We’ll discuss the usefulness of electronic stability controls and anti-lock brakes, and we’ll even assess the headlamps at night and the effectiveness of the windshield wipers and defroster. What works well? What doesn’t?

Now you watch, it won’t snow in Ottawa this year (unlikely). But it will be cold (we drop to minus-25, sometimes colder) and long (it always snows before the end of October, and we still see snowfalls in May). No, we’ll get snow and ice here; we always do.

Our fleet

We have a range of vehicles lined up, and no, they’re not four-wheel drive off-road behemoths that you’d use for search-and-rescue.

2009 Acura RDX
2009 Acura RDX. Click image to enlarge

We’re looking at stylish, practical transportation that’s economical to run, but which has the added benefit of maximizing confidence when the weather turns bad. The selection ranges from compact cars with starting prices under $20,000, to luxury vehicles starting in the area of $40,000. We have sedans and SUVs (or “Crossovers” if you prefer), that represent a popular slice of the Canadian market.

We’ll be driving each of the following vehicles for one month, which we expect will be enough time to assess their performance in a range of winter conditions. Here, in order of testing, are the volunteers:

  • Kia Sportage
  • Acura RDX
  • Toyota Matrix
  • Chevrolet Traverse
  • Pontiac Vibe
  • BMW 335xi
  • Jeep Compass
  • Subaru Forester
  • Ford Flex
  • Audi A4
  • Lexus RX

    First up are the 2009 Kia Sportage and Acura RDX. The Kia Sportage is the most popular Kia vehicle sold in Canada, and for 2009 this compact SUV features a redesigned exterior and interior, along with a new LX-AT model.

    2009 Kia Sportage
    2009 Kia Sportage. Click image to enlarge

    Ranging in price from $21,695 to $30,935, the Sportage comes standard with anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and traction control, and is powered by a 140-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, or a 173-hp V6. Front-wheel drive or AWD are available with both engines.

    The 2009 Acura RDX is also a compact SUV, but this luxury vehicle’s price ranges from $41,400 to $46,925. Powered with a 2.3-litre turbocharged engine making 240-hp, the RDX is now fitted with Acura’s Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, which distributes torque between the front and rear wheels as required, and between the two rear wheels. The RDX is equipped with electronic stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes, along with a full range of safety and convenience technology

    Watch for our first reports on the winter driving performance of the Kia Sportage and Acura RDX, coming soon in Autos.

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