Northern Exposure: 2014 Polar Vortex Winter Warriors winter driving top picks opinion
2014 Buick Regal AWD Turbo. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Justin Pritchard

The weatherman has been quite a dufus this year, dumping snow, ice, more snow, even more snow, and frigid temperatures all over us poor Canucks well into April. Forget “April showers bring May flowers”. This year, “April flurries bring deep depression and consideration of moving to Florida” seems more appropriate.

It’s been a doozy of a winter on Canadian roads. And, in your writer’s Northern Ontario locale, poor performance of road-clearing contractors that’s led to numerous fines compounded the problem. The weather has been nasty, and the road conditions haven’t been any better.

It’s all made for the most challenging winter driving season your writer’s yet encountered – and in the process, three vehicles stood out for performing well when venturing out on the highway when the weatherman says you probably shouldn’t.

Here’s a closer look at my three top Winter Warriors from this past season.

2014 Buick Regal AWD Turbo

The Drive: Highway 69 en route from Sudbury to Oshawa on a weekday morning. Heavy blowing snow as opaque as I’ve ever seen, and not a plow-truck in sight. Occasionally, from the driver’s seat, I’d hear a solid “WHOOOOPHHHHHHH” as the Regal plowed through a four-foot snowdrift in the middle of the highway. This was seriously bad. Conditions rapidly deteriorated to the point that the OPP closed the highway down at Parry Sound and asked motorists to hang tight. I turned around to head home instead, driving through the conditions a second time on my way back.

Northern Exposure: 2014 Polar Vortex Winter Warriors winter driving top picks opinion Northern Exposure: 2014 Polar Vortex Winter Warriors winter driving top picks opinion
2014 Buick Regal AWD Turbo. Click image to enlarge

The Gist: When you can’t see, and you’re driving through a foot of powder, and you’re on an unplowed highway in the very middle of the ‘snow belt’, using your AWD system for feats of tail-out shenanigans is far from a priority. Low speed, very careful driving was the order of the day – and Regal’s new AWD system delivered. Plenty of drive power is kept to the front wheels for a predictable, stable and confident feel, even when plowing snow with the bumper. Regal understeers gently if you’re losing traction, which you’ll feel straight away through the communicative steering. A simple lift on the throttle, or gentle touch of the brakes brings it back in line.

When needed, rear wheels receive added power in milliseconds to keep things moving. The braking system expertly dishes out stopping power on a wheel-by-wheel basis, so Regal stops quickly and in a straight line, even on split traction surfaces.

Notable: This tester wore Michelin X-Ice winter tires, which provided the braking, stability and AWD systems plenty of traction to work with. Braking performance was top notch with the plentiful traction. The Haldex AWD system shuffles power between the axles smoothly and seamlessly, adding to the stable and predictable demeanour.

Northern Exposure: 2014 Polar Vortex Winter Warriors winter driving top picks opinion
Northern Exposure: 2014 Polar Vortex Winter Warriors winter driving top picks opinion
2014 Infiniti Q50 S AWD Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

2014 Infiniti Q50 S AWD Hybrid

The Drive: I drove the Infiniti Q50 S AWD Hybrid from Sudbury to Lively and around town on slush-covered highways one evening. It had snowed, heavily – and rather than clear the roads, it seemed the plow guys decided to go bananas with the salt and call it a night. Fast forward two hours after a dump of heavy snow and a rapid temperature drop, and the roads were frosted with thick, heavy, icy slush.

The Gist: You’ve heard about the Q50’s fancy-pants steering system, which doesn’t have a mechanical connection between the wheels and the steering wheel. It’s all sorts of neato, but shows another benefit when driving through dozens of kilometres of ice-slush. Rather than play tug-of-war with the steering wheel and washing out traction at the front wheels, the Q50’s steering system stays straight and true, even when a single front tire hits a big, dirty slush-stripe. There’s no yanking, no pulling and no gut-wrenching moments of wondering if you’ll get yanked out of your lane and wind up roundhouse kicking a guardrail with your rear bumper. Dial the system into its ‘heavy’ steering calibration for a tremendously ‘locked-on’ feeling.

Also confidence-inspiring is the Q50’s AWD system. It’s frisky and tail-slidey if you push it, but behaves itself and provides drama-free traction when driving carefully, especially with the Snow mode activated for a permanent 50/50 torque split between the axles.

Notable: Sporty Pirelli Sottozero tires connected this tester to the road. They’re perhaps not as grippy in very deep snow as some competitors, but blasting slush-stripes 15 feet into the air on either side of the car with confidence never gets old.




About Justin Pritchard

Justin Pritchard is a full-time auto writer, consultant, broadcaster and AJAC member based in Sudbury. When not writing about the latest new models and industry trends, you'll probably find him fixing his Dodge Viper.