Originally published January 13, 2015
If you’re travelling, winter is stressy. Crappy weather will make you late for things, slippery roads will make you whack into pieces of highway infrastructure, and reduced daylight and plenty of grey, overcast skies will make you feel tired and lousy and miserable and stressed and crappy in the process. Plus, your ride will probably be all dirty and salty inside, which sucks, and you’ll have to regularly scrape the windshield before sitting in a rolling ice-box for 5 or 10 minutes before it warms up.
Screw you, winter. You’re just the worst. I’m moving to California and getting a convertible Lamborghini. Just kidding, I’m not rich.
If you’re stuck here in Canada and plan to hit the roads in a new car this cold-weather season, be sure to consider the following list of favorite features, commonly available, that can take the stress, discomfort and crappiness out of wintertime travels.
I carefully honed this list of favourite winter-busting features, just for you, during hundreds of thousands of kilometres spent highway driving in Northern Ontario winters, divvied up between hundreds of cars. You may have your own list of favourite new-car winter-busting features. Here is mine.
Note that my list assumes you’ll be a good Canadian and kit your new ride up with winter tires to avoid high-fiving fellow motorists with your quarter panel. Good winter tires, not cheap ones. Do your skimping on toilet paper, or the beer you bring out when your buddies come over, not the tires that attach your ride to the road.
Anyways, here we go.
High Performance Lighting
Great visibility at night is a must—especially in inclement winter weather. Nowadays, a high-performance xenon lighting system is available in more vehicles than ever, and you should get one. Once reserved for high-dollar luxury cars, xenon lighting provides superior output compared to a conventional halogen setup.
The light is crisp and white and bright as a welding flash. This helps keep your eyes from straining to see up the road, meaning eye fatigue is minimized on road trips that last late into the evening. You’ll see details farther up the road, meaning advanced warning of potential hazards.
I can’t say this enough: if you’re driving many hours after dark, a high-performance lighting system is an absolute must, and your retinas will thank you. What about LED headlamps? In your writer’s experience, the power and output of xenon is just plain bigger and better, with a few exceptions (like the Audi A7).
All-Wheel Drive (AWD)
This sort of goes without saying, but if the ride you’re considering has available AWD, go for it. Sure, it’s mostly about off-the-line traction and AWD does less for you when you’re cruising at speed, but having it on board means you’re less likely to get stranded or hung up, or stuck, if you pull too far off the side of the road and wind up down a culvert. Been there, done that. Having all-wheel drive also means you’ll be able to evade certain types of accident situations more easily, too.
You’ll find your own reasons to appreciate having it on board, especially when your neighbour is stuck in a two-foot deep snowplow hump at the end of his driveway, and you drift sideways through yours with the traction control off, like a total boss.
Onboard Emergency Assistance
Available in all new GM vehicles, OnStar can put drivers in touch with real-life help on a 24/7 basis in the case of an emergency – furthering peace of mind when travelling away from home. At the touch of a button, anyone driving your Cruze, Escalade, Verano or Corvette is connected to an OnStar advisor who can hook them up with a tow-truck, ambulance, directions, or other assistance. OnStar can even automatically alert emergency personnel of your vehicle’s location and status after an airbag deployment if you’ve had a whoopsie. As an older brother and son, I’m happy my sister and mom both have OnStar in their rides (a Cruze and an Equinox) when they’re out and about in winter. Best thing? Even if you don’t have your cell phone handy, the system still works, since it has one built in. And that built-in one has an amplified signal for better reception up north, where the cellular coverage is patchy in many areas.
Other automakers are rolling out similar systems, too, such as Infiniti Connection, Mercedes-Benz TeleAid and Acuralink Connect.
Steering wheel–mounted controls, voice command, automatic lights and automatic wipers are all becoming more common and affordable. Team up a bunch of ‘set it and forget it’ features with some voice-commanded features and a little Bluetooth, and maybe push-button access to your iPhone’s Siri, and you’ll virtually never have to take your eyes off of the road or hands off of the wheel to change radio stations, adjust the wiper speed, turn up the heat because it’s getting frosty, or call the wife to tell her you won’t be home on time to enjoy her Tuna Casserole on account of the weather. Remember: eyes on the road and hands on the wheel is key for maximum safety when the going gets blizzardy.
More and more models are offering advanced hazard-detection systems, including my favourite, Forward Collision Warning (FCW). Late into a long drive, you might see, but not process, that there’s a hazard up the road. Using radar (be sure to keep the sensor clear of snow) or camera, the FCW system can advise drivers that they’re closing in rapidly on another vehicle, often a second or two before the driver might have otherwise chosen to react. When the roads are slippery, mere milliseconds can make all the difference between avoiding an accident or plowing head-on into the back of a dump truck – especially when your eyes are strained, you’re dozy, and you’ve got tunnel vision from the past hour of Star Wars snowflake streaks past your windshield. Having an FCW system on board your ride can provide that little bit of extra warning, when you need it, which pays for itself the first time it prevents an accident.