If April showers bring May flowers, what do April blizzards bring?
Winter has largely disappeared from the scene for another year across Canada, but not Winnipeg. As I write this in mid-April 2022, that part of our country is bracing for another six feet of snow.
As the spring of 2022 arrives, it’s time for this writer to look back at the winter test drive season that was – fresh from logging approximately 40,000 icy miles of field testing, in more than 15 of the latest vehicles on the market, equipped with some of their latest technologies.
So here’s my annual winter look back, with a specific focus on the most impressive machines and moments – and a few things I’ve learned along the way.
2022 Ford Maverick
The Ford Maverick has been one of my most requested models for many months now, with many friends, family, viewers and readers eager to learn more about this compact pickup.
During our extended time together, the Maverick and I tackled two separate snow days around town, with a set of Falken Wildpeak attempts—a 3-peak Mountain Snowflake rated all-terrain tire, but no winter special.
While I would definitely install a dedicated winter tire on my own Maverick for these conditions, my tester turned out to be a treat in the snow. In particular, the handling, steering, braking and especially the AWD system feel well calibrated for drama-free winter driving, even in harsh conditions.
Ford has obviously spent a lot of time dialing things in, in real winter conditions, so that it feels just right on the tips of your fingers and toes. Expert calibration of the stability control and AWD system ensures fast grip on even slippery surfaces, with virtually no wasted wheel spin. The Maverick’s dense and solid road feel works together with surprisingly sporty handling for a winter ride that’s stable, planted, obedient and highly responsive.
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The drivetrain is smooth and enjoyable, and the AWD system can even slow or lock up a single rear wheel when steering in deep snow, making the Maverick much more agile.
The ride on this little truck is full of details like this. Added up, they make it an easy machine to enjoy when the snow flies.
2022 Mercedes S 580 4Matic
Speaking of enjoyment, the Mercedes S 580 is one of the most impressive cars I’ve ever visited. Still, during a particularly frigid week of testing in the dead of winter, a different story emerged when I wrote about this car. Detail by detail, the S 580 demonstrated how its promise of incredible refinement and comfort still stands, even at 35 lower.
At those temperatures, many cars struggle or won’t start, creak and creak, vibrate and squeak, idle poorly, take a long time to warm up, and may even drive louder and less comfortable because everything is frozen solid. Of course, that’s not acceptable for shoppers dropping six figures on a luxury flagship.
At mind-boggling temperatures, the S 580’s 48-volt hybrid V8 engine smoothly comes to life with little hesitation or noise than when started at room temperature. From there, it drops to a smooth and creamy idle in a second or so, and thanks to a so-called electric ‘booster-heater’ powered by its high-voltage hybrid system, warm air begins to enter the cabin in an instant, not an eternity.
beeps? Rattles? Click panel? Forget it. A harder, noisier ride? New. Even in the midst of a cold winter spell, the S 580 retains its character as a creamy and quiet cruise – almost like a leather-clad, V8-powered hovercraft that lights up like the inside of a nightclub when the sun goes down. During the day, it offers residents a wonderful place to relax while enjoying the wintry scenery.
2022 Kia EV6
Kia’s all-new all-electric EV6 GT Long Range headed north for a few thousand miles of cold weather testing, the 411-mile battery (at room temperature) proved good for a comfortable 315-mile drive with a good clip, at ten down, cranked up with the heat. That’s more than enough for a grueling afternoon ride on some of my favorite icy back roads north of the city. It’s here where the Kia EV6 puts the biggest grin on my face.
Combining ‘in the moment’ torque with a hair-trigger throttle and an AWD calibration that feels right to the touch, the eager operator can expect this machine to deliver a lot of noiseless fun when traction is low and the ride is twisty is becoming.
In SPORT mode, on snow and ice, the EV6 was reminiscent of some of my favorite winter-eating sports sedans. This is mainly due to the immediate and very pleasant responses to the driver’s input, especially the accelerator pedal.
The feeling of both grip and thrust increases as you press the accelerator and sends snow and ice into the air is never boring.
2022 Acura MDX
The morning after a six-foot snowfall that covered Sudbury, I gathered Cameraman James and headed north in the 2022 Acura MDX, looking for roads untrodden by the snowplows. The mission: film the MDX driving through the deepest snow possible.
Our path of choice for this exercise hadn’t been plowed (greatly) yet – but both cameraman and presenter had our reservations about whether the MDX would be up to the task. With bumper-deep powder in some spots – waist-deep drifts in others – even I was a little apprehensive. “No, she’ll be fine” I thought.
We went through thick snow – in some parts as deep as the tires – which meant a lot of wheel spin was needed to maintain forward momentum and avoid getting stuck.
An important memory of riding this winter that I will never forget is how the MDX performed in this particularly challenging scenario. To deal with so much snow on this particular road often requires turning off the vehicle’s traction control system completely, managing the throttle for stable wheelspin over an extended period of time, maintaining momentum at all costs and otherwise creating a rather noisy, stressful driving environment engage until you are clear of the snow.
Too much of this and you’re likely to overheat many AWD systems, which tend to heat up after extended periods of wheelspin. In some cases, this overheating disables a safety measure that switches from AWD to two-wheel drive until things cool down, a stressful proposition in the middle of a bush road buried in snow and ice.
The MDX has a more relaxed approach, which helps to reduce the stress often associated with deep snow driving. Here, wheelspin is automatically limited to levels that are adequate, not excessive.
That means less throttle for the driver, less engine noise and fuel wastage, more stable acceleration and easier vehicle control. No sign of system overheating, even after 20 minutes of carefully dosed wheelspin. Most of the time you just relax in your seat, turn the wheel and enjoy the scenery as the machine keeps its composure and does all the hard work for you.
Those trying to shove their way to the chalet after a blizzard may wish for something faster, although after minimal stress and maximum confidence in the deep stuff, drivers will find it just works great. Here’s a crossover I’d happily take to camp even after heavy snowfall, hands down.