In the snowy wintertime, all-wheel-drive rules!
You don't need an SUV or crossover to get AWD – some sedans, like the Subaru Impreza and Legacy also offer it, and they get better fuel consumption. We drove both sedans to and from Mississauga and Muskoka, Toronto’s cottage country, to try them out on some slippery, challenging roads.
The Legacy is an intermediate sedan, starting at $23,495 and competing against the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda6 and half-a-dozen others. It’s been sold here for a quarter-century. Its latest generation was released last year and named the 2015 Canadian Car of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
The Impreza is Subaru’s compact sedan. It starts at $19,995, though we drove the $29,495 top-of-the-line sedan, which includes 17-inch wheels instead of the 15-inch wheels on the most basic model. Its competition includes the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, among others. They have a cheaper base price, but they don’t offer as many features at that cost and all-wheel drive isn’t available, while it's standard on the Impreza.
Most media drives take place in pleasant climes such as southern California or Europe where keeping cars clean for photography isn't a challenge. It didn’t take long for the Impreza to start getting dirty on the real winter roads of Ontario. There’d been a heavy snowfall that week and the roads were only recently plowed.
The side roads north of Toronto can be very hilly and this is where all-wheel drive is an advantage in slippery conditions. Getting a grip on an upward slope is easier when all four tires are driving the car, so pulling away in snow is less of a challenge.
Stopping on a hill, or anywhere, is all about having effective brakes. All-wheel drive is no advantage at all for braking. Many people don’t understand this and assume their AWD vehicle can stop more quickly in snow than a 2WD vehicle. It can’t.
All the side roads were snow-covered. Both Subarus were fitted with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires to help get a grip – on roads like these, stopping distances are at least halved with winter tires, and the car has much more traction around corners.
It was a winter wonderland in Muskoka, just a few degrees below freezing. It hadn’t been cold enough to freeze the Severn River here at Hamlet, though it’s usually iced over completely at this time of year.
The sign warned the bridge over the Severn River can be slippery, but it wasn’t a problem for the Impreza.
Some of the roads were plowed right down to the dirt, depending on which township we were in. Often, there was ice under the right tires and gravel under the left – split mu conditions in tech-speak – so the Impreza’s computer had to determine how much drive to send through the differential to each wheel.
We kept up a brisk pace, but fuel consumption was generally better than it would have been in a Forester, the Impreza’s crossover equivalent. Official consumption is 8.5 L/100 km in the City and 6.4 on the highway (compared to 9.6 and 7.5 for the Forester), and we saw an actual consumption of 8.4. The cold weather worsens fuel use, as did our quick driving.
All-wheel drive definitely helped around the icy corners, keeping the car pointed properly down the road under acceleration from the curves.
The next day, we drove on a test course in an unplowed parking lot, to find out just how much grip the all-wheel-drive system could provide under hard acceleration and braking in deeper snow.
The Impreza performed well, with minimal wheel spin when the traction control system was allowed to monitor tire slippage.
We tried the course in the Legacy too, and its performance was similar to the Impreza. Its engine is a little larger – a 2.5L boxer four making 175 hp compared to a 2.0L boxer four making 148 hp – but there was little noticeable difference in the confined space of the parking lot.
We swapped into the Legacy for our drive back home. It was the Touring package with Eyesight technology that costs $28,995, though the twin Eyesight cameras could not often see any lane markings on the road to monitor.
The smaller roads were still snow-covered, which usually made them smoother because the ice filled in any pot-holes.
Ice can be very beautiful when it’s not on the road surface.
Even though it was cold, that didn’t mean all the wildlife had hibernated. We were grateful for the winter tires and effective brakes when we met these wild turkeys.
There was other traffic too, even better suited to the snow-covered roads. These snowmobile riders shared the highway with us for a while. They were quicker and noisier, but we were warmer and more comfortable.
Just before getting back on the main highway for the final drive south to the city, we found this road with all its twists and curves. In a car with 2WD, we might have avoided it until the spring, but the Subaru kept its grip all the way through. Bring on winter!
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