Let It Snow

American Driver

By the time you read this, your television will have broadcast harrowing, on-the-spot coverage of long traffic jams on the interstates, with lots of cars spun off into the median. There will also be the obligatory shot of a car at an intersection somewhere in the deep Midwest with its wheels spinning madly as it attempts to get moving against the snow/ice/slush that covers the road. If you live in the Sun Belt, you can afford to ignore these warnings, but if you live where it snows, you should be thinking about winter-specific tires.

Many of you have high-performance cars fitted with high-performance summer tires. Others own cars fitted with all-season tires. All-season tires are a reasonable compromise-but dedicated high-performance tires will be almost useless when the roads become icy. Ideally, you should have a set of four winter tires mounted on their own rims, ready to go, in your garage. Mounting and dismounting tires as the seasons change is a pain, and a dedicated set of rims for your winter rubber will ease that pain. (Not sliding under the back end of a huge tanker truck loaded with aviation fuel on Christmas Eve will make you feel even better.)

This magazine has sung the praises of the Bridgestone Blizzak snow tire for several years. It was a major breakthrough in winter traction technology when it was introduced to the United States in 1993, and it has stood the test of time and ever-increasing competition. Some staff members have complained that certain Blizzaks are less sharp on dry roads than in snow, but it’s still the winter tire to beat. Two Davis family vehicles are armed with Blizzaks. Last year’s new Blizzak LM-25 is a very satisfactory dry-road tire that also got our long-term Mazda RX-8 effortlessly through the winter. Our own senior editor Joe DeMatio has a set of SUV Blizzaks on a snowplow-equipped Jeep Wrangler and is the envy of his neighborhood.

Nonetheless, the Blizzak faces a growing number of competitors in the marketplace today, and some of them are very good indeed. New technologies like high silica content, fiberglass impregnation, and microbubbles have brought forth a crop of winter tires that offer snow performance near that of studded tires, with handling and roadholding performance similar to that of all-season performance tires.

The Vredestein Wintrac Xtreme is very good on both snow and dry pavement, and our long-term Lexus GS430 will be shod with a set for the coming winter. Staff members have used the Pirelli Winter 210 and 240 SnowSports on personal cars, which proved excellent in all conditions. A local favorite among the no-compromise snow-tire enthusiasts is the Michelin X-Ice. It isn’t perfect on a dry road, but it’s unstoppable on ice and snow. Because of very fond memories and great satisfaction with the all-season performance of original-equipment Michelin tires on previous generations of Range Rovers, I specified all-season Michelin LTX Mud/Snow tires for my all-wheel-drive Cadillac Escalade ESV, and they’ve never let me down.

Our Four Seasons Chrysler 300C was equipped with Continental ContiWinterContacts last winter. It proved to be a very agreeable combination during winter’s worst, and their performance did not depreciate significantly when the snow melted and the roads dried. Senior editor Joe Lorio reports, “I was driving one or another of our Four Seasons long-term cars (damned if I can remember which one) and was so impressed with its steering precision that I checked to see what the tires were. The car was riding on Pirelli Winter 210 SnowSports, so those are my new favorite winter tire. That said, we had Dunlop SP Winter Sport M2 tires on my wife’s Passat wagon last winter, and they, too, were quite nice.” Road test coordinator Marc Noordeloos agreed, “I run Dunlop Winter Sport M3s on my WRX. I like that they lose only a small amount of snow grip to the hard-core snow tires but give far better handling and steering feel.”

In a perfect non-equatorial world, all cars would be automatically equipped with winter tires every Thanksgiving. If it snows where you live, call your tire dealer now.

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