By on October 22, 2013


As winter approaches, the TireRack and the other big rubber-retailers will start beating the drum for snow tires. You know that snow tires work in the snow. But I’m sure that none, I mean, many of you have wondered how they work on a racetrack.

Road&Track was kind enough to let me do something that no sane individual would do: spend an afternoon driving the notoriously tire-hungry Focus ST around Putnam Park on snow tires. Over the course of the entire day, I was able to render a few thousand dollars’ worth of Goodyears and Dunlops unfit for resale. I also discovered what the on-track gap is between the best summer-focused tires and their cold-weather counterparts. Check it out here.

Since this is TTAC, however, and we don’t necessarily believe in fluffing the mags even if I’m the one who wrote the story, I’ll tell you the conclusion: there was just 2.2 seconds a lap difference between them. But I know you want to see the pictures of the trashed-looking tires in the slideshow, and see where Vodka McBigbra peeled the “N” off the “DNR” on my helmet, so off you go!

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46 Comments on “Here’s One We Did Elsewhere...”

  • avatar


    On my ’89 E30, I run Dunlop Tri-Stars in the warmer months, and Michelin X-Ice’s in the cold (and they’re on now). Not that I am going to track *this* car (I have another E30 for that), but man the difference is like going from wheels made of duct-tape to a set of jelly-doughnuts. At least the ride is significantly cushier. I just don’t push the X-Ice’s hard at all, no confidence in them for that.

  • avatar

    Thanks Jack, great article.

    Tires I find are oft overlooked when it comes to a car’s everyday performance.

  • avatar

    My interpretation of the R&T article is that “Winter Tires” are true all-season tires, and “All-Season Tires” are an unnecessary category.

    • 0 avatar

      no, winter tires will wear out very fast in warm temperatures.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m betting a chunk of money on Nokian’s warranty that that’s not true. But then, I drive less than 4000 miles/year.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        I think that was true of the old Blizzaks (I have owned several sets) because they have a super-soft rubber compound. I think newer “snows” are more durable. One think about the Blizzaks, is when the super-soft rubber wore down, you still had some tire left, which Bridgestone called “all-season.”

        • 0 avatar

          The Michelin X-Ice also uses a dual compound tread that switches to a summer friendly compound at about 50% tread depth after they really won’t perform in the snow.

  • avatar

    I change tires about once every 4-5 years. For a decade, I rode on Falken Ziex, Bridgestone Potenza, and maybe another one. With no snow and winter high temps usually in the 40s and 50s, all-season hi-po tires (not Max-po) always worked great. But they wore irregularly and never lasted too long, so I thought I’d make a change.

    I’m nearing time to sell the car and I went with a semi-cheap, but reputable all-season generic tire (Falken Azenis?) and can’t believe how much grip I’ve lost in all circumstances. If I had no comparison, it would seem fine, but once you go sticky, it’s hard to adjust. And scary to think how many other people are riding on these hard-compound tires and putting each others’ lives at risk. Plus, they’re louder than the more aggressive tires I owned before. Amazing how much difference it makes.

  • avatar

    “I also discovered what the on-track gap is between the best summer-focused tires and their cold-weather counterparts.”

    Who in his right mind would give a good goddam about the on-track gap between summer tires and winter tires?

    C’mon. Leave this kind of “hey – watch this!” thing to the Adam Carolla set and the Youtube page-view counters.

    I subscribe to R&T. We lose Peter Egan…and as partial recompense (?) we get juvenility that will appeal most to young males still trying to decide what gaming platform they’re going to spend their lives on?

    Here – I’ll save you all the trouble…the winter tires squirmed, heated up way too hot, moved around a lot more on their softer sidewalls, felt imprecise and understeered a lot (even on a fairly tail-happy FWD car like an ST), had horrible tread wear, especially on the front outboard edges, and then started to chunk. Acceleration was not affected, braking only slightly – more squirming when used hard.

    There ya go.

    • 0 avatar

      Peter Eagan is gone? I noticed his column was missing in the November issue, but he did do a ToolBox story in “The Boot” section.

      But I agree, juvenile antics don’t interest me (but maybe it sells magazines?) I hope R&T doesn’t become Mad Magazine, complete with Mad Fold-in on the back cover.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      In fairness to JB, I think you’ve overstated the point of the story. The point was not to encourage track-day mavens to take their Blizzaks out on the track in the winter. The point was to encourage people who own sporty cars that, in daily driving situations, that they’re not giving up much dry-road performance with winter tires, so they should get them if they live in the snowbelt. Of course, using a summer tire even on a dry road in temperatures below 50 degrees F will produce a noticeable degradation of performance; and using them in snow or ice is absolutely insane. Where I live, snow is infrequent. I had a set of summer tires on my Z3, originally. Even though the Z stays home if there’s snow or ice, I noticed the degradation in performance driving the summer tires in cold weather. Now I have all-season performance tires, which perform pretty consistently in all of the temperatures I encounter. The car still stays home in snow; and the performance difference between the all-seasons and the summer tires doesn’t really bother me. I don’t track my car; and if I did, I would have a dedicated set of (summer) track tires mounted on their own set of wheels. I suspect that most people who seriously track their cars do the same thing.

  • avatar

    the one big issue going to winter tires is getting used to the feel. They have very tall, very soft, deeply-siped tread blocks. The first time I put winter shoes on my SRT-4 I could feel the difference just leaving the tire shop. Tread squirm was extremely noticeable.

  • avatar

    Put on my studs last week. They are definitely making the car shakier, even well within commuting speed.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    Now I now Jack’s birthday and blood type as well as penicillin allergy!

  • avatar


    If you could arrange it with Tire Rack (good $$ for TTAC I presume) I’d love to see a comparison between a car with AWD and all season tires and FWD or RWD and snow tires.

    Say, take a 328i with snows vs a 328ix with stock…

    • 0 avatar

      Make it so number 1.

    • 0 avatar

      Old, but still largely true, in snow & ice 2 wheel drive w/ dedicated snows out handle and out stop awd. Awd excels at acceleration and steep grades. Factor the cost, maintenance & mpg penalty of awd.

      A problem w/ awd seems to be many/most awd drivers don’t understand how to use it properly or its limitations.

    • 0 avatar

      My feeling is 2WD with winters, in snow will out handle AWD with stock tires, especially given the stock tires something like a 328 would come with.

      This is especially true when accelerating is out of the picture. Under breaking and even in handling, the snows will beat the all seasons every time. If the AWD can’t put the power down, it matters not how many wheels are driven.

      My parents have an 07 A4 quattro. It came stock with Pirelli P6 (which I admit is a performance tire, not even an all season). I asked my dad “you gonna get winters for it” he kinda said “nah, its a quattro.” First real snow and he couldn’t get out of the driveway, because the Pirellis had no mechanism to move snow out from under themselves, and so it made four shiny patches of ice rather than two. He went and ordered some Nokian Hakkas right away.

      Even my 04 Mazda 6 GT came with Michelin Pilot MXM4 “all seasons” They were next to useless in freezing temps, due to a very shallow tread design with very little in the way of cross wise siping and their tendency to become very hard in cold temperatures. A set of winter tires turned it into a very capable winter car.

      Chime in here, how should such a test look. Should it be full northern climate, with deep snow and sub zero temperatures? Or, perhaps a few different test sites representative of TTAC readership, so we can see perhaps how aggressive a tire someone needs based on local? I’m thinking back to my thread with Corey, and for his Lexus, with cooler but not freezing temps and more slush than snow, something like Michelin Pilot Alpins (a performance winter) would probably make him happier than a fully aggressive winter tire like an X-Ice. For me though, deep blocky tread is a necessity.

      I’m a pretty passionate (or annoying, depending on who you are) winter tire advocate, and I’m always interested to see more and more tests of all kinds of tires. I think its an under served market. Jack, Derek, if I can help, let me know.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t see the value of doing a 2WD with winter tires vs AWD with all seasons. The luxury market has spoken and AWD is expected. And where I live, in what’s been a balmy autumn in Alberta Canada, I seldom see an AWD without winter tires. That is win-win.

      What I do like to see are the subjective evaluations between winter tires. I run my Michelin Pilot Alpin PA2’s as summer tires and switch to Xi2’s for winter. Last year we had an early heavy snowfall, and I was just miserable in my RWD car. The Xi2’s have a tangible increase in snow and ice traction over the performance winter Alpin’s, as if someone added 500lb of trunk ballast and a couple of rear seat passengers. But if it’s just raining or light wet snow, I’ll choose the Alpin’s responsiveness any day.

      The PA4’s are probably better, but I doubt they’ll approach the Xi3’s when things get nasty.

      • 0 avatar

        Winter tires are really good now. You can drive them fine on pavement they just wear out quick if its warm. And wow do they work in the snow. Granted I have Quattro – but you can hardly tell the difference between snow and dry if you are not pushing it. And they work really well in rain too.

        In the old days they really ruined performance cars but not anymore. You can stick them on a RWD BMW and drive through the winter with good performance snows.

        Its too bad no one knows this – or we would have more RWD cars.

      • 0 avatar

        “The luxury market has spoken and AWD is expected.”

        Luxury market be damned. I’m interested in which decision (pay more for drivetrain or spend more for tires) someone with a limited budget should choose on their ordinary car/SUV.

        • 0 avatar

          Assuming you are keeping the car for longer than a single set of tires will last, the difference in cost is minimal. A couple hundred for a used set of wheels to put the winters on, and maybe a few bucks to have them put on the car if you are lazy. Snow tires will certainly be MUCH cheaper than the upfront, maintenance, and added gas usage of AWD. Though I run snows even on my AWD vehicle. Those driven front wheels help you GO, but they don’t help you STOP.

    • 0 avatar

      Car and Driver did this not too long ago. Same conclusion as Jack, stop and turn is much better regardless of drive wheels and go is almost the same with winters and rear drive as all-season with all wheel drive.

      Jack, you should do this again in January and compare cold track day differences. I bet the gap is almost non-existent. I know its tough to get paid to go flog a car around a track but someone has to think of the children, or at least those that behave like children.

  • avatar

    To be followed up with a few laps around one of the many ice racing clubs ice tracks that can be found up north in the winter months, using the ST shod with its summer tires. You know, to make things more scientificy and all.

    Actually, I doubt the ST could even move under its own power with summer tires on an ice course, but hey, it’d be fun to see.

  • avatar

    I alternate 40 series summer – Michelin PS2 or PSS – and minus one sized 50/55 series winters – Conti 810S. The biggest difference I observe in my relatively sedate driving is the winter tires are much quieter and less harsh. I can see where if your switch is to 65 series winter tires with very open treads that things would be a lot squidgier.

    • 0 avatar

      Similarly I have 45-series 17’s Conti RFTs on my car in the summer, and Dunlop Wintersports in 16″ 55-series in the winter. Winters are SO much smoother, though not quieter. Not much squidge with the Dunlops, but they are high-performance winter tires rather than “snow” tires…

  • avatar

    A fun experiment is to take a set of snow tires, then RallyCross them with three drivers during peak Summer on soil hard enough to leave a “blue” line. The tread life is measured in minutes.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I’ve run two sets of tires on several cars.

    My gripe about winter tires is that they’re noisy and squirmy in dry conditions.

  • avatar

    So what we really want to know Jack is: “Which ones fit a Town Car with 17in rims and are any available with whitewall?” :P

    • 0 avatar

      Well what you really want to do is get some 16″ wheels with 225/60 instead of the 235/55-17 for summer. That is what I do on my GM. Though Tire Rack does list 14 options including 4 performance options.

  • avatar

    I need to run between the ocean air of Oregon and the unpredictable winter of southern Alberta, where my Mother and extended family live. I usually use my old Mark VIII for these trips and after October arrives, I install my Blizzaks. I have never had any problems from the deep snow of Glacier Park to the standing water on 101. Good combo tire for my needs. Our Magnum has Nokians that are very good, too. Equally good choices, and in my case, price dependent. I’m not exactly hot shoes Johnson in ice and snow. Much easier to have two sets of wheels, as I change all four.

  • avatar

    Interesting article, considering I spend what seems to be more than half the year with winter tires on.

  • avatar

    Did you record brake distances between the tires?

    I run Pilot Alpins on my Turbo Saturn Sky. Big 245mm width rubber and lots of sipes work great for daily driving a 2,800 lbs car with 350 hp and 400trq. They are super in the rain with such a lightweight car but can easily learn float the brake and handling limit of the tire.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure it will ever happen, but I’d really like to see proper (ie tire rack style) test that compares across the different tire types and performance levels. You could pick just one, or two brands for this…

    “We found that by giving them time to cool in the lap before we could consistently run within two and a half seconds of the summer-tire time.”
    – ok, so 2.5s over one lap, but >5s over two laps?

    “Most importantly, at the end of a hard session of high-speed lapping, the Wintersports didn’t exhibit any measurable or visible wear at all”
    – I don’t believe you, and the photos show visible wear of both the summer and winter tires.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The photos were taken after multiple people had thrashed both sets of tires multiple times. The Focus did a few hundred laps that day.

      • 0 avatar

        Great – only 2.2 seconds slower – now try it with 17″ steel wheels running 205-55s, like any sane owner would do, rather than the factory wheels running OEM-size snows. You encourage owners to buy a winter tire and wheel package, which are all minus-one or -two sizing, and then you do your demo laps with factory wheels running OEM-size 40-series rubber bands, to illustrate how said package will (not) handle. Check. So the mission here was – ?

        Using 235/40-18 snow tires so you can find all the curbs and potholes hidden in the snow – that’s the ticket, owners!

        So, basically, taking a car with snow tires in a size nobody is going to buy them in and subjecting them to use nobody is ever going to subject them to. You should probably run the laps with a roof rack attached to the car with a couple of surfboards on it while you’re at it.

  • avatar

    This is a little OT, but if the Focus ST ha a proper limited-slip it would grip the roads better when you put the power down, I dunno about everyone else but I think that anything with more than 200hp at the front wheels, especially a car billed as “sporty”, should have a standard limited-slip to handle the torque.

    • 0 avatar


      Heck, I wish any FWD car that I own would have a limited slip. My Alero does its best to pulse the ABS, but in deep snow I would trade much for a proper limited slip.

      I’m always on the lookout for cars with a proper mechanical LSD, not an “eLSD”.

      Help me with this list:
      SRT4 Neon
      Certain Cobalt SS supercharged and turbocharged with the proper option package
      ~03 Model Nissan Sentra SER SPEC-V
      MK 7 GTI (when it arrives)

      • 0 avatar

        Mk7 GTi gets a limited slip if you upgrade to the sports package I believe, I dunno why it took VW 7 generations of car to introduce something as old fashioned and useful as an LSD.

        ’07-’09 Mazdaspeed 3 gets a proper GKN limited slip.

        8th Generation Honda Civic Si’s have a helical Limited Slip

        European Only second gen Focus RS got a limited slip (too costly for the US I guess?).

        Some Honda Preludes (but as with any used Honda you get many other things that you wish you hadn’t.)

        I’d rather have a mechanical LSD any day of the week over touchscreens and XM radio.

  • avatar

    Two jeeps, one old, one newer, both with BFG’s All-Terrain’s. The liberty made it through a foot a untouched snow on the old crappy street tires. Then I got the 83 CJ’7 out during that storm and drove through unplowed roads like nothing. 32X11.50 tires; the capability that thing had in over a foot of virgin snow was amazing. Cars, vans, suv’s, trucks; stranded everywhere while my old Jeep just kept effortlessly driving past them all.

    When the Liberty needed new tires, I put the same on it. Stock size, and I haven’t gotten to really test them yet, but nothing beats a true 4×4 with good tires on it.

    And on that note, the other weekend we went to a apple orchard and watched a giant 4×4 Powerstroke Ford F-250 get stuck in a slightly muddy parking lot. All four skinny street tires caked and spinning in some wet grass; Tires make the difference.

  • avatar

    Soft compounds good. Large tread voids bad. I used to run my Pirelli Winter 190s pretty hard on a good road in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They handled okay, but stank of molten rubber when I got where I was going.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Had a big hiatus living in the sunbelt then returned to snow country.

    Huge improvement in snow tires over the past twenty years. Drove home from work in wet, cold conditions with my Blizzaks on a 4 X 2 pickup. All the weenies in the cars were driving ultra-conservatively for some reason. I couldn’t understand why, until I stepped out of the vehicle. The “wet” conditions were actually ice. Not only did the Blizzaks handle the conditions, I didn’t even notice.

    I can run rings around a 4×4 with all season tire in most conditions. The Blizzaks give a very comfortable ride, too. Or, I could have paid $4600 extra for a 4X4.

  • avatar

    RWD + winter tires FTW! I have driven my 2006 325i for 6 winters in MA on 205/55/16 Dunlop Wintersport 3D. Turn off traction control in the snow to allow some slip while starting from a standstill, otherwise you’re not going anywhere. Never an issue, even climbing steep snow covered hills. Just be smart and put in a little extra effort (Which 99% of drivers todat DO NOT want to do!). Easter through Thanksgiving the summer tires go back on. Added benefit of the lightweight winter tire and wheel package is increased fuel economy and more tossable than with the heavy 225/255 17″ sport package wheel and tire combo.

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