Fall is officially here, meaning it won’t be long before the majority of the True North Strong & Free will be locked in a deep freeze until the Easter Bunny shows up in April with brightly-coloured chocolate treats.
It’s important to remember that once the mercury dips below 7 C, rubber compounds found in all-season and summer tires stiffen up to the point their adhesion to the road becomes more tenuous than Jack Sparrow’s grip on his glass after the rum is all gone. This is why smart consumers call their seasonal hoops winter tires instead of snow tires. Even when roads are devoid of the white stuff, grippy rubber helps immensely.
This behaviour can be explained by the pair of attributes that set winter tires apart from their year-round cousins: mechanical features and molecular attributes.
A good winter tire is packed with grooves in its tread, some of which will have a saw-toothed edges. These grooves are called sipes and furnish the tire’s contact patch with more opportunity to grip the pavement. Such technology is an example of a mechanical features.
Molecular attributes refer to the types of compounds, such as silica, baked into a tire during manufacturing. Winter tires are designed to remain flexible at cold temperatures, meaning they spend more time in direct contact with the pavement. This provides more traction and better control. Tire makers call this the point where rubber loses its elasticity the ‘glass transition’ stage, which occurs at a much lower temperature on winter tires.
When shopping for cold-weather rubber, make sure the tire bears an Alpine pictograph (a snowflake inside a mountain) on its sidewall. This denotes it has passed a ‘medium-packed snow test’ designed by Transport Canada to simulate Canadian winter driving conditions. Make sure to install a full set of four.
This year, some of our selected tires will include empirical test data from the experts at Tire Rack. Here are several great winter tires designed to get you through the harshest Canadian winter driving conditions, presented in alphabetical order.
BFGoodrich Winter Slalom KSI
These studless winter tires are designed with multiple traction-increasing technologies to provide traction in slippery conditions without the use of traditional studs. Specialized rubber compounds and high-density siping deliver grip in snow and on ice, while the channels in the tread pattern evacuates water, deep snow, and slush from the contact patch.
Its symmetric tread pattern features a sipe configuration that provides 160 feet of high-sipe density biting edges to maximize winter grip. In a cool bit of innovation, when the Winter Slalom KSI is approximately 50 percent worn, a winter tread depth indicator molded into the design lets the driver know that the remaining tread is reaching the end of its ability to provide beneficial snow traction.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS80
Another winter tire designed to perform at its peak without the addition of metal studs, the Blizzak WS80 uses Bridgestone’s next-generation NanoPro-Tech Multicell compound. With a hydrophilic coating and microscopic bite particles, these features allow the tire to remain flexible in freezing conditions.
It also does a great job of wicking water away from the road to combat slipping on ice and snow-packed surfaces. Bite particles act as microscopic studs to deliver more even grip. In Tire Rack testing, it stopped up to five feet shorter from 20km/h than similar winter tires from other brands.
Dunlop Winter Maxx WM01
Using a tread compound enhanced with silica, this tire’s asymmetric independent block design is intended to provide grip in cool, dry, and wet conditions in addition to performing well in winter’s worst. Tire Rack placed this winter rubber on the podium when testing it alongside other high-traction tires, praising its acceleration properties in particular.
Specially shaped sipes, featuring a three-dimensional interlocking zigzag design, permit tread blocks to blend tightly packed siping with enhanced block rigidity. The sipes help with snow and ice traction, while rigid tread blocks promote even treadwear.
Gislaved Nordfrost 200
It’s okay if you’ve never heard of this brand before or cannot pronounce its name. All you need to know about this Swedish brand is they’re part of the Continental Tires family and are value-packed. These studdable tires have an asymmetrical tread pattern with a V-shaped inner area for improved water flow. This will help prevent aquaplaning in slushy conditions.
A combination of 3D stepped sipes on the tire’s centre and sawtoothed sipes – Gislaved calls them ‘sinusoidal’ which has suddenly become your author’s favourite word – on the edges work together to fight for grip on even the slicked surfaces. Intended for SUVs and cars, they’re available in diameters from 14- to 19-inches.
Goodyear Ultra Grip Winter
This is another studdable winter tire, one which is designed for SUVs as well as cars and crossovers. Wide tread grooves help evacuate loose snow and slush to enhance wintertime traction while multiple sipes increase the number of biting edges to improve grip on ice and snow.
Alternating rows of optional metal studs can be added in the shoulder and intermediate tread blocks to increase traction on hard-packed snow and icy roads. Those shoulder blocks are said to be strongly constructed to promote dry road stability and even treadwear. Owners of small cars will be delighted to learn this tire is available in 14- and 15-inch sizes.
Michelin X-Ice Xi3
The X-Ice Xi3 is Michelin’s third-generation studless winter tire developed for the drivers of cars, vans and small crossover vehicles. Meeting Michelin’s Green X standard for low rolling resistance confirms the X-Ice Xi3’s contribution to reducing vehicle fuel consumption and emissions of CO2 pollution.
Michelin’s sipes have a zig-zag pattern. As with other tires, these grooves help evacuate water from the contact patch, increasing traction. Their unique shape offers an added bonus, as it controls shear stress and reinforces each tread block, reducing wear. Tire Rack testing proved this tire offers better cornering traction in wet conditions than its direct competition.
Motomaster Winter Edge
Canadians know a thing or two about driving in the winter, so it makes sense for our nation’s namesake retailer to offer a winter tire of their own. This value-laden selection from Canadian Tire, has multi-angle sipes meant to improve handling when turning on snow- and ice-covered roads.
By giving those sipes angles instead of leaving them straight, the tread blocks have less opportunity to squirm about, strengthening the tread block and partially eliminating that ‘squishy’ feeling one tends to get when driving on dry pavement with winter tires. The centre rib of tread blocks are asymmetrical which also improves handling by providing a large footprint.
Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9
Focusing on customers who want a studded tire, Nokian has poured their Scandinavian expertise into creating something special. This winter rubber has a unique, patented double-stud appearance, as two different types of studs give optimal grip in both curves and straight stretches.
The studs along the tire’s centre line are shaped like a baseball diamond, with their pointed leading edge biting into the slippery stuff during braking and acceleration. On the tire’s edges, multi-sided studs grip when the drivers throws them into a corner. As noted in the past, it is also fun to say Hakkapeliitta out loud.
Pirelli Winter SnowControl 3
Fans of the F1 circuit can feel like Lewis Hamilton after bolting a set of these Pirellis onto their ride. This winter rubber is built with a silica-enhanced compound, one which promotes flexibility even after the thermometer dips to numbers previously found only on the surface of Hoth.
Interlocking tread blocks along the centre rib increases stability and promotes longer tread life. Two wide channels evacuate water and slush while a phalanx of sipes create abundant biting edges. Independent testing performed by Tire Rack rank these hoops a solid 9/10 in most categories; in fact, they are rated just below the top-performing Michelins but cost significantly less. This tire is also available as a run flat.
Yokohama iceGUARD iG52c
This offering from Yokohama is labeled with the company’s BluEarth designation, making it Yokohama’s most ecologically-friendly winter tire yet. All iceGUARD iG52c tires feature a triple-action, high-density tread compound that combines silica, microbubbles, and multi-layer carbon to help them adapt to different weather driving conditions.
Knowing that winter driving doesn’t always involve conditions mimicking The Day After Tomorrow, Yokohama has designed an extra-wide centre rib and jumbo-sized tread blocks to maximize road contact to promote dry-road handling and stability. The tire is available in about fifty different sizes, meaning all hands should be able to find one that fits their ride.
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