Pros: Great stopping power, good lateral stability and confidence-inspiring handling, works excellent with AWD vehicles.
Cons: On the expensive side, not the best in deep-snow, whines noticeably at speeds over 50mph.
Test vehicle: 2000 Volkswagen Jetta GLS, 4 cylinder engine.
Test tire size: 195/65R15 Michelin X-Ice Snow Tire
Street cost including mounting & balancing: $425.00
----- Why Snow Tires? -----
As mentioned in my other winter tire review, most drivers don't think about purchasing winter tires even with the white stuff falling outside. Many vehicle owners only purchase new tires when their current rubber is completely worn out or they notice a severe lack of control. Even then it seems most people just shop for tires based on long-term wear and price. Call me weird but those are the two least important features about a tire in my opinion. Tires with extra-long tread life ratings are generally built from a harder rubber compound and will slip and skid easier on dry or wet pavement. There's a reason tires designed for race-car performance cost much more than highway tires and last only a few races... you have to pay to get the best.
That said I'm not advocating installing racing tires on your Chevy Malibu or Toyota Camry, but I do think owners should at least equip their ride with seasonal tires if they live in northern climates. Michelin's X-Ice tires are slightly more expensive than other winter tires but they are designed specifically to give you maximum control when the roads turn into a skating rink and temperatures drop below zero. Michelin has packed the tread blocks with hundreds of 3-D Active Sipes for traction and braking in the worst road conditions, since they are full-depth sipes they will last quite a few winters.
Siping a tire means adding countless cuts to the tread to create more "edges" on each tread block, this in turn disperses water and grips slippery surfaces much better than standard tires. Picture a solid 1" square block of rubber sliding across an ice patch, or... a 1" block of rubber with 5 cuts across it, each cut opens up a bit and creates drag while clearing out slush and water from under the rubber. Winter tires also have a more snow-specific tread layout which channels slush and snow out and away from under the tire. Many all-season tires are built for long life and low sound levels as design priorities, not good for winter driving. A winter tire design will usually have a large center channel to collect slush and snow along with many smaller side channels angled toward the outside edge of the tire to disperse slush and retain grip. Unlike in off-road driving where flotation is your friend, the enemy of highway traction is hydroplaning or flotation. Tall, skinny winter specific tires such as the X-Ice will push down through the slop and find traction underneath to connect with.
Aside from siping and tread design, the last advantage winter tires have is their rubber compound is much softer than summer/all-season tires and created to stay flexible and supple at severely cold temperatures. All-season tire compounds are specifically designed to deliver better wear, ride, and traction in a wide variety of "normal" conditions, however they begin to perform very badly as temperatures drop below 45 degrees. This gives snow tires the clear traction advantage but also a much shorter life if used extensively on dry roads. That's why you pull them off and store them for next winter after the last snows have melted.
Discount Tire (where I purchased both sets of my snow tires) has a winter tire description I found helpful, I've posted it here as it's quite short. These attributes apply to most all winter tires and are not found in summer/all-season tires.
Winter tire advantages:
• Wider circumferential grooves that enhance winter traction by providing efficient channels to drain water and expel snow
• Smaller shoulder grooves that increase snow and ice traction with no sacrifice in dry handling or highway ride
• Sophisticated, high-density sipe designs that help cut through water and slush so the tread compound can make better contact with the road
• Rounder casing designs that add traction by cutting into the snow's surface
----- Driving impressions -----
This tire excels on ice covered roads where you can see the reflection of oncoming headlights in the road ahead of you. It's ridiculous how much traction the X-Ice finds when I can barely stay on my feet leaving my car! Braking performance is amazing, with my ABS equipped Jetta I can stop at icy intersections where the vehicles next to me slide into and through the yellow/red traffic light. If I modulate the throttle smoothly and don't accelerate too hard I can gain speed at the same rate as 4WD SUVs in most instances. Obviously you still have to drive carefully, (you're on ice for heaven's sake) but when you get caught driving when ice forms on the road it's very comforting to know your tires are up to the challenge.
On hard packed snow the X-Ice is equally at home with excellent braking, handling, and acceleration attributes for a FWD sedan. Most of the weather we see in northern Michigan tend to be hard packed snow with 2-4" of slush or fresh snow on top. The X-Ice does a marvelous job of clearing away the slop and keeping your vehicle planted and steady feeling at all times. With normal all-season tires the snow on the road surface can give you that wobbly-bobbly feeling similar to hydroplaning in very wet conditions. You don't feel that at all with the X-Ice tires, only if you seriously overdrive the conditions will you feel a loss of stability.
If you happen to run into deep snow you'll find the X-Ice is capable but not at its best. The focus on ice traction above all leaves a bit lacking in the deep snow performance, I wouldn't have noticed this except I was able to compare the X-Ice with Goodyear's Ultra Grip back to back. My "winter beater" '92 Accord is shod with Ultra Grips and they are total traction monsters in deep snow. Michelin's tread design is a tighter grouping of lugs more focused on traction from siping and less on maximum snow clearing.
Driving at highway speeds on dry roads the X-Ice emits a high pitched whine that isn't loud but definitely noticeable. If you turn your stereo up to normal listening levels it drowns out the tire whine quite effectively. My Goodyear snow tires are a bit louder but they have more of a "growly" sound instead of the X-Ice whine.
----- Bottom Line -----
I've used Hakkapeliitta and Bridgestone snow tires in the past, both were good but my current sets are better than any I've used before. If you're in a climate that generally gets hit by lots of snow over the course of a winter, I'd recommend the Goodyear Ultra Grip over the Michelin. On the other hand if you live in the mid-midwest or eastern side of the USA and see more freezing rain and ice during the winter months, the X-Ice is what you need.
Having a good set of snow tires gives you the confidence to drive in weather that would have made you cringe before. Once you've got your new snow tires mounted on your car I recommend going to an abandoned mall, stadium, or some other parking lot covered in snow and practice braking, turning, and accelerating. The differences should be immediately noticeable compared to your old all-season tires. Most car drivers will feel much more confident in the winter months knowing they can stop and turn if needed to avoid a collision. If you remove your snow tires in the spring you should get 3-5 winters out of them depending on how much snow you receive. My mom has a set on her AWD 2000 Subaru Legacy GT and absolutely loves them, they still grip very well and this is her 3rd winter using them.
NOTE: Just having snow tires doesn't make you Petter Solberg (former Subaru rally driver), you still have to drive at speeds within reason for the conditions. Also worth noting that I haven't noticed any mileage reduction on my Jetta after mounting the X-Ice tires.
Tire sizes available for wheels from 13" to 19" in diameter.
Related car tire reviews:
•Goodyear Ultra Grip Snow Tire
•Goodyear Assurance TripleTred
Truck tire reviews:
•Interco TrXus Mud Terrain
•Interco Super Swamper Bogger
•Nitto Terra Grappler
•BF Goodrich All Terrain TA KO
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment!
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