If You Drive a MINI in Snow – Do it on Winter Tires

We don’t advocate summer tires in cold conditions. We never have and we never will. However through a series of unfortunate events our F56 Cooper S a few years ago ended up not just with little 16″ wheels but summer-only tires. In the dead of winter. In Chicago. Hilarity did not always ensue. What it did was a wild few months that included more than a few white knuckles and e-brake turns. How did we survive? Read on.

I’m in the minority by saying that I’ll always prefer rear wheel drive cars with snow tires over just about anything else. Plenty of control with on-demand oversteer equals success in my book. But let’s be honest. Front wheel drive with oversteer induced by that magical e-brake in the middle of the car is also a great option. Both can be loads of fun if you know how to handle snow and have basics of car control down. Then there’s all wheel drive which can give you commend and control in ways nothing can. It may note be as fun as the other two options but unquestionably the safest option with the right tires.

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Having to deal with a front wheel drive car with summer tires through a Chicago winter doesn’t fall into the fun category. With big blocks of tread that don’t adhere well to anything below 40F, summer tires simply aren’t intended to ever deal with the white stuff (let alone the cold stuff). Why? Winter tires work due to more flexible sidewalls, winter tread patterns, deeper tread depth, and most importantly, rubber compounds that remain soft in the lowest temperatures. In other words chemistry.

Our Goodyears simply could not dig into snow no matter what the depth. While they had better lateral grip than we would have expected (thank God) the ability to get off the line was all but zero in snowy conditions. Serious skill was required to do pretty much anything from starting at a light to parallel parking. Luckily we had our own snow package which consisted of the largest possible square-point shovel that would fit in the boot.

In case you skipped to the end, the official MotoringFile position is pretty clear. We don’t recommend summer tires in winter weather. That means any environment that is consistently below 40F and gets any kind of freezing precipitation.

Snow Tires or All Seasons?

They’re ok at everything and great at nothing. If you can afford the hassle and extra cash, we would highly recommend a set of dedicated summer and winter tires if you like in an environment that gets any type of snow.

  • Scott

    Amen Gabe. My 05 Cooper with Blizzaks is nearly invincible.

  • countrym4n

    Could you do a post on the best options? I have been searching for a set of steelies and tires to put on my JCW CM for this Indiana winter, and would love advice!

    • Kevin Bartlett

      I put on some Pirelli Sottozero 3’s on my JCW Clubman. I don’t think you’re going to find Steelies to fit over the brakes on a JCW (CM = Clubman or Countryman??? Either way the brakes are too big).

      I picked up a set of NM Engineering wheels (on Gabe’s recomendation) but those will be my summers I think and the stock wheels will be my winters.

      I made it through some light stuff in the spring on summers, but I’m not going to push my luck.

      Had some Dunlop Sport somethingorothers on a 04 Cooper S JCW and it was great in the snow here in Michigan, made it through the 12 – 13 Winter no problems (which was brutal here). Don’t have to go with pricier Blizzaks, Nokians etc any snow tire is better than any all season or summer tire in the cold snowy months.

    • Adam5

      I had a couple sets of BF Goodrich winter tires when I lived in Connecticut. Unfortunately those have been discontinued as far as Tire Rack goes. I’ve used Nokians out here in Colorado Springs. Those did well, but have also been discontinued, at least from the local tire shop. Looking online, there still seem to be some good winter tires out there for 17″ rims. I went the route of using my stock rims for winter tires when I had my R53 and then again for my F56 and getting a set of lightweight rims for summer tires (-1lb of unsprung weight is similar to -10lbs of body weight, so 8lb weight loss per rim with my summer wheels adds to the motoring fun). Unfortunately her, in Colorado Springs, our winters aren’t constant cold like I grew up with in Wisconsin or in sure you have in Indiana. Our winter highs will hit the 80s here, and a winter tire will wear much faster in higher temperatures, so I’m stuck running all-seasons on my winter wheels, like Gabe says, good for everything, great at nothing. My experience with winter tires in Connecticut were wonderful, and I’d love to experience snowy winters like that again. You can feel the tires grip through the snow, stop going uphill in the snow and easily get going again. Great arrival Gabe! Good luck with your winter tires countrym4n! We’d love to hear how your winter tires work this winter.

  • David Toshio Williams

    I do use dedicated winter (mainly Blizzaks, wish that Nokian was available in our size), but did end up running the Michelin sport SP3+ during the summer for my Coupe instead of the summer only Conti’s I started with. Why you ask? In the new normal I ended up changing tires around three times one fall as we went from ice to too warm for Blizzaks, then snow, then hot again. Yesterday had to run 300 miles up to the Canadian Border and at the end was able to deal with a 16 mile trek through unplowed forest roads (chin spoiler did some plowing) (no I didn’t know it was going to be that way) on the All Seasons, would have been off the road with the Contis.

    • Jan Wojcik

      If you put on some Pirelli or Vredestein snows you could drive them through a variety of temperatures and avoid changing tires too often