Let’s Talk about Winter Tires and Why You Might Need Them

F54 JCW Clubman with Winter Tires (Blizzaks)
F54 JCW Clubman with Winter Tires (Blizzaks)

For many of us the arrival of November marks the beginning of winter tire season. What are winter tires and why do you need them? surprisingly the answer isn’t only snow. How do we know? One winter we were forced to find out.

If you’ve been following MotoringFile for any time you’ll know we are big proponents of winter tires for climates that see cold temperatures and snow fall. But one aspect that gets missed about winter tires is that they’re not just designed for snow. Modern winter tires are created with compounds that adhere to the road no matter how cold temperatures get. Compare that to summer tires which not only have no grip in snow but little to know grip on dry cold pavement as well.

Winter tires

Summer in the Winter Doesn’t Work

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 Goodyear summer tires 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.

Winter tires

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.

Winter 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 live in an environment that gets any type of snow or the cold dips regularly below 40.

Our Recommedation (if you get lots of snow but care about dry performance): The Bridgestone Blizzak WS80

There are plenty of good snow tire options out there. However if you live in an area that gets a fair amount of snow and still care about dry performance the Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 is a good bet.

Making use of Bridgestone’s adaptive NanoPro-Tech Multicell compound, the tire features a hydrophilic coating and microscopic bite particles that are meant to absorb water. This combination allows the Multicell compound to remain flexible and maintain grip in temperatures well below-freezing. Having had them last winter season on our JCW Clubman we were constantly impressed by both the dry grip (in cold temps) and the ability to slice through deep snow.

JCW CLubman

The result is a combination that feels almost invincible in even virgin snow up to a foot deep.

The JCW’s all wheel drive system plays along nicely with near seamless torque transitions from front to back and side to side. The best part however is the fact that up to 80% of torque can be routed to the rear wheels giving the JCW Clubman the ability to quickly pivot from understeer to oversteer if provoked. Not a bad trick for empty snow-covered country roads. You can read more about our experiences with the WS80s in our full review from last year.

As a contrast this year we’ll be testing Bridgestone’s more performance oriented model the Blizzak LM-32. How will it fare in deep snow and just how much better will it be on dry pavement. We’ll let you know shortly.