Are All-Season Tires Enough for Winter Driving If I Have Front-Wheel Drive?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 by Doc Horvath

As front-wheel drive cars were first marketed to the United States, one of the major selling points from the manufacturers was that traction would be enhanced by having the weight of the engine over the drive axle (especially in snow). With this in mind, many drivers feel that all-season tires on a FWD vehicle is all you need this winter. To put this statement to the test, we took two identical Honda Civics to a local hockey rink and ran them through a series of acceleration, braking and cornering tests.

We equipped one car with the Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 to represent the Studless Ice & Snow category and the other with the Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02, the Standard Touring All-Season option that has been used as Original Equipment by Honda.

Acceleration tests on the ice began with the test cars sitting with their rear tires on the goal line. Allowing the vehicle's traction control to help the driver maximize tire grip, the drivers accelerated as fast as their tires would allow and noted the time they took to cover the 60-feet distance to the center of the ice rink.

The Studless Ice & Snow tires benefited from their superior ice traction and activated the vehicle's traction control less. It only took them 4.505 seconds to complete a run, with their 1.5-second faster acceleration times representing about a 25% improvement over the all-season tire's 6.045 second run.

In a separate test, we measured the distance it took the tires to bring the car to a complete stop from 12 mph (20 km/h). The car's speed was stabilized and the driver fully applied the brakes to engage the vehicle's four-wheel disc anti-lock braking system (ABS) until the vehicle came to a complete stop. When equipped with all-season tires, the car's ABS engaged relatively easy and it took an average of 53.6 feet to stop the Civic. The Studless Ice & Snow tires provided more grip and actually squealed against the ice whenever the ABS activated, bringing the car to a stop in an average of 35.1 feet (34% improvement). Their 18.5 feet shorter stopping distance was over a car length improvement compared to the all-season tires.

To simulate turning at a slippery intersection, our team also drove each tire around a 90-degree right-hand corner marked by traffic cones that represented the outside edge of a driving lane. The Studless Ice & Snow tires offered a secure feel and reached a cornering limit of 11 mph (18 km/h) as they completed the corner without hitting any of the cones. Even with Honda's Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) active, testing showed the all-season tires could complete the corner without hitting any cones at a maximum of 8 mph (13 km/h). 

For a complete recap of our test, watch "Are Front-Wheel Drive and All-Season Tires Enough for Winter Driving?"

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