What's the Best Handling Performance Snow Tire?

Thursday, January 16, 2014 by Doc Horvath

Many car enthusiasts like to use their performance vehicles all year long, but for those that live in colder climates, there's a challenge: the Original Equipment summer tires can't provide grip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In Europe, the standard is to have a set of performance tires for the summer and a second set of performance tires for the winter.  

One of our recent tests compared the Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60, Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D, Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 and Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 to see which one would provide the best balance of performance and winter grip.

To best evaluate the tires' traction levels on ice, we headed back to a hockey rink to measure 60' acceleration times and stopping distances from 12 mph. The Bridgestone and Michelin nearly tied for the quickest times and shortest stopping distances. However, all four were able to beat the figures of any all-season tire.

Before winter arrived in the Midwest, we loaded up the tires and went to a winter test facility in Sweden. While there, we measured each tire's ability to accelerate and brake in light snow, as well as gather subjective ratings of how each tire feels while driving through several inches of groomed snow on a handling course. The Michelin and Pirelli both proved to be responsive and stable when called upon at highway speeds, with the Dunlop and Bridgestone just a little behind. Similar tests were performed on our track when ambient temperatures were in the upper 30°F range to replicate conditions found during the winter season, with both the Michelin and Pirelli tires leading the way.

When all the results were examined, the numbers proved that the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 delivers the best balance of performance in this group, driving well on the road plus providing good ice and wet traction. Pirelli's Winter Sottozero 3 and Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D both have good ice and wet traction and nearly matched the Pilot Alpin PA4's handling on the road. The Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 takes a more focused approach by also providing good ice traction, but it just doesn't have the wet road grip or clear road handling stability of the other three tires.

For a complete recap of our test, read "Testing Performance Winter / Snow Tires: Which have the Right Balance of Performance?"

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