In order to purchase the correct winter / snow tire, you should decide which performance category works best for your driving style and the winter weather you experience. The three major categories are: Studless Ice & Snow, Studdable Winter / Snow and Performance Winter / Snow.
Studless Ice & Snow tires give you optimum ice and packed snow grip, but are less responsive on dry roads. The tires trade a little handling for excellent ice and snow traction. On the dry roads, your vehicle will not respond as crisply or quickly to steering inputs.
Studdable Winter / Snow tires can be run studded or unstudded. When studded, they'll give comparable ice and packed snow grip but will be less responsive on dry roads. When unstudded, they'll perform well in moderate and deep snow. It's important to note that the use of studded tires may be prohibited or restricted in your area, be sure to check with local authorities to confirm legality.
Performance Winter / Snow tires will exhibit the above dry-road deficiencies to a much lesser degree. If your vehicle came with summer performance tires, the Performance Winter / Snow tires will be more comparable in steering response, acceleration, grip, braking and cornering grip. They'll give up some ice and packed snow grip. Tires in this category will wear slightly better compared to Studless Ice & Snow tires, especially during the early and late winter days when temperatures are a little warmer. All snow tires will have more tread noise and this will vary from tire to tire. Performance Winter / Snow tires do tend to be quieter than the other performance categories.
Studless Ice & Snow tires tend to be available in higher profile sizes and include the following:
- Bridgestone Blizzak WS70
- Michelin X-Ice Xi3
- Continental ExtremeWinterContact
- Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT
- Dunlop Graspic DS-3
If you go with a Studless Ice and Snow tire, you should consider going with a narrower tire as it cuts through deeper snow better. This is especially true for a lighter car like the MINI Cooper.
Looking for the traditional security of winter tire studs for enhanced traction on ice? Consider the following Studdable Winter / Snow options:
The AltiMAX Arctic is slightly better on ice and packed snow and quieter than the the Winterforce. Winterforce tires will provide more effectiveness in deeper snow.
Available in lower profile sizes, the following Performance Winter / Snow tires are worth a look:
- Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D
- Pirelli Winter Snowsport
- Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4
- Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60
Is a Studless Ice & Snow, Studdable Winter / Snow or a Performance Winter / Snow tire right for your vehicle? It depends on your car, where you live, how you drive on dry roads and how you want to balance the above compromises.
For example, my brother lives in Marion, Indiana, which is about an hour northeast of Indianapolis. He got the Blizzak WS60 Studless Ice & Snow in 235/40R18 on Sport Edition A7 wheels for his 2008 BMW M3. He chose this tire because central Indiana is more apt to get ice storms and there's the potential for heavier snow that wouldn't be quickly cleared from the country roads between his offices. He's willing to drive slower on dry roads.
Compare my brother's driving situation with another driver from Louisville with the same car but a heavier foot, he would be better served with the Performance Winter / Snow Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D tires in 235/40R18 front and 255/40R18 rear. Louisville's milder weather allows him to emphasize dry road performance, but still have emergency snow capability.
Let it snow.