The Winter of 2017/2018 has been one for the record books. Much of the country has had to deal with severe cold temperatures and record breaking snowfalls. Some of the sub-zero cold temperatures that much of the country experienced were the coldest recorded in over a decade. Not long before I wrote this blog, I awoke to a morning of negative 14 degrees here in South Bend, Indiana near TireRack.com headquarters.. This combination of snowfall and extreme low temperatures makes for a treacherous commute on hard packed snow and ice.
Experienced winter drivers know that hard-driving on packed snow covered roads is nearly as treacherous as driving on ice-covered roads. There is simply very little traction to be found on these slick surfaces. To make matters worse, sub zero temperatures have a very noticeable effect on a vehicles tires, They become stiff and their rubber compound begins to resemble something like a hockey puck instead of a pliable tread compound needed to find grip on slick roads.Standard all-season tires that are used on most vehicles simply aren't capable of providing adequate traction in temperatures this cold. While traditional snow tires with aggressive tread patterns do better, even these tires can suffer from the same issues in frigidly cold conditions. .
It is in these extreme winter conditions that winter tires with special low-temperature compounds, called studless ice and snow tires, really prove their worth. There are a handful of tire manufacturers that produce high quality studless ice and snow tires, but two specific tires stand out of the rest of the group, both in our own testing and in our consumer ratings for studless ice and snow tires. The Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 and Michein X-Ice Xi3 are currently the state-of-the-art for maximum snow and ice traction without the inconvenience and noise of studded tires.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS80
Michelin X-Ice Xi3
In the 1990's Bridgestone revolutionized the snow tire market with the introduction of the original Blizzak WS-15 studless winter snow tire. Its combination of an aggressive heavily siped tread pattern, unique tread compound and increased tread depth set the bar for snow and ice traction. Each generation of Blizzak since has continued to be the dominant tire in the category until Michelin's introduction of the Michelin Xice Xi2 (now the Xi3) studless winter tire. In our in-house test, the Michelin impressed me so much that I bought a set for my own car and ran them through a couple winter seasons. I found its combination of road manners and ride quality impressive for a winter snow tire. In addition, it still had great snow and ice traction. I was quite happy with its balanced approach as it performed well all winter on both dry and snow covered roads.
I wanted to try the latest generation of Blizzak for my next winter tire purchase, so this past season I installed a set of the new Bridgestone Blizzak WS-80 tires. The daily commute in my 2009 Infiniti G37x involves some less-traveled (and less frequently cleared) county roads which can be a challenge in wintry conditions. I noticed almost immediately that loose snow traction and traction in slushy conditions were easier to traverse with the Blizzak WS-80. The difference tires was quite noticeable to me. When driving on on hard-packed snow or icy roads, I found there to be very little difference between the Bridgestone and the Michelin. The Michelin is ranked number two in our customer survey data just behind the newer Blizzak WS-80 and after driving on both I would agree with our customers feedback on the two. You can read more about the WS-80 in my blog "Brdgestone Blizzak WS70 vs Blizzak WS80".
Which did I like better overall? They were both impressive, but I felt more confident driving in loose snow and on slushy roads with the Bridgestone Blizzak WS-80 tires. Both felt about equal on hard-packed snow and ice. The Michelin seemed to have a bit more dry road grip, and little faster steering response. I didn't feel much difference in quality between the two with both having reasonable road manners. Both tires saved me a lot of stress and reduced my commuting time by allowing me to drive at a reasonable speed with confidence.
Whether you are an experienced winter driver or a new driver needing more confidence driving in the snow, having a great set of snow tires in the single best winter driving tip I could recommend. Save yourself some time and frustration and consider purchasing a set of dedicated winter tires for your car at TireRack.com.