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Every few years, tire technology and development takes a step forward and resets the standards for the category. This time around, Studless Ice & Snow winter tires from several leading brands have taken that step. New models featuring high-tech tread compounds and new tread designs have rolled out just in time for the 2009 winter season. Our road, ABS braking and glare ice evaluations compared three Studless Ice & Snow tires - Bridgestone's Blizzak WS60 which debuted for the 2007/2008 winter season, and the Continental ExtremeWinterContact and the Dunlop Graspic DS-3, both new for 2009.
We also took the opportunity to compare the Bridgestone Blizzak WS60 Studless Ice & Snow tire to the Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 Performance Winter / Snow tire, also new for 2009. Both tires share the same winter tread pattern, with tread compounds and internal constructions tuned for their respective categories.
To find out how the group performs out on the road and on winter's glare ice, the Tire Rack team conducted a Real World Road Ride and Performance Drive at our local hockey rink. We also conducted our standard 50-0 mph ABS braking test in dry and wet conditions. Our evaluation used 2008 BMW E92 328i coupes fitted with new, full tread depth 225/45R17 tires mounted on 17x8.0" wheels. Tires were broken in by driving over 500 miles on clear roads during our Real World Road Ride evaluation prior to testing on the ice.
Part 1 - Studless Ice & Snow Winter Tires
What We Learned on the Road
Our 6.6-mile loop of expressway, state highway and county roads provides a great variety of road conditions that include city and highway speeds, smooth and coarse concrete, as well as new and patched asphalt. This route allows our team to experience noise comfort, ride quality and everyday handling, just as you would during your drive to school or work.
For most of us living in winter climates, snow doesn't fall every day. Road crews quickly plow the streets following each periodic snowfall, making clear road manners something to consider when choosing a winter / snow tire you'll have to live with for four to five months out of the year.
While none of the tires in this group would be confused for the handling of a high performance summer tire, the Continental ExtremeWinterContact displayed the most responsive and stable handling of the group. This tire drove much like an all-season tire would, without the slower steering response that can sometimes accompany winter / snow tire designs. The Bridgestone Blizzak WS60 followed with a smooth, linear steering feel. Right behind the WS60 was the Dunlop Graspic DS-3, feeling much improved over the sluggish handling of its predecessor, the Graspic DS-2.
When driving over the harsher pavement along our route, the ExtremeWinterContact was found to offer the best ride comfort of the group doing a good job absorbing the bumps. The Blizzak WS60 and Graspic DS-3 weren't far behind, both also managing to soften most impacts along the route, with just a hint of harshness when encountering abrupt impacts like expansion joints and potholes.
Increased tread pattern noise is a common by-product with winter / snow tires, thanks to the aggressive tread designs that help provide the winter traction people expect when choosing winter tires. The ExtremeWinterContact produced only modest tread noise, with a small but distinct tone when driving over cross-grooved concrete roads. The Blizzak WS60 produced a bit more overall tread noise, as well as a small hum heard at higher speeds. The Graspic DS-3 followed with some additional, but not objectionable, tread noise.
What We Learned at the Ice Rink
In place of our normal test track drive, our team went to a local hockey rink to experience each tire's traction in one of the worst winter conditions - the glare ice often found at slick intersections in the middle of winter.
Our team conducted a measured acceleration test, using the vehicle's traction control system to help manage wheel spin. Aligning the rear tire on the goal line, each driver made several acceleration runs where we measured the time required to travel the final 60' to the center ice line. We recorded the fastest run for each driver, and averaged the top times for each tire.
The Bridgestone Blizzak WS60 provided superior acceleration traction on the polished ice surface. Close behind was the Dunlop Graspic DS-3, again showing a noticeable improvement over its predecessor the Graspic DS-2. Also close was the Continental ExtremeWinterContact.
During the subjective cornering exercise we found the Blizzak WS60 again lead the group, rounding our simulated intersection corner with the greatest consistency and ease. Our team found the ExtremeWinterContact to have somewhat better cornering traction than the Graspic DS-3, both just behind the Blizzak WS60.
Part 2 - Performance Winter / Snow vs. Studless Ice &
|Tire||60' Acceleration||Percent vs. Best|
|Bridgestone Blizzak WS60
(Studless Ice & Snow)
|Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60
(Performance Winter / Snow)
Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 (Performance Winter / Snow): The Blizzak LM-60 is Bridgestone's Performance Winter / Snow tire developed for the drivers of sports cars, sporty coupes and luxurious performance sedans that are looking for winter driving traction on dry, wet and snow-covered roads. The Blizzak LM-60 is designed to combine the basic tread design of the Blizzak WS60 with a high-silica tread compound blending high-speed durability and dry-road cold weather handling with snow traction. Read more.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS60 (Studless Ice & Snow): The Blizzak WS60 is Bridgestone's Studless Ice & Snow winter tire developed for the drivers of coupes, sedans, minivans and crossover vehicles looking for traction on winter's slushy, snow-covered and icy roads. The Blizzak WS60 represents the third generation of Bridgestone WinterBiter tires designed to deliver wintertime traction and control that inspires driver confidence by getting the most out of the vehicle's potential. Read more.
Continental ExtremeWinterContact (Studless Ice & Snow): The ExtremeWinterContact is Continental Tire's Studless Ice & Snow winter tire developed for the drivers of coupes, sedans and minivans, as well as pickups, crossovers and sport utility vehicles looking for traction on winter's slushy, snow-covered and icy roads. The ExtremeWinterContact is designed to deliver serious performance in winter weather conditions. Read more.
Dunlop Graspic DS-3 (Studless Ice & Snow): The Graspic DS-3 represents the third generation of Dunlop Digi-tire Studless Ice & Snow winter tires developed for the drivers of coupes and sedans, as well as family minivans and crossover utility vehicles. Graspic DS-3 tires use Dunlop's Digital Rolling Simulation II technology (computer enhanced design) and premium tread compounding to deliver wintertime traction in snow and on ice. Read more.