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It's no secret that today's modern Studless Ice & Snow tires deliver excellent traction in winter's worst weather, providing slush, snow and ice traction that easily surpasses even the best all-season tire. As they say, there's nothing better than having the right tool for the job.
We wanted to evaluate several winter weather specialists from the Studless Ice & Snow category, comparing the new Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 with three popular options from the category — the Continental ExtremeWinterContact, Dunlop Graspic DS-3 and Michelin X-Ice Xi2.
Our testing took the group to the glare ice of a local ice hockey rink to replicate the slippery conditions of an icy intersection. We also drove them out on the road to experience their ride comfort, noise qualities and light handling on clear roads, and measured stopping distance on our test track in dry and wet conditions. Our evaluation used 2011 BMW E92 328i coupes fitted with new, full tread depth 205/55R16 tires mounted on 16x7.5" wheels.
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.
Recognizing that these winter specialists are not intended for aggressive dry road handling, our team adjusted their driving style and expectations accordingly. With that, they found the handling of the ExtremeWinterContact and X-Ice Xi2 to be the most responsive, both feeling almost like an all-season tire. The Blizzak WS70 provided stable handling, but didn't have the responsiveness of the ExtremeWinterContact or X-Ice Xi2, while the Graspic DS-3 felt a little less precise than the other three.
All our Studless Ice & Snow winter tire candidates feature aggressive tread patterns designed to aid snow traction. And coming as no surprise, they produced somewhat more tread noise than a typical all-season tire as they rolled over clear pavement. The X-Ice Xi2 and ExtremeWinterContact were found to be the quietest of the group. The Graspic DS-3 generated a modest hum, while the Blizzak WS70 produced a low growl heard predominantly at below-highway speeds.
All four tires delivered reasonable ride comfort, with the X-Ice Xi2 doing the best job softening the sharper bumps. The ExtremeWinterContact rode nearly as smoothly, also managing to soften many of the bumps along the route. The Blizzak WS70 did a good job, but let some of the sharpness of abrupt impacts find their way to the driver. The Graspic DS-3 rounded out the group, where small ripples in the road went mostly unnoticed, but larger impacts seemed somewhat more abrupt.
What We Learned at the Ice Rink
What is one of the most challenging conditions you encounter during bad winter weather? For many drivers it's the glare ice found at a slick intersection or out on the highway. So in place of our normal performance track drive we headed to the local hockey rink where the smooth ice replicates the packed snow and polished ice often encountered at busy intersections during winter months.
To measure each tire's acceleration traction potential, we aligned the rear tires at the goal line and accelerated down the rink, using the vehicle's traction control system to help the driver maximize the available traction. We recorded the time needed to accelerate the final 60' to the center ice. All four of the Studless Ice and Snow winter tires we tested easily got the vehicle rolling on the slippery surface, with three tires in a virtual tie for first place.
Once you get your vehicle moving, being able to stop becomes just as important. So in a separate test we measured the distance required to stop from 10 miles per hour, using the vehicle's Antilock Braking System to control wheel lockup. Our results mirror what we found in acceleration, with three tires sharing nearly identical stopping distances.
To simulate a turn at a slippery intersection, our team also drove each tire around a 90-degree right-hand corner at approximately 10 miles per hour. And again we found all four tires performed well, with the top three tightly grouped for overall ratings.
Fuel Consumption Results
Our Real World Road Ride features a relatively flat 6.6-mile loop of 65 mph expressway, 55 mph state highway and 40 mph county roads along with two stop signs and one traffic light every lap. Our team drove approximately 500 miles over the course of several days. Since we wanted to compare fuel consumption results that typical drivers would experience, our drivers were instructed to maintain the flow of traffic by running at the posted speed limits and to sustain the vehicle's speed using cruise control whenever possible. They did not use hypermiling techniques to influence vehicle fuel economy.
While none of the tires in this test were designed with low rolling resistance as a high priority, we found only a minor difference in observed vehicle fuel economy. Based on our results the 0.7 mile per gallon difference between our lowest and highest observed fuel economy would result in an annual difference of about 5 gallons of premium gasoline. At the current cost of $2.75/gallon, it would amount to about $14 for drivers traveling 5,000 miles per winter season.
It's important to note our test's fuel consumption measurements follow consistent procedures designed to minimize variables that could influence the results, however they do not represent an exhaustive long-range fuel consumption study. While our procedures require the test vehicles in each convoy to run under the same prevailing conditions, the week-to-week differences in ambient temperatures, barometric pressures and wind speeds that we experience over a season of testing can influence vehicle fuel consumption and prevent the absolute mpg values of this test from being compared directly against those of others.
Larger differences in consumption between tires may indicate a difference that might be experienced on the road, while smaller differences should be considered equivalent. As they say, your mileage may vary.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 (Studless Ice & Snow): The Blizzak WS70 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 WS70 represents the fourth generation of Bridgestone WinterBiter tires designed to deliver wintertime traction and control that inspires driver confidence. 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.
Michelin X-Ice Xi2 (Studless Ice & Snow): The X-Ice Xi2 is Michelin's Studless Ice & Snow winter tire developed for the drivers of coupes, sedans and family vans that want to combine enhanced ice and snow traction with predictable wet and dry road handling. Most X-Ice Xi2 tires meet Michelin's Green X standard for low rolling resistance that confirms the tire's contribution to reducing vehicle fuel consumption and emissions of CO2 gases. The X-Ice Xi2 is designed to tackle the coldest winter driving conditions around the world. Read more.