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Many drivers living in the northern United States have already discovered a set of today's dedicated winter / snow tires increases their vehicles' wintertime capabilities enough to reduce their driving times, tension and stress. However, if you're among the skeptics who still question if the improvement in traction on hard-packed snow and ice is worth the expense, read on because we've got some test results that just might change your mind.
While Tire Rack's previous tests in snow and on ice have focused on the rear- and all-wheel drive vehicles in our test fleet, we felt it was time to test winter tire traction on a front-wheel drive vehicle. Since the 2012 Honda Civic represents the newest generation of one of the American market's most popular front-wheel drive compact cars, we selected the new Civic EX sedan as our test vehicle. The Civic EX sedan's front-wheel drive, automatic transmission, traction control, anti-lock braking system and vehicle stability assist combine the key vehicle features drivers want for wintertime driving on slippery roads.
The Civic EX sedan's Original Equipment fitment features 205/55R16-sized tires on 16" styled wheels. However, since many drivers choose basic steel wheels for their Winter / Snow Tire & Wheel Packages, we mounted all of the tires on 16"x6.5" basic steel wheels so any difference in weight between the Original Equipment styled wheels and basic steel wheels wouldn't influence the results.
We chose the Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 to represent the Studless Ice & Snow tire category and compared it to the Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02 Standard Touring All-Season tires that have been used as Original Equipment on Honda Civic sedans and coupes.
In order to document how much traction these types of tires provide on hard-packed snow and ice, several members of the Tire Rack team conducted acceleration, braking and cornering tests with our local skating rink's glare ice replicating the slippery intersections often encountered during winter. While all of the tires started new with full tread depth, they had been driven over 100 miles on dry, clear roads to help break them in before being tested on the ice.
What We Learned on the Ice
Our comparison of how long it took to accelerate across the ice began with the test cars sitting stationary with their rear tires on the goal line. Allowing the vehicle's traction control to help the driver utilize the available tire grip, the drivers accelerated as fast as their tires would allow. We timed how long it took the car to cover the final 60-foot distance to the center of the ice rink.
Even with traction control, the all-season tires could be provoked into momentary wheelspin and performed best with steady driver input during their 6.0-second trip to the center of the rink. Using the same driving techniques, the Studless Ice and Snow tires benefited from their superior ice traction and activated the vehicle's traction control less. It only took them 4.5 seconds to complete a run, with their 1.5-second faster acceleration times representing about a 25% improvement.
Once you get your vehicle moving, being able to stop becomes just as important. So in a separate test we measured the distance it took the tires to bring the Civic to a complete stop from 12 mph (20 km/h). The car's speed was stabilized and the driver fully applied the brakes to engage the vehicle's four-wheel disc anti-lock braking system (ABS) until the vehicle came to a complete stop.
When equipped with all-season tires, the car's ABS engaged relatively easy and it took an average of 53.6-feet to stop the Civic. The Studless Ice & Snow tires provided more grip and actually squealed against the ice whenever the ABS activated. The Studless Ice & Snow tires brought the Civic to a stop in an average of 35.1-feet, representing a 34% improvement. Their 18.5-foot shorter stopping distance was over a car length improvement compared to the all-season tires.
To simulate turning at a slippery intersection, our team also drove each tire around a 90-degree right-hand corner marked by traffic cones that represented the outside edge of a driving lane.
The Studless Ice & Snow tires offered a secure feel and reached a cornering limit of 11 mph (18 km/h) as they completed the corner without hitting any of the cones.
However, when the car equipped with all-season tires attempted to go around the corner at the same speed, its all-season tires couldn't provide enough traction to prevent the car from running wide and hitting several of the cones. Even Honda's Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) could not restrain the vehicle when the driver entered the corner too fast for the conditions. Further testing showed the all-season tires could complete the corner without hitting any cones at 8 mph (13 km/h).
Based on our past experiences with rear-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles, the results of this front-wheel drive test weren't surprising. Regardless of how many, or which tires do the driving, we've repeatedly experienced that the right tires for the conditions will always improve vehicle performance.
Since all-season tires are designed to offer good traction in a wide variety of driving conditions, they end up being compromised by the laws of nature that prevent them from delivering excellent traction in slush, snow and on ice.
So if enhanced hard-packed snow and ice traction were some of the reasons you chose a front-wheel drive vehicle in the first place, Tire Rack suggests you consider a set of dedicated winter tires to fulfill its wintertime potential.
While all-season tires will get you there; winter tires will get you there easier.
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.
Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02 (Standard Touring All-Season): The Turanza EL400-02 Standard Touring All-Season tires were developed to meet the Original Equipment needs of coupes, sedans and vans. Turanza EL400-02 tires are designed to provide good wear and responsive handling along with dry, wet and year-round traction, even in light snow. Read more.