Studless Ice & Snow winter tires are tuned to work best when winter weather is at its worst. Three primary design elements are needed by any tire to provide adequate traction for its intended purpose, where a combination of sufficient tread depth, appropriate tread pattern and proper tread compound for the conditions to work together to deliver the tire's performance promise.
Driving in winter is often about churning your way through slush or unplowed snow, starting and stopping at icy intersections or driving up and down slippery inclines. Designed for these conditions, dedicated winter / snow tires rely on deep treads molded in aggressive, blocky and heavily-siped patterns with a compound tuned for traction at winter's cold temperatures. But there are plenty of miles spent driving on dry and wet roads, too. There is no free lunch. Most of the design elements that aid winter traction reduce clear road handling precision. Increased priority in one area leads to a trade-off in another to get it.
To find out how several of the newest and best Studless Ice & Snow tires perform, the Tire Rack team conducted a Real World Road Ride and Ice Rink Drive to find out what sort of handling and traction they deliver. We compared the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 with the Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT and two tires already available in the category - the Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 and Continental ExtremeWinterContact. Our evaluation used 2012 BMW F30 328i sedans fitted with new, full tread depth 215/60R16 tires mounted on 16x7.5 wheels.
Winter weather is often unpredictable, and road conditions can change so fast that it's hard to know what waits for you around the next corner. For consistency, our snow testing is done at a dedicated winter test facility in Northern Sweden, and ice testing is done at a local hockey rink to simulate the glare ice often found at intersections and in other high-traffic areas. We measure each tire's ability to accelerate and brake in both conditions, as well as gather subjective ratings of how each tire feels from the driver's seat while driving through several inches of groomed snow on a handling course.
For our first part of the test, we headed to a local hockey rink where the smooth ice replicates the packed snow and polished ice often encountered at busy intersections during winter months. Because for many drivers, the glare ice found at a slick intersection or out on the highway is one of the most challenging winter conditions they will experience.
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 center ice. Once you get your vehicle moving, being able to stop becomes just as important. In a separate test we measured the distance required to stop from 12 mph (20 km/h) using the vehicle's Antilock Braking System to control wheel lockup.
12 - 0 mph (feet)
|Bridgestone Blizzak WS70||4.17||31.1|
|Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT||4.50||38.6|
|Michelin X-Ice Xi3||3.86||32.5|
Objectively we found three tires to be fairly similar with an advantage in acceleration going to the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 and a small advantage in stopping distance for the Bridgestone Blizzak WS70. The Continental ExtremeWinterContact was close in both areas while the Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT trailed, especially in ice braking.
While not formally measured, our team also conducted a subjective cornering exercise to simulate a slippery 90-degree corner. In this area the Blizzak WS70 negotiated the corner with the least amount of slip while the X-Ice Xi3 and ExtremeWinterContact were similar and slid just a few feet wider than the Blizzak WS70 when driven around the corner at the same speed. The Ultra Grip Ice WRT trailed the others with noticeably less cornering traction, sliding much wider around the cone-marked turn.
Coping with an icy intersection is one thing, but trudging through the snow is another. So we also tested the acceleration, braking and handling capabilities of these tires in the snow.
As a group, all four tires deliver impressive snow traction. The Continental ExtremeWinterContact often holds a small advantage, especially when it comes to subjective handling where this tire just works predictably and very well. In a number of test criteria, the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 runs a very close second with the Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 a very close third. The Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT also performs well and much better than an all-season tire, but is a small step behind the snow capability of the others.
Objectively, with traction control and ABS engaged we found all four tires performed similarly, with just a few feet separating the group in distance needed to accelerate or stop.
|Tire||0-12mph Acceleration with TCS (feet)||20 - 0 mph Stopping Distance (feet)|
|Bridgestone Blizzak WS70||27.6||53.5|
|Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT||27.9||55.8|
|Michelin X-Ice Xi3||26.2||54.1|
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.
We waited until the cooler temperatures of early fall to conduct our road ride to better simulate what you'll experience when you install your dedicated winter / snow tires at the beginning of the season. And even still (but coming as no surprise) during our drive, all of the tires displayed what can best be described as softer handling than typical all-season tires.
Of the group, the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 delivered a driving experience most like an all-season tire, with relatively tight on-center feel when driving straight ahead and good progression as you turn the steering wheel. The Continental ExtremeWinterContact followed, also feeling predictable and stable. The Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 displayed a narrow dead band at center, requiring a little more steering input to begin changing direction. The Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT delivered quick response to steering inputs, but felt a little unsettled during lane changes.
The aggressive tread designs of all four tires generated some additional pattern noise versus the typical all-season tire, too. The X-Ice Xi3 and Blizzak WS70 both produced noticeable growl at speeds up to 55mph which then dissipated as speeds increased further. The ExtremeWinterContact also produced some tread noise that was present at all speeds, while the steady growl emanating from the Ultra Grip Ice WRT was the loudest of the group. We're hopeful this tire's aggressive tread pattern will pay back in the snow when we conduct snow testing in the coming season.
The Blizzak WS70 held a small advantage in ride comfort, as it seemed to do a slightly better job of rounding over the sharp edge of most impacts. The ExtremeWinterContact and X-Ice Xi3 followed, both riding well but slightly more firm than the Bridgestone tire. The ride comfort of the Ultra Grip Ice WRT wasn't objectionable, but was found to be noticeably firmer riding than the other three tires.
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.
@ 6,000 Winter Miles
|% vs. Most Efficient|
|Bridgestone Blizzak WS70||33.1||181.3||-2.72%|
|Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT||33.4||179.6||-1.80%|
|Michelin X-Ice Xi3||34.0||176.5||--|
|*Our evaluation used Linear Logic ScanGauge II automotive computers to record fuel consumption, and Race Technology DL1 data loggers to record true distance travelled.|
While none of the tires in this test were designed with low rolling resistance as a high priority, we did find a difference in observed vehicle fuel economy across the group. Based on a seasonal drive of 6,000 miles, the 1.8 miles per gallon difference between the lowest and highest observed fuel economy would result in a difference of almost 10 gallons of premium gasoline. At the current cost of $4.00/gallon, that would amount to a seasonal difference of just under $40.
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.
Our test of Studless Ice & Snow winter tires reveals all are good at delivering traction when winter weather is at its worst. On the ice, the Michelin X-Ice Xi3, Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 and Continental ExtremeWinterContact all deliver similar, and impressive, traction. The Ultra Grip Ice WRT performed reasonably well, but can't match the capability of the others when it comes to glare ice.
As expected, all four tires trade off some steering response and handling stability when driving on clear roads to achieve their superior levels of snow and ice traction. The X-Ice Xi3 and ExtremeWinterContact do the best job at minimizing the compromise, feeling more like a typical all-season tire than the other two.
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): Continental's family of ExtremeWinterContact tires includes Studless Ice & Snow winter tires developed for the drivers of coupes, sedans, minivans and crossovers, as well as, passenger-oriented light-duty pickup trucks 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.
Goodyear Eagle Ultra Grip Ice WRT (Studless Ice & Snow): Goodyear's family of Ultra Grip Ice WRT tires featuring their Winter Reactive Technology includes Ultra Grip Ice WRT Studless Ice & Snow tires developed for the drivers of passenger-carrying coupes, sedans, minivans and crossover vehicles looking for enhanced wintertime traction. Goodyear's Winter Reactive Technology combines innovative features working together to help drivers react to changing winter driving conditions when starting, stopping and turning in snow and on ice. Read more.
Michelin X-Ice Xi3 (Studless Ice & Snow): The X-Ice Xi3 is Michelin's third-generation Studless Ice & Snow winter tire developed for the drivers of coupes, sedans, family vans and small crossover vehicles that are looking for ice and snow traction along with predictable handling in cold, dry and wet wintry conditions. Meeting Michelin's Green X standard for low rolling resistance confirms the X-Ice Xi3's contribution to reducing vehicle fuel consumption and emissions of CO2 gases. The X-Ice Xi3 is designed to take on ice and snow while it provides lasting winter performance. Read more.
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