Tire Test Results

Testing Performance Winter / Snow Tires: Which Have the Right Balance of Performance?

Tires Tested

Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 (Performance Winter / Snow, 245/40R18 97H)
  • What We Liked: Very good ice and snow traction
  • What We'd Improve: Wet traction and initial steering response
  • Conclusion: A Performance Winter / Snow tire focused on foul weather
Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D (Performance Winter / Snow, 245/40R18 97V)
  • What We Liked: Road manners and overall traction
  • What We'd Improve: A little more wet and ice grip would always help
  • Conclusion: A good option that delivers on the Performance Winter / Snow promise
Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 (Performance Winter / Snow, 245/40R18 97V)
  • What We Liked: Good clear road handling and great traction in wet, snow and icy conditions
  • What We'd Improve: We always want more of a good thing
  • Conclusion: A great choice for drivers who want to balance handling and winter season traction
Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 (Performance Winter / Snow, 245/40R18 97V)
  • What We Liked: Nice to drive on the road along with good wet, ice and snow traction
  • What We'd Improve: A subtle reduction in tread noise
  • Conclusion: A very capable tire in all of winter's driving conditions

Vehicles Used

2012 BMW F30 328i Sedan

Performance Winter / Snow tires may be the right tire solution for drivers who need mobility in winter weather, and still want to maintain better handling for when roads are just cold, dry or wet. They shift the focus to strike a more even balance between the target conflicts of traction in winter's snow, slush and ice versus handling and traction on clear roads. That makes them a good choice for drivers who are lower in the snowbelt and see fewer snow days and/or less severe conditions. They're also a good choice for anyone with a more powerful car that benefits from a more stabilized tire footprint, or drivers of performance or sports cars with low profile tires who want to enjoy driving it in wintertime when sporty performance summer tires would be far outside their element.

To align with this blend of priorities, Performance Winter / Snow tires typically feature higher speed ratings (than Studless Ice & Snow tires) along with availability in wider and lower profile sizes. Dedicated winter tread compounds molded into aggressive patterns provide better snow and ice traction than the best all-season tires, while tweaks to the compound and internal construction help them also approach the all-season tire's level of clear road handling.

Dunlop brought the SP Winter Sport 4D to North America after its debut in Europe. This next-generation tire was designed to follow in the tracks laid by its predecessors, which have been popular for their well-rounded winter season performance. Not to be left out, Pirelli launched the Winter Sottozero 3. This third generation tire shifted to an aggressive directional tread pattern to aid slush and wet traction in addition to being able to chew its way through deeper snow. The Bridgestone Blizzak LM60 has a reputation for being an excellent Performance Winter / Snow tire when the snow flies. Michelin's Pilot Alpin PA4 includes a number of sizes homologated for Porsche vehicles.

To find out how this group of Performance Winter / Snow tires performs, we conducted a driving comparison out on the road and in winter weather. Our evaluation used 2012 BMW F30 328i sedans fitted with new, full tread depth 245/40R18 tires mounted on 18x8.0 wheels.

Driving In Winter Conditions

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. Performance Winter / Snow tires are tuned to handle ice, slush and snow while retaining good clear road handling. A constantly changing test surface makes side-by-side comparisons difficult, so we use a dedicated winter testing facility in Northern Sweden with acres of groomed snow that provides the consistency we need to get reliable acceleration and braking comparisons. This facility also has a prepared snow handling course where we evaluate the stability and control of each tire during abrupt maneuvers. To simulate the icy conditions found at intersections or the black ice experienced out on the highway, we use ice at a local hockey rink and measure acceleration and braking traction.

Ice Traction

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 evaluate each tire's traction in this environment 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.

We measure each tire's acceleration traction using the vehicle's traction control system to help the driver maximize the available traction. After a short rolling start we record the time needed to accelerate the final 60' to the center ice line. 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.

Tire Ice Acceleration
60' (seconds)
Ice Braking
12 - 0 mph (feet)
Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 4.972 33.0
Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D 5.243 35.6
Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 4.940 32.3
Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 5.055 34.3

All four tires performed well on the ice, delivering similar results. The Michelin and Bridgestone tires showed only a minor advantage over the Pirelli and Dunlop tires. While not tested side by side, our testing on the ice shows these Performance Winter / Snow tires deliver better traction than the best all-season tires can, but cannot match the grip level of more specialized Studless Ice & Snow winter tires.

Snow Traction and Handling

We found all four tires in this test delivered very good traction in the snow and on the ice with only tires from the Studless Ice and Snow winter category outperforming them. Bridgestone Blizzak LM60 and Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 offered the best overall traction and handling stability, with the Michelin showing a measurable advantage in acceleration and cornering traction. The Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 and Dunlop Winter Sport 4D followed closely with the Pirelli tire being easier to control during abrupt maneuvers in the snow.

What We Learned on the Road

Our 6.0-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. Plenty of winter driving time is spent travelling on clear, dry or damp roads. And this is one area where Performance Winter / Snow tires excel over Studless Ice & Snow winter tires.

The Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 and Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 both felt the most responsive and stable during light handling situations. The Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D followed, and while still responding directly to steering inputs it did not change directions as readily as the Michelin and Pirelli tires. The Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 displayed a small dead zone right around zero degrees of the steering wheel, but would then ramp up once the wheel was turned past the first few degrees. This subtle delay led to a somewhat disconnected feeling during more rapid maneuvers, or when coping with strong cross winds or other outside forces acting to push the car off its intended path.

All four tires did produce some additional tread noise compared to what is heard with a typical all-season tire from their aggressive winter patterns. The Pilot Alpin PA4 led the way with the lowest level, followed closely by the Winter Sport 4D. The Winter Sottozero 3 also generated modest tread noise. The noise volume of the Blizzak LM60 was by no means objectionable, but its pattern noise was the most apparent of the group, especially at lower speeds where there is no significant wind noise or vehicle sounds found at higher speeds to drown it out. Our team found the overall ride quality to be similar across the group, with only subtle differences. None were found to be objectionable or overly harsh.

What We Learned on the Track

Given the intended purpose of dedicated winter tires and their inherently softer tread compounds and more open and heavily siped tread patterns, we did not subject them to the rigors of repeated laps on our handling course. We did conduct measured stopping distance and cornering tests in both wet and dry conditions in an effort to understand the ultimate traction differences between each tire during clear road driving. These tests were conducted when ambient temperatures were in the upper 30s (°F) to replicate conditions found during the winter season.

Tire 50-0 mph Stopping Distance (feet) Cornering Traction
(Lateral g's)
Wet Dry Wet Dry
Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 136.3 94.2 0.58 0.84
Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D 105.9 91.9 0.75 0.88
Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 105.4 88.8 0.76 0.89
Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 106.9 85.6 0.78 0.90

The Michelin, Dunlop and Pirelli tires all performed similarly in the wet, with good braking and cornering traction. The Blizzak LM60 performed adequately, but at a noticeably lower level than the other three. In the dry the Pirelli Wintero Sottozero 3 displayed the highest traction, followed closely by the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4. Not far behind were the Dunlop and Bridgestone tires.

Fuel Consumption Results

Our Real World Road Ride features a relatively flat 6.0-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 each tire approximately 400 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 sustain the vehicle's speed using cruise control whenever possible. They did not use hypermiling techniques to influence vehicle fuel economy.

Tire Test MPG* Gallons/Year
@ 6,000 Winter Miles
% vs. Most Efficient
Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 31.9 188.1 -0.31%
Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D 31.9 188.1 -0.31%
Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 32.0 187.5 --
Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 32.0 187.5 --
*Our evaluation used Linear Logic ScanGauge II automotive computers to record fuel consumption, and Race Technology DL1 data loggers to record true distance travelled.

After multiple days of driving with each tire spending equal time on all of the vehicles in our test fleet, we found virtually no difference in observed fuel consumption across the test group. Based on that, annual consumption costs should be similar among these tires.

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.

Summary

Compared with Studless Ice & Snow winter tires, Performance Winter / Snow tires deliver better handling on clear roads along with improved wet and dry traction in winter's cold temperatures. The tradeoff comes with modestly lower ice and snow traction. But when winter weather strikes, Performance Winter / Snow tires still deliver better performance than the best all-season tires.

The Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 delivers the best balance of performance in this group, driving well on the road plus providing good ice, snow and very good wet traction. The new Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 and Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D both have good ice and wet traction and nearly matched the Pilot Alpin PA4's handling out on the road. The Bridgestone Blizzak LM60 takes a more focused approach by also providing good snow and ice traction, but it just doesn't have the wet road grip or clear road handling stability or precision of the other three tires.

Product Details

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 to blend high-speed durability and dry road, cold weather handling with snow traction.

Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D (Performance Winter / Snow): Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D Performance Winter / Snow tires were developed for sports cars, coupes and sedans that come from the factory equipped with low profile tires mounted on large diameter alloy wheels. Designed to perform in cold winter temperatures, SP Winter Sport 4D tires provide traction on dry, wet, slushy and snow-covered roads. Read more.

Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 (Performance Winter / Snow): The Pilot Alpin PA4 is Michelin's Performance Winter / Snow tire developed to meet the needs of enthusiasts who may encounter snow-covered roads when they drive their ultra high performance sports cars, sedans or coupes during freezing temperatures, snow and ice. In addition to enhancing vehicle fuel economy by meeting Michelin's Green-X low rolling resistance objectives, Pilot Alpin PA4 tires are designed to deliver secure driving year after year in cold, wet and wintry conditions. Read more.

Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 (Performance Winter / Snow): The Winter Sottozero 3 is Pirelli's third generation Sottozero (Italian for below zero) Performance Winter / Snow tire developed for the drivers of premium, high performance vehicles who will face challenging wintertime road conditions as they drive their cars year-round. The Winter Sottozero 3 was developed with the philosophy that winter / snow tires must perform in a variety of unpredictable weather conditions. Designed to provide traction and handling in cool, cold, dry, wet and wintry conditions, Winter Sottozero 3 tires are designed not just as snow tires, but as seasonal tires suitable for the cold weather and freezing road conditions. Read more.

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