The winter beast for The Roadtrip, courtesy of Mazda Canada.
The winter beast for The Roadtrip, courtesy of Mazda Canada. Click image to enlarge

Related articles on Autos
Autos’s Winter Driving section

Join Autos’s Facebook group
Follow Autos on Twitter

By Michael Clark

Winnipeg, Manitoba – Winter tire testing may also be known as the Great White Confusion. Confused? Let’s consider the bulk of snow tire reviews. The tire specs, the vehicle fitment, the experience on road or track; the general admission that all snow tires perform better on snow and ice than the all-season solution. For the most part, Canadians get it. During a recent radio interview on The Roadtrip in Winnipeg, Motoring TV’s master mechanic Bill Gardiner made reference to the abundance of snow tire use he has personally witnessed in Eastern Canada. The black steel rim with the winter skin is most definitely ‘in’.
However, what Winnipeg and the rest of the country don’t seem to get is that traction control and anti-lock brakes do not result in summer driving conditions in the middle of January, even with winter tires. One only needs to keep an eye on the claim centres for Manitoba Public Insurance to prove this point. Vehicles headed to the salvage yards tend to be suffering from low-speed impacts to front and rear bumpers. When the temperatures are in the crispy minus Twenties, those plastic bumpers shatter like glass. Outside the city, the ditches continue to fill with commuter vehicles, many having four or all-wheel drive. The culprit is speed, and the misconception that traction achieved upon acceleration will always remain as sticky road grip.

The dreaded Sadler and St. George. Spooky.
The dreaded Sadler and St. George. Spooky. Click image to enlarge

For this test, we’re going to let pylons be by-gones, and search for the most slippery of side street intersections in the South part of the city. (Note: testing was performed with no competing traffic present.) At press time, that animal was the four-way stop at Sadler Avenue and St George Road, in the St. Vital district. The shoes were Continental ContiCrossContact Winters, easily identified by their over sized snowflake patterns on the sidewalls. (Go to to view the handling characteristics animation for these tires.)
As with any winter tire, Conti speaks of its proprietary silica-rich, polymer-laced tire compounds, which contribute to the most important factor for any tire touting its winter prowess; elasticity. (If it can’t flex, it can’t stick.) Flexibility can be a cruel mistress. If the tread block flexes into the other block under load, the traction that could be achieved by the block edge is lost. The shape of the inner-most tread blocks on the Conti’s addresses this concern, allowing the blocks to flex and lock into each other, while still providing enough of a block edge to assist with cornering bite. The tread blocks use multi-edge sipes, which resist interlocking. The longer the sipe stays open, the more snow it can swallow, exposing the traction edge of the sipe sooner to the road surface. (Think of the sipe as a baby tread block edge.)
Sturgeon Tire of Winnipeg took care of the mounting duties for the 2010 Mazda CX-7 tester, itself a unique piece. Instead of opting for the turbo all-wheel-drive, The Roadtrip opted for the new front-driver, powered by a normally-aspirated 161-horsepower 2.5-litre inline four. The point? To prove it’s the tires that matter, not the amount of differentials you possess. An all-wheel-drive unit would certainly have a leg-up on take-off, though our concerns for this test deal more with the issues of braking, and recovery, from purposeful engagements of the traction control system.
Speaking of systems, the tire pressure monitoring system provided the expected low pressure warning, due to the required use of the Conti’s in 225/65R17 sizing. The stock fitment of 215/70R17 is a bit of an oddball, though variations in tire size for winter use are not uncommon. Your local tire expert can ensure that the winter tire size does not cause any clearance issues, or throw the speedometer out of whack. Tampering with a tire pressure monitoring system is frowned on by most manufacturers warranties, so learn to live with the instrument panel warning. (And carry a tire gauge.)

Connect with