Michelin X-Ice2
Michelin X-Ice2. Click image to enlarge

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Michelin X-Ice Xi2

Mont-Tremblant, Quebec – Some Canadians choose to avoid our harsh winter weather by heading down south, but those of us that are not so lucky must endure four to five months of ice, snow, cold and unpredictable weather.

Of course, with that comes unpredictable driving conditions and the need to equip vehicles with the proper footwear. Nobody would dare walk outside in the winter with a pair of sandals on, yet for some reason a good majority of drivers feel their car is safe enough with the summer equivalent.

I’m talking about the tires of course; all the safety devices in the world on your vehicle are rendered completely useless without traction. And proper traction can only be acquired with the proper tires. The only parts of your sophisticated vehicle touching the ground are the tires, making them the single most important equation in safe winter driving.

So-called all-season tires begin to lose traction capabilities at approximately seven degrees Celsius, and for the majority of Canadians, this temperature happens mid-to-late November. The government of Quebec recently passed a law that mandates all Quebec plated vehicles to be equipped with winter tires after November, 15th 2008. It’s a law that has been controversial but will no doubt save lives and property.

Michelin X-Ice2, 75 per cent worn
Michelin X-Ice2, 75 per cent worn. Click image to enlarge

In recent years, word has been spreading about the benefits of winter tires. In 2002, 24 per cent of total tire sales in Canada were winter tires and in 2007 this number increased to 32 per cent and is expected to grow substantially in 2008. Not surprisingly, Quebec lead this charge in 2007 with 61 per cent of total tire sales being attributed to winter tires. Newfoundland and New Brunswick were not that far behind with 46 and 41 per cent respectively. Some interesting numbers are those for Ontario and British Columbia: there is only a 20 per cent uptake of winter tires by Ontarians, yet British Columbians averaged 24 per cent of total tire sales being winter tires. And shockingly, the Prairie Provinces are amongst the lowest in terms of percentage of sales.

Typically, consumers that refuse to equip their vehicles with winter tires fall into one of two camps, the non-believers and the financially-sensitive. The non-believer, or what I like to refer to as the uninformed, are typically easy enough to convince with a test drive. The difference on dry, wet and icy roads between an all-season tire and a winter tire is so dramatic one attempt at the wheel usually has them running to their local tire supplier.

The financially-sensitive can be a little more difficult to sway, but the safety benefits and economic sense of having two sets of tires can be convincing. The key point here is that with two sets of tires, each set will last longer. Add the potential cost of an accident and this can be enough financial motivation in itself.

Michelin engineers have been listening to consumers and have come up with a new winter tire to replace their current X-Ice tire, aptly named the X-Ice Xi2. With this tire, Michelin set out to improve on more than just traction. Their goal was twofold: to improve on the wear rate to ensure your investment lasts for as long as possible, and to reduce rolling resistance, which can save significant amounts of fuel over the life of the tire.

Michelin X-Ice2
Michelin X-Ice2. Click image to enlarge

The secret to a good winter tire is not so much the tread as it is the tread compound, and Michelin has developed a new winter compound dubbed “FleX-Ice,” a silica compound that Michelin claims is soft when it is extremely cold yet firmer in warmer temperatures (around the zero degree Celsius mark). The X-Ice Xi2 also has advanced tread blocks that can absorb and stock the water with its micro-pump technology.

“The Michelin X-Ice Xi2 lasts up to 75 per cent longer than its leading competitor,” said Normand Latremouille, winter category manager for Michelin North America (Canada) Inc. “The longer wear life is in addition to maintaining other top tire performances such as handling and traction.”

Although I was obviously unable to test and prove the longevity of the new X-Ice Xi2, Michelin did provide samples of shaved Michelin and competitor tires for a group of journalists to feel and see the difference for ourselves – and I was extremely impressed by what I witnessed.

Michelin had the courage to pit their new X-Ice Xi2 head to head against the competition in a variety of exercises ranging from deep snow to sheer ice using identical vehicles. Michelin also anted up their most formidable competitors, such as the new Bridgestone Blizzak WS-60, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta RSi and the Goodyear Ultra Grip.

Michelin X-Ice2 sipes and micro-pumps
Michelin X-Ice2 sipes and micro-pumps. Click image to enlarge

In the deep snow it was difficult to really feel much difference between the Bridgestone, Michelin or Nokian tires, but the Goodyear tire lagged the most. On the ice, the Goodyear again showed poor acceleration and braking, and in lateral transitions the tire was numb and gave way without warning. The other three tires were close in performance, with the Michelin and Nokian coming out on top in my testing.

The X-Ice Xi2 certainly proved its capabilities on the hard packed course where speeds became a little higher. I felt more in control of the vehicle equipped with the Michelins and they were extremely confidence-inspiring. In all the tests, the X-Ice Xi2 felt on par or ahead of the competition, substantiating Michelin’s claims of having the best all around winter tire.

In fall 2008, Michelin will launch the T-rated Michelin X-Ice Xi2 in 42 dimensions, ranging from 13- to 18-inch rim diameters, and will cover more than 90 per cent of the Canadian winter market for cars and mini-vans.

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