Originally published January 19, 2015
Big Sky, Montana – Well, as Kinks frontman Ray Davies used to sing, “I’m so tired.” It’s been tires, tires, tires here in Big Sky Montana for three days as Continental rolls out (forgive me…) its new winter tire, the WinterContact Si. We’re talking tread blocks, sipes, biting edges, contact patches, belt angles, traction grooves and directional versus asymmetrical at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It can get tiring!
Okay, enough of that. The WinterContact Si is a big deal for Continental, hence the lavish media and dealer introduction here, 8000 feet above sea level.
But before discussing the WinterContact Si, let’s consider what this tire will replace when it hits the market in the fall of 2015. The “outgoing” tire, Continental’s Extreme Winter Contact, is one of the top-rated winter tires in the Canadian market. It’s competitively priced, widely available at major retailers like Canadian Tire, and it comes from Germany’s only tire company, a Tier One brand in Europe that supplies original equipment tires for many luxury and high performance vehicles both here and abroad.
Good pedigree, in other words.
We reviewed the Extreme Winter Contact recently on Autos.ca, commending its snow, slush and dry pavement performance. We were less enthused about the tire’s performance on ice and it turns out that this observation was validated at the Big Sky press introduction.
Continental engineers and executives pointed to two areas for improvement vis-a-vis the Extreme Winter Contact: ice braking and rolling resistance. The challenge, they said, was to engineer a winter tire that will require shorter distances to stop on icy road surfaces, maintain the Extreme Winter Contact’s performance on packed snow, slush and dry pavement, and contribute to reduced fuel consumption via improved rolling resistance characteristics.
The Continental WinterContact Si (the letters stand for snow and ice, according to Continental, but they Si is also the scientific symbol for silicon), is a clean-sheet, all-new winter tire designed primarily for use on passenger cars and CUVs. Like the Extreme Winter Contact it replaces, the WinterContact Si is a studless tire, but unlike the Extreme Winter Contact, it’s directional rather than asymmetrical. Why directional? According to Continental Key Account Manager Ryan Bradshaw, the asymmetrical tread pattern proved superior in Continental’s testing for the Extreme Winter Contact, but consumer and dealer perception was that asymmetrical tires were associated with all-season tires, as opposed to winter tires. In short, explained Mr. Bradshaw, the tire was sometimes ignored in the marketplace simply due to the unfamiliar pattern of its tread. Continental thus engineered the more familiar directional design into the WinterContact Si in response.
The WinterContact Si will also be available in more sizes than the Extreme Winter Contact, fitting 15-20-inch wheel sizes with aspect ratios from 40-70 and widths from 185-255. The Si, therefore, will fit a much wider range of vehicles.
Like all winter tires, the Continental Si’s tread compound is designed to remain pliable in cold temperatures, thus maximizing grip on slippery surfaces. The Si uses “+Silane additives,” a proprietary mixture to improve wet braking (that is apparently not related to silane, which is a gas, although it may be silicon related. Tire companies are very secretive about their compounds), and complex traction grooves to pack and bite into snow. It also features an alignment verification system whereby technicians can visually determine if the vehicle’s wheel alignment is maintaining even tire wear.