[Originally published March 25, 2015]
When reviewing winter tires, I like to put them on my personal vehicle for an entire season before finalizing my opinion of them. The main reasons for this are: first and foremost, my car serves as a constant, eliminating the uncertainties of evaluating different tires on vehicles with different dynamic characteristics and, second, the tires are exposed to all of the different conditions our Prairie winters can throw at it, from dry pavement to heavy snow to black ice to rain.
Well, that’s the theory, anyway.
The winter of 2014-2015 was a little different. First, the weather. While we were all bracing for a repeat of the previous year’s deep freeze, when we had the unfortunate combination of sustained below-normal temperatures and above-normal snowfall, it didn’t materialize. Not that it was a particularly mild winter, but significant snowfall events – one of the primary conditions I look for when judging winter tires – did not make a single appearance. There was one 10 cm dump of the white stuff in early January; we happened to be on a road trip driving a different vehicle at the time. And that was it.
Now, most people would be happy with the limited snow we did get this past winter, especially after the experience of the previous year and knowing what our fellow Canadians to the east have had to deal with during the same time period. And indeed, the winter’s snow was all but gone from our city by mid-March.
The other difference this season is the car on which these test tires were mounted. I started the season off by mounting this year’s test tires – Toyo’s Observe G3 Ice studdable winter tire – on my 2007 VW GTI in early November as planned. In December, though, an opportunity presented itself for me to trade my GTI for a used Golf R. Lucky for me, the tire and wheel specs for the two cars are the same, so it was a seamless move to keep my test tires and try them out on the new car.
The big change, however, is that I’ve gone from a front-drive car to an all-wheel drive one, which added another dimension to the winter tire evaluation. And a valuable one at that – the two cars are otherwise dynamically very similar, so it was interesting to see what effect that one change had during the tire evaluation.
But first, a bit about this year’s test subject. Toyo tires has been around for more than 60 years, including 28 in Canada. To me, the company’s products that come to mind have typically been the performance-oriented Proxes and the all-terrain Open Country lines. But the company has been selling dedicated winter tires in Canada for decades. Under the series name Observe, the company currently markets the GSi5, G3-Ice, and Garit KX for passenger cars. The GSi5 and Garit are designed for mass and performance markets respectively, but the newest member – the G3 Ice is their studdable tire and was new for 2014.