Bridgestone Blizzak WS60
Bridgestone Blizzak WS60. Click image to enlarge

Related links on Autos

Winter driving tips and advice

Manufacturer’s web site

Bridgestone-Firestone Canada

Review and photos by Haney Louka

Photo Gallery:
Bridgestone Blizzak WS60

Winnipeg, Manitoba – It may seem a little late in the season to be writing about winter tires, but as I’m doing this I look down at the lower right corner of the screen on my notebook computer, where I have an outside temperature display courtesy of The Weather Network. The figure? Minus 26 degrees. A single tap on the touchpad on that number and an even more chilling figure is presented: it actually feels like -37 degrees when the northwest wind is taken into account. Somehow, “it’s a dry cold” just doesn’t make me feel any better. They tell me not to worry, though, because we’ll be basking in zero degree weather within about three days. And it’s about time: we’re well into March here.

So while we’re still working our way out of the grip of winter’s icy fingers, it’s a good time to reflect on the performance of Bridgestone’s latest dedicated winter tire, the Blizzak WS60.

But first, a flashback from my younger years: one of my first cars was a 1989 Nissan 240 SX. I bought it in the winter of 1996 and quickly realized how essential dedicated winter tires are for safe driving during these seemingly endless sub-zero seasons.

The car was small, relatively light, and was driven by its rear wheels. It wore Bridgestone Potenza “all season” rubber at the time, and these tires were even adorned with the ubiquitous “M+S” designation, meaning that they were supposed to have some sort of mud and snow handling ability, although application of this label seems completely arbitrary.

Bridgestone Blizzak WS60
Bridgestone Blizzak WS60. Click image to enlarge

We have been writing for what seems like eons on this site about how all-season tires are a compromise because they try to be all things in all situations. The Potenzas are particularly ill-suited to this all-season misnomer because their traction in snow and ice is so limited. It didn’t help that the tires on my car were nearing the end of their useful life even on dry pavement.

Predictably, the little sports car was nearly immobilized every time there happened to be even the slightest hint of snow or ice on the ground. And you can imagine how much fun it was to stop or turn the car if it was that difficult just to get it going. So shortly after taking delivery I headed to the local tire store and bought a set of Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires.

Blizzaks are dedicated winter tires, and are so identified by the snowflake-on-mountain symbol that the Rubber Association of Canada bestows only upon those tires that meet strict cold weather and snow performance criteria. The difference they made to the car’s winter road manners was incredible: it’s like somebody replaced the grease on the road surface with 120 grit sandpaper. I have since recommended winter tires to many ‘non-car’ folk, and they observed the same phenomenon: the increase in traction, and therefore control, in winter conditions is very real and is felt immediately.

But that was more than a decade ago, and since then, the Blizzak name has become arguably the most widely recognized brand when it comes to winter tires. It had been so long since I’d driven on a set of Blizzaks that I thought a re-test was in order.

Bridgestone Blizzak WS60
Bridgestone Blizzak WS60. Click image to enlarge

This year’s winter test tires are size 205/60-16 mounted on steel wheels to my front-drive Mazda6 wagon. The stock tires measure 215/50-17, but I prefer a taller side wall and slightly narrower tread width in the winter for better biting ability in the snow: the narrower tire is less likely to float on top of the surface. It’s important though, to note that reducing the wheel diameter for your winter tires needs to be done carefully to avoid interference with brake calipers or other components. In my case the standard wheel size on the Mazda6 is 16 inches, and my car doesn’t have upgraded brake or suspension components so going down a size was not an issue.

I should also note that I had four winter tires installed on the car, not just two. This is one of these points we can’t stress enough: two snow tires just aren’t safe; please don’t do it. In a nutshell, the front and rear of the car need to have similar amounts of traction because the car was designed to handle under that condition. Put winter tires on the front of a front-drive car, and the expected advantages are there: better acceleration and braking traction. But along with that comes spooky handling. When rounding a corner, if the front tires have significantly more traction than the rears, the tail end of the car will want to come around and beat the front around the corner. That’s not a happy situation, folks, and it can be avoided by providing the car’s rear with as much traction as its nose.

The WS60 possesses the expected characteristics of a modern winter tire: a soft rubber compound and plenty of sipes (zigzag slits in the tread blocks) to maximize traction at low temperatures. The tread pattern is characterized by large spaces between the tread blocks to maximize both bite in deep snow and water evacuation in the slushy stuff.

While none of those characteristics is unique to the Blizzak, this latest edition focuses on rubber compounds at the molecular level to maximize ice and snow traction. The proprietary technology goes by the name of NanoPro-Tech and is claimed to provide the rubber compound with even more flexibility in low temperatures. Also part of the traction story is a “Tube Multicell” compound which the company says looks like Swiss cheese under a microscope. The pores in the compound assist in evacuating water away from the tire’s contact patch, while at the same time providing many more biting edges with which to grip the road. Small particles are attached to the tubes to further increase the tires’ bite into the road surface, however slick it may be.

The Swiss cheese multicell compound disappears when the tires are about 55 per cent worn, and from that point forward the tires behave more like generic snow tires, relying more on the tread pattern than advanced rubber compounds to provide the grip.

Bridgestone Blizzak WS60
Bridgestone Blizzak WS60. Click image to enlarge

So how well does it all work? As with previous winter tire reviews that I’ve done, I installed the Blizzaks on my car for the duration of the winter season. This allows me to evaluate the tires through all of the different conditions Old Man Winter can throw at us. This particular winter was a cold one in southern Manitoba, and although we have plenty of snow cover, there haven’t been any significant short-term accumulations to push the limits of deep snow traction.

I can say, though, that these tires shone in fresh snow conditions, biting aggressively to avoid snow-planing and maintaining good directional stability as a result. Since the majority of our winter has been cold and dry, it also became clear that the tires grip well on cold pavement and provide decent steering response (in the context of winter tires).

Where these tires fall a bit short of the mark is in ice traction. Accelerating and stopping on slick ice proved to be more of a challenge than with some other tires I’ve tested (the Hakkapelliitta RSi comes to mind), although they are so much better than all-seasons that I have trouble faulting them in this regard. Having said that though, the Blizzaks didn’t perform significantly better than the Canadian Tire Goodyear Nordics that I had on my car last season.

Dedicated winter tires, like these Blizzaks, are the single most cost-effective way to increase safety on the road during our long winters. Think traction control works? I usually have mine turned off. How about electronic stability control? It’s great as long as its user doesn’t get lured into feeling invincible thanks to its ability to keep folks from spinning out. Four-wheel or all-wheel drive? They can get you going in a hurry but are only as good as their two-wheel-drive counterparts when it comes to steering and stopping – two things you usually need to do in emergency situations to avoid a collision. These systems are only as effective as the available traction will allow: a factor that is increased significantly with the use of winter tires.

Connect with Autos.ca