Michelin X-Ice Xi2
Michelin X-Ice Xi2. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Haney Louka

Winnipeg, Manitoba – Some friends who just bought a Toyota RAV4 asked me whether they should buy winter tires for it. My response, as always, was “regardless of what you drive, you should put winter tires on your vehicle.”

It’s obvious that right out of the box the RAV4 is better equipped to handle winter than any two-wheel drive car. Higher ground clearance, all-wheel drive, and various electronic driving aids all give the RAV’s driver a sense of confidence when Old Man Winter decides to make his annual appearance.

But while confidence can reduce anxiety levels when the going gets slick, the only way to increase safety in the winter is with better traction. Yes, having power sent to all four wheels works to get you going in a hurry, but when it comes time to slow down or turn—or both—it doesn’t matter how many wheels get the power. What matters is whether they make the best use of the available traction on the road surface.

For that reason, dedicated winter tires—identified on their sidewalls by the industry-standard symbol of a snowflake on a mountain—benefit every type of vehicle.

Michelin X-Ice Xi2
Michelin X-Ice Xi2; photo courtesy Michelin Canada. Click image to enlarge

Michelin is well known for its X-Ice line of winter tires, and before that they had the Arctic Alpin line that proved quite popular. Michelin’s designs have typically focused more on ice traction than clawing through deep snow, and the second-generation X-Ice, called the Xi2, is no exception.

Where earlier “snow tires” relied primarily on aggressive tread patterns to keep wheels from spinning in the snow, today’s winter tires offer benefits in snow, ice, and even just plain cold conditions. Pirelli, for example, identifies seven degrees Celsius as the temperature at which so-called “all-season” tires lose their ability to provide a high level of traction on dry pavement. The all-season rubber compound is such that it begins to harden at this temperature while winter tires remain pliable at much colder temperatures.

The X-Ice’s silica-based rubber compound maintains a level of flexibility at cold temperatures that can be felt simply by pushing one’s thumb against one of its tread blocks. Try that on an “all-season” tire.

But it’s not just the rubber compound that defines the effectiveness of a winter tire. All winter tires on the market incorporate some degree of “siping” on their treads. Sipes are zigzag-patterned slits in the tread blocks that transform each tread block into a series of biting edges with which the tire can grip the road surface. Sipes also work to evacuate water between the tire and an icy surface to make those biting edges that much more effective.

Michelin claims an advantage over Bridgestone’s Blizzak WS-60 because its compound is the same for the full depth of the tire’s treads. The Blizzaks revert to a more conventional all-season compound once 55% of the tire’s tread is worn off.

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