Pirelli Snowsport 210
Pirelli Snowsport 210. Click image to enlarge

Review and photo by Michael Clark

Winnipeg, Manitoba – Sometimes, the best story told is not the one you intended to write.

As of late, I must admit that my choice of tires for the MX-minus-5 winter test vehicle has leaned more towards tread patterns best described as masochistic. I enjoy inflicting traction on snow and ice, which is best experienced as straight-line travel instead of 45 degrees of oversteer. I like it when SUV owners watch, as I easily distance myself from their jaw-drop expressions at green lights. I hope none of this makes me a bad person.

With grizzled tread patterns on the brain, I was waiting on a set of 205/50R16 Pirelli Winter Carvings from the Winnipeg-based Sturgeon Tire team. Plenty of deep grooves, multiple biting sipes, and a highway asphalt hum bordering on band saw. Ed Thibedeau’s crew mounted and balanced the new skins, while I caught up on my intake of non-dairy creamer. (How could this stuff be bad for you?)

The Handing Over of the Wheel Lock usually signifies that your tires are ready at most service centres. My internal throttle sensor was still set on “Gislaved” as I left. Admittedly, the tires felt a little bit skittish, with an extra dab of oversteer under throttle punch. I chalked it up to the initial wearing off of the tread face, which is sometimes referred to as the tire mould release coating. Get rid of the shine, and everything would be fine.

That minimal addition of side-step had almost been forgotten, as I pulled up to Casa Clark. I ran inside, fetched the camera for the all-important close-up, and clicked the shutter. For some reason, I had engaged the Pirelli Snowsport 210 filter. (Fiddle, fiddle, fiddle, click!) Nope, still Snowsport 210’s. (Fiddle, fiddle, curse, aperture?) Wait a minute. These ARE Pirelli Snowsport 210’s.

In many respects, the 210’s are identical to the Pirelli 240 Snowsports that first appeared on the MX-5’s 17-inch alloys. The asymmetrical tread design is a spot-on match. Both tires employ Pirelli’s enhanced Silica II compound, for seamless personality shifts between snow, ice, and slushy conditions. Siping cuts, shoulder block sizing, all strangely familiar.

The performance of the 210’s in real-world urban and rural scenarios was equally paralleled. Was this just a simple branding ploy for tire fitment? In actuality, the difference between the two tires comes down to the letter “H” and the letter “V”. The tire’s respective nomenclature actually gives it all away. The 240’s, which are V-rated, have a top speed designation of 240 km/h. The 210’s H rating translates to a 210 km/h top speed. Even a complete Canadian scofflaw wouldn’t come near these highway numbers, especially from October to April. Okay, maybe in Quebec.

The higher-speed ratings of the 210 and 240, along with their associated tread patterns, do contribute to a quieter noise level on par with most all-season or performance tires. If the majority of your travels encompass paved surfaces prone to black ice, the 210’s are impressive performers. Snow pack and intersection ice did not exhibit any stopping concerns. The recent thaw-cryogenic deep freeze cycle in these parts has contributed to a never-ending supply of water main breaks. Those events, and the subsequent skating rinks, failed to dislodge the 210’s from their traction moorings.

The test experiences of more aggressive tread block designs have sullied the snow-bite capabilities of the Snowsport. They simply can’t claw their way through six inches of fresh cornering powder the way that the previous Gislaved’s could. The staggered interior tread block array is most adequate when overtaking semi-groomed side streets. For a tire that truly does speak softly, the 210’s carry a big traction stick.

This is also a good time to dispel a popular myth regarding tire sizing for winter use. When it comes to Joe and Jane Minivan, the reduction in width posed by some pundits reduces the size of the tire’s contact patch. Would you like your better half, and the kids, to have less contact with the road? Motorsport enthusiasts tend to point to the World Rally Championship frolicking, where tires are purposely thin to effectively carve through wintry corners. This practice has minimal use in the real world, thanks to speed limits and snow plows. (Besides, WRC cars spend half their life in the air.) When purchasing snow tires, it is always wise to stay within manufacturer’s specifications for width and height: the skinnier the tire, the less load that it can carry. Your local branch of the Canada Safety Council offers winter driving courses that teach the most important frosty rule; drive according to the conditions present.

Sized in the 205/50R16 configuration, the 210 Snowsports are priced locally at $233.96, plus installation and balancing. This may explain the rather innocent mix-up; the Pirelli Winter Carvings are priced identically at Sturgeon Tire in Winnipeg. The decision between Snowsport or Carving is a simple equation of how much snow is where you go.

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