The other trait common to all winter tires is an abundance of zig-zag slits, or ‘sipes’, in the tread pattern. These allow further flexing of the tread under load and allow several edges to bite the road surface to make the most of whatever tread is available. These first two traits are key to traction on packed snow and ice.

Beyond that, the aggressiveness of the tread pattern and spacing of the tread blocks can provide some insight into how the tires will perform in deeper snow and slush.

I typically drive on a different set of winter tires each year, and until now the test car was our 2004 Mazda6 Sport Wagon. We bid farewell to it last year and replaced it with a 2012 Volkswagen Golf Wagon [And no, Volkswagen ownership is not a prerequisite for contributors… –Ed.].

Tire Review: Pirelli Winter IceControl Winter Tires winter tires winter driving tire reviews auto product reviews
Pirelli Winter IceControl Tires. Click image to enlarge

The subject of this year’s tire review is the Pirelli Winter IceControl, which were introduced in 2011. They are touted by the Italian tire company as having been optimized for icy and snowy conditions. Now, the best tires for ice will be studded, but along with studs come increased noise and fuel consumption as well as a restriction on entering many downtown parkades due to the damage studs can do to protected driving surfaces.

The tires (size 225/45-17) were first fitted on our car late last winter, but anybody who was here in Winnipeg last winter will probably agree that it wasn’t a real test for winter tires. So I decided to wait until we had some real winter weather before reporting on the tires, and right now I’d say it has happened. A 20-cm dumping of snow followed by a high number of freeze-thaw cycles made sure that surfaces were slick. I found the most influential weather to be the small amounts of snow and sleet that fell in the middle of the month, which resulted in glazed intersections and a general feeling that the level of available traction was changing by the second. And now in late January we’re in the midst of a deep freeze with just enough snow and wind to keep things interesting.

The Pirellis have proven themselves to be very competent in all of these conditions, with the exception of glare ice where only studs would have helped. I’ve driven on them in deep water and snow, slush, loose snow, and on ice, and found that they inspire confidence no matter what the traction conditions. With my car being a front-driver, patience is still required when accelerating from a stop on icy roads, and in wet weather the tires are quite noisy, but both of these critiques can be applied to most winter tires on the market today.

There’s certainly a difference in steering feel and response when I switch from the stock all-season tires to these Pirellis, but gone are the days of winter tires that allow the car to wander excessively on dry pavement or emit a dull roar at highway speeds.

My criteria for evaluating winter tires place snow and ice traction above other factors such as noise, dry road handling, and tire wear. And with those priorities, the Pirelli IceControl tires rank at or near the top of the class for studless winter tires.

About Haney Louka

A lifelong car nut, Haney Louka has been a journalist member of AJAC since 2001. He is a professional engineer and has been on AJAC’s Technology of the Year panel since 2010.