January 14, 2014
Cooper Weather-Master Snow. Click image to enlarge
Review by Haney Louka
I normally arrange for winter test tires in September so that their installation can be completed around the time our Prairie thermometers start dipping below the +7 degrees Celsius mark – that’s the temperature below which winter tires are widely regarded as having better traction than summer and all-season rubber. And being proactive about winter tire installation will help avoid having to drive on less than appropriate rubber if a sudden change in the weather takes place. That’s been known to happen in these parts from time to time.
But this year was different. I wasn’t as organized as usual, and it was approaching late October when Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony forwarded an e-mail from Cooper Tires who expressed an interest in having some new winter tires reviewed by a member of our team. Hmm… Cooper… I’ve certainly heard of them, but the company is hardly a household name when it comes to winter tires.
Well, it seems Cooper is out to change that with this year’s introduction of two new winter tires for passenger cars. The one that interested me was the Weather-Master Snow, which fits into the “high-performance winter tire” category. Mmm-hmm. This is normally when the alarm bells in my head start sounding, because such tires are typically intended for drivers of sporty vehicles who are not willing to sacrifice dry-road performance at the altar of cold-weather traction. And my opinion has always been that I’d gladly give up sharp handling to get the best possible traction in snow and ice conditions.
That’s what I thought, until I tried Continental’s Extreme Winter Contact tires on my Mazda6 a few years back. That tire opened my eyes to the possibility that one can have his cake and eat it too. That tire is only slightly softer than the Michelin Pilot MXM all-seasons that the car wore but handled all winter conditions with ease, quickly making it one of my faves for winter performance. And now, Cooper is aiming to reinforce my newfound respect for the performance winter tire category.
But first, a note about the tires that the Coopers replaced: I bought my 2007 VW GTI in the autumn of 2012 and it was wearing brand-new Goodyear Eagle GT rubber all around. By the time my Cooper tires were installed it was late December; about two months later than my annual norm. November and December were significantly colder and snowier than the annual norms. Most surprisingly, the Eagles weren’t totally useless on snow and ice. I was prepared for the car to be a bit of a nightmare in these conditions, but they actually managed to get me around without too much drama. I was certainly not able to leave icy intersections in a hurry, and stopping on ice required a fair bit of forethought, but I’ve been on much, much worse “all-seasons” in the winter.
Now, back to the Coopers. The Weather-Master Snow is touted as a high-performance, studless winter tire with a silica-rich compound for enhanced flexibility in cold weather.
Along with the rubber compound formulation, the tread pattern and extent of siping, those closely spaced zigzag slits, will determine how effective a tire will be in the winter. But the description Cooper provides for their compound could pretty much describe any winter tire, and the first thing I do when I see a set of winter tires is push my thumb into the tread. At room temperature, the tread should yield readily as a sign of promising cold-weather traction. The Yokohama iG52C tires that are currently installed on my Golf Wagon did just that. But these Coopers? Nope. Almost as hard as all-seasons, which to me is a trait of tires that typically don’t do so well in the cold. But time will tell.
The Weather-Master Snow utilizes an asymmetric tread pattern, with larger tread blocks toward the outside of the tire for cornering grip on dry and wet roads, while the inner portion of the tread has smaller tread blocks with more siping for better traction in snow and ice.
The high-performance component of the tire is achieved by using the stiffer carcass (tire speak for a tire’s internal components that are not visible when they’re mounted on the car) from the company’s all-season performance tires and capping it with the more flexible tread compound.
For a less performance-oriented approach, Cooper has also introduced the WM-SA2 for this year. I won’t have a chance to try these, but they are touted as more of a touring winter tire for less sporting applications.
I’ll save full comments for later in the season, but I can say that despite the Goodyear Eagle all-seasons performing better than I expected, it was instantly obvious that putting the Coopers on was like going from Teflon to Velcro.
Stay tuned for an update later in the season to find out how the Coopers fared during a winter that so far has brought frigid temperatures, heavy snowfall, and slick conditions to our city’s roads.