The Autumn Equinox is September 22, but when the kids go back to school, summer is unofficially over. Sure, there are plenty of warm days left, but the nights have started getting cooler, and it’s only a matter of time before the leaves change and the chill of fall and winter will take hold. Now’s the time to start thinking about tires.
Automakers routinely tout all-wheel drive as the best way to deal with challenging conditions, but regardless of which wheels get power, the tires are the only parts of a car that actually touch the road. A good set of winter tires can turn a rear-wheel-drive sports car into a competent winter commuter car, while a set of ultra-high-performance summer tires can render an AWD-equipped car useless in the snow.
If you run performance tires in the summer (many luxury cars do) and live anywhere that gets snow, you’ll absolutely need to swap tires for winter. But swapping can be expensive, and you’ll need a second set of wheels to make swapping tires easy. You’ll also need a place to put that second set of wheels and tires when they’re not in use. Given all that, all-season tires represent a great compromise, and in talking to experts from Michelin and BF Goodrich, it’s clear that while all-season tires are not the perfect set for summer or winter individually, they can be great for both seasons.
Michelin has been producing tires for 120 years, and its products are now found on everything from 24 Hours of Le Mans winners to the new Formula-E electric-vehicle racing series. The brand’s ethos centers on proving new technologies on the track and bringing those technologies to its road-going products.
Its latest product is the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3+, pictured above, which debuted at the North American International Auto Show at the beginning of this year. But we got a close-up look at this product at a recent event of the New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA). At this gathering we got up close and personal with the Pilot Sport A/S 3+.
The tire manufacturer touts this tire as having superb wet and dry braking—crucial to the efficacy of a true all-season tire. Tires are as much about tread design as they are about the chemical compounds that make up the rubber of the tire itself, and Michelin has updated both in the A/S 3+.
The unique biting edges of the new tread pattern are combined with Michelin’s Helio+ compound to provide better snow grip during acceleration and braking. Michelin says this should result in “confident mobility in cold and snow conditions.” It also results in a claimed 28% improvement in snow tracking over that of the “nonplussed” Pilot Sport A/S 3.
Motorsport played a big role in making this tire, as the variable contact patch developed for Formula One distributes the wear and temperatures to maximize wet and dry grip, but just as importantly to wear the tire evenly. If heat from friction can spread evenly, the tire should wear evenly as well. No one section will degrade faster than another. The result is an even contact patch on the road after many miles.
Those are some of the considerations that go into an all-season tire. And it’s impressive to see how these all-season tires can do what specialty tires are designed to do, maintain grip in specific conditions. But unlike those specialized tires, the A/S 3+ does this in many different conditions.
Another, even newer tire that delivers a blend of performance and all-weather traction is from BF Goodrich, an American tire company that was acquired by Michelin in 1990. BF Goodrich is known for offering on-road and off-road tires, with the latter especially popular in the American 4×4 enthusiast community. Check the wheels of a lifted Jeep and there’s a good chance you’ll find a set of BFG All-Terrains or Mud-Terrains at all four corners. BFG tires have been found on everything from the Spirit of St. Louis to the Space Shuttle.
More practically, the company founded by Benjamin Franklin Goodrich in 1870 released its own updated all-season tire earlier this year. Also on display at the NEMPA gathering, the Advantage T/A Sport is a tire for fun-to-drive cars that helps make them safe to drive year-round.
BF Goodrich claims this new tire has “Improved traction, handling, and braking performance to extract maximum enjoyment out of everyday driving without sacrificing the practicality that drivers require.” In other words, it can deliver both fun and safety without sacrificing one for the other.
On a tire, sipes are the small cuts into the chunks of rubber in between the larger grooves. The Advantage T/A Sport features a “3D sipe” design that allows moisture and ice to get out of the way so the rubber can make clean contact with the road.
The result, according to BF Goodrich, is a 12% improvement in wet braking, 15% better snow traction, and 15% better dry handling. This means the tire is better in fall, winter, and spring, and just as good in the summer.
And that’s really the crux of an all-season tire. If you simply want the ultimate in handling for each season, you’ll need to run two sets of tires, but as we discussed, that approach has drawbacks. In the past, all-season tires did many things well, but excelled at none. The latest crop of all-season tires deliver impressive grip regardless of temperature or how much snow or ice is on the road, but they’re also becoming surprisingly attractive for those who prioritize performance driving. Both tires discussed here let you have your cake and eat it, too.
Do you have a separate set of tires for winter driving, or do you use all-seasons?