Winter tires still a must for crossovers

by . Nov 02 2018
Photos by Haney Louka / Winnipeg Free Press Snow tire on the right.

Photos by Haney Louka / Winnipeg Free Press

Snow tire on the right.

It’s a good time to be in business, if you happen to be in the business of selling crossover utility vehicles. Many folks wonder exactly what a CUV is, and the answer is not all that simple. What we have is a market segment full of segment-busters that try to be all things to all people, and the car-buying public is snatching them up in unprecedented volumes.

In a nutshell, a crossover is a fusion of more traditional segments; a vehicle that lands in previously uncharted territory between a rugged SUV, a family friendly wagon and a stuff-it-all-in minivan.

They all fall somewhere on this spectrum and the results can be as varied as the categories that begat the CUV.

People love the all-wheel drive, elevated seating position and practicality that come with crossovers, especially compared to the front-drive sedans that buyers seem to be fleeing from on dealer lots.

All-wheel drive gives drivers the confidence to conquer winter. While all systems are not created equal, it’s safe to say that getting stuck is much less of a concern when one is piloting a vehicle that is so equipped around town.

This kind of confidence can lead to the misconception that if you drive a CUV or SUV (or pickup, for that matter), you don’t need winter tires.

Truth is, getting power to all four wheels will get you going just fine, but it doesn’t do a thing for stopping or turning, particularly in an emergency situation.

That’s right: an all-wheel drive vehicle at 50 km/h will not be able to stop or turn any better than a front- or rear-driver.

In fact, because crossovers generally weigh more than the cars upon which they’re based, the laws of physics can have a nasty way of reminding you that a heavier vehicle will require more traction to stop than a lighter one.

If you consider that traction is necessary in all instances — stopping and turning, in addition to accelerating — it becomes clear that acceleration alone does very little to enhance safety in winter conditions.

Think of all-wheel drive as a nice-to-have complement to the necessity of winter tires, and you’ll have your priorities straight.

In 2017, we purchased our first CUV, which has given us the opportunity to witness the benefits of dedicated winter rubber on an all-wheel drive vehicle that resides in the thick of the new vehicle market. For this, Bridgestone supplied a set of Blizzak DM-V2 tires, size P235/55-19, for our 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.

The DM-V2 is not a new tire — it has been on sale since 2015 — but it possesses the characteristics and technology that represent the current state of the art in studless tire construction.

There are a few things that differentiate winter tires from the all-season compromises that most new vehicles are sold with.

First, and the easiest way to differentiate a true winter tire, is the snowflake-on-mountain symbol embossed in the sidewall of the tire. It means that the tire meets minimum criteria for traction on medium-packed snow in freezing temperatures.

But it’s a combination of the rubber compound and tread pattern that allows this kind of traction in the first place.

What makes traction on ice so elusive is a thin layer of water that forms between the tire and an icy surface, causing hydroplaning at a very small scale.

In the DM-V2, the outer 55 per cent of the compound includes microscopic pores that wick water from the surface, resulting in a better contact patch.

The compound also includes a hydrophilic coating that Bridgestone says increases the amount of water absorbed by the pores.

So, it’s the design of the rubber material itself that keeps cold and icy surfaces in check. But winter traction also relies on the tread pattern to conquer Canadian winters.

Large spaces between tread blocks help clear snow and get the tires down to hard surfaces where they can grip, while smaller slits in the treads — called sipes — allow the tread blocks to flex and provide more edges with which the tire can bite.

All-wheel or four-wheel drive can enhance your daily drive by allowing you to accelerate smartly on slick or snowy surfaces, but it’s the design of dedicated winter tires that will provide the best traction when it matters.

Twitter: @haneylouka

Instagram: @autoreviews