NOTRE-DAME-DE-LA-MERCI, QC – Michelin chose this Quebec venue and its renowned Circuit Mecaglisse track facility to introduce its new generation of winter tire, the X-ICE SNOW. It seemed like a good plan – various course layouts to demonstrate the capabilities of the new design and a near certainty of enough snow to truly test the tire. As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for!
The day scheduled for the North American media launch of the X-ICE SNOW almost turned into an event disaster. Mother Nature dumped a huge amount of the white stuff overnight and the snowfall didn’t ease up as daylight returned. Who would have thought a snow tire launch might be cancelled because of too much snow!
The biggest issues were simply getting to the track, then keeping the courses groomed enough so the test vehicles could use them. Thanks to the persistent efforts of the Michelin team, the pro drivers assembled to coach us and the track staff at Mecaglisse, a plan was mapped out for an abbreviated session at the circuit, despite the blizzard.
An interesting part of the plan was to use the fleet of Ford Escapes intended for tire testing as shuttles to the track, replacing the bus that had been sidelined by the intense snowstorm. The all-wheel-drive Escapes had been fitted with the new X-ICE SNOWs and the trip was an excellent, though unintended, preview of the tire’s capabilities in extreme conditions.
Once safely at the track, we were still able to put this new tire to the test sufficiently, despite the shortened schedule, to be impressed by its capabilities and performance.
The X-ICE SNOW, which replaces Michelin’s X-Ice Xi3 and Latitude X-Ice Xi2 tire lines, features a new tread design that delivers balanced winter performance with maximum mobility and safety over the lifetime of the tire. This new-generation tire, which has been under development for about three years, is the result of feedback from dealers and consumers.
Dave Cowart, Michelin winter product manager, says those comments indicated that the previous X-Ice generation didn’t look aggressive compared to the competition. The feedback also suggested that, although the X-Ice was very good on ice, there was a perception it didn’t perform to expectations on snow. The new design addresses those concerns with an aggressive tread that features a chevron-like pattern that eliminates the previous centre groove with a new interlocking weave pattern, plus advanced siping and new tread compounds.
Designed by and built for Canadians
“It’s been designed by, and built for, Canadians,” says Cowart, who also makes a point of noting 85% of the X-ICE SNOW production for North America will be done at Michelin’s plant in Pictou, N.S.
The new V-shape tread is designed to provide 100% use of the tire’s contact patch for optimal grip on snow and ice and for excellent slush performance. This next-generation design delivers superior evacuation of slush and snow while also improving handling in wet road conditions.
The tread blocks are larger, helping reduce noise, while two types of full-depth, interlocking 3-D sipes – notched and variable thickness – create an increased claw effect on snow and ice, as well as longer-lasting biting edges.
The X-ICE SNOW also uses a unique full silica-based rubber mix in its tread compound, FLEX-ICE 2.0, to maintain flexibility for traction in severe cold-climate conditions, including slush, black ice and cold road surfaces. In fact, the X-Ice Snow is 20% more effective on packed snow, deep snow and ice, yet is also better on warmer surfaces, wet or dry. As well, Michelin’s EverGrip technologies, featuring a rigid polymer compound with inclusive micro-cavities, not only maintains flexibility in severe cold, but also remains firm in moderate temperatures, which reduces rolling resistance by 9% for better fuel economy.
Most significant, I feel, is the fact the tread pattern and rubber compound are consistent all the way down to the two-millimetre minimum depth of the tread, not just to the four-mm snow bar. Typically, the sipes on other winter tires aren’t full depth and the compound transitions to an all-weather mix as the tread wears down. By maintaining the tread and compound, the X-ICE SNOW continues to provide the grip drivers are counting on in winter conditions.
The track testing provided an opportunity to compare the X-ICE SNOW tire in both new and worn states. The first exercise featured identical AWD Ford Escapes on new X-ICE SNOWs and Nokian Hakkapeliita R3 SUV tires. The course of slaloms, straight runs and sweeping, icy corners, demonstrated the Michelin’s better grip as I could feel the Nokians understeering throughout the exercise. The abundance of snow tended to diminish the difference, but it was still apparent.
Because of the snow buildup, the braking test on ice scheduled to be part of this exercise was abandoned, but data from the previous day, when conditions were better, showed a dramatic advantage with the X-Ice Snows – stopping distance on the icy surface was up to 20 metres shorter than with the Nokians.
Next was an opportunity to pound the Escapes through an off-road circuit filled with deep snow. Again, the Michelins delivered better grip and an obviously superior ability to pull the vehicle out of deep ruts and the heavy snow buildup alongside the trail. They definitely made me feel more confident in the deep stuff.
Worn performance matters
The other vehicles used in testing were FWD Hyundai Elantras fitted with X-ICE SNOWs and Bridgestone Blizzaks. Both brands were tested with the tread depths mechanically worn down to 4/32” – the winter tire wear bar level. The results were similarly convincing, especially in deep snow where the Blizzaks struggled to maintain pace and climb out of the ruts.
Our testing complemented Michelin’s earlier third-party testing which found the X-ICE SNOW tire delivered improved snow performance and braking capabilities, compared to its predecessor as well as competitive brands. It also stopped nearly three metres shorter on ice than a leading competitor.
Michelin mentioned several times during its X-ICE SNOW presentations that “worn performance matters” and the comparison testing we did here demonstrated that’s more than a marketing slogan – their well-worn tires did outperform the competition. Based on the Canadian average of 12,000 kilometres driven each winter (as estimated by Desrosiers Automotive Consultants), customers can expect the new X-ICE SNOW tires to last up to one more winter season than the average of leading competitive tires.
For areas where studded tires are permitted, Michelin is also introducing a new product to the Canadian market for 2020. The X-ICE NORTH, which has been available in Europe for two years, is designed to deliver exceptional control in winter conditions. In fact, the tire has been rated No. 1 in braking on ice, both as a new tire and after 10,000 km of use. It’s also rated best in handling on ice.
This high level of performance has been achieved by advances in stud design and placement, as well as a new tread design. The number of studs has doubled to 250 and they’re a new design inspired by ones used by Michelin in the WRC Rally series. They’re reshaped for a more angular design that provides better bite while the unique placement of the studs results in low noise levels.
The X-ICE NORTH’s tread design borrows some of the features of the X-ICE SNOW, with its V-shaped tread pattern and sipes with extra biting edges for improved grip. The tread is comprised of a Nordic compound that’s compatible with a wide winter temperature range.
The Michelin X-ICE SNOW will launch in June and will be offered in 82 sizes with speed ratings T and H for passenger vehicles, CUVs and SUVs using 14- to 22-inch diameter rims. Of the 42 new sizes added to the lineup, 40 will be for rims 18 inches and larger. An additional 41 sizes will be introduced in May, 2021.