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Toyo proves its tires have the nuts to tackle winter driving

New Toyo Observe GSi-6 winter tire is designed for and exclusive to Canada

Published: February 18, 2020, 11:20 AM
Updated: February 25, 2020, 3:49 AM

Toyo Winter Tire Test - 2020

BLAINVILLE, QUE. – Toyo Tires’ marketing folks like to boast their winter tires “have nuts” – and it’s true. Crushed walnut shells are combined with carbonic powder, along with high levels of silica and a new high-grip polymer in the rubber compound to provide impressive performance in the challenging conditions Canadian drivers face every winter.

For 2020-21, however, Toyo is introducing a new winter tire that promises even better performance, not just in snow, but on slush-covered surfaces, as well as on ice and on cold, wet roads. The Observe GSi-6 winter tire has been three years in development and it’s designed specifically for the Canadian climate and road conditions. The tire is exclusive to this market; it won’t be sold elsewhere.

Toyo Winter Tire Test - 2020

One of the features of the four-groove, directional tread pattern that stands out is the unique 360-degree spiral edge sipes that are designed to improve traction while cornering, accelerating or braking. The tread also has tapered evacuation grooves that get wider toward the edges, helping to move water and slush away from the centre of the tire. This reduces the risk of hydroplaning or getting caught in slushy ruts.

Much attention has also been given to the design of the tread’s inner and shoulder blocks, as well as the various siping throughout the tread – all intended to enhance grip in typical winter conditions. The structure of the tire has also been improved to ensure the tire’s contact patch is evenly distributed across the tread.

Toyo Winter Tire Test - 2020

These improvements in the tire’s design have resulted in better performance on wet surfaces and greater stability, while still maintaining excellent capabilities on ice and snow. Toyo says the upgrades do not compromise the tire’s wear life.

Toyo has expanded its GSi-6 lineup to suit the growing range of vehicles manufacturers are offering consumers. The base GSi-6 is intended for use on the various categories of passenger cars and smaller CUVs. Slight variations in the construction and design of the GSi-6 HP are said to result in increased handling prowess, making this tire better suited for higher-performance vehicles. Finally, the GSi-6 LS is aimed at the booming SUV and light truck segment, delivering the greater load capacity required for these vehicles.

Toyo Winter Tire Test - 2020

We were invited to put the new Observe GSi-6 through some tests at the massive PMG Technologies research centre in Blainville, north of Montreal. The site is where Transport Canada evaluates new vehicles, including crash testing. We didn’t put that lab to use but did take advantage of three of the centre’s test track layouts, with each intended to push a variant of the GSi-6 to its limits.

One circuit included a couple of snow-covered slaloms, an ABS braking box and a large sweeping curve on glare ice. We tested three vehicles here – a mid-size utility (Chevy Blazer), an all-wheel-drive sedan (Mercedes-Benz 4-Matic) and a front-wheel-drive compact (Chevy Cruze.) All three proved to be sure-footed throughout the course. I expected the Blazer to be a bit of handful, especially on the ice, due to its higher centre of gravity and greater weight, but it was surprisingly stable and secure. The tires simply clawed their way without any hint of potential loss of grip.

Toyo Winter Tire Test - 2020

Toyo had carved out an off-road circuit around part of the test centre’s perimeter. The road was basically unmaintained during the winter months, so there was deep snow aplenty. The vehicle we used for this challenge was a full-size Chevy pickup with four-wheel-drive. While common sense told me I should stay in the tracks of previous drivers, our driving coach insisted I should venture into the unknown. Despite the deep snow, the GSi-6 LS tires grabbed at the white stuff and kept us moving, even on an incline. No wheel spin, just consistent grip. It was probably the most impressive part of the entire testing session.

Finally, the exercise wrapped up with the fun part – high-speed runs through the snow. The layout included a sweeping, snow-covered right-hander, a transition onto a bare patch of asphalt and entry into a high-speed lefthander, followed immediately by a treacherous, icy corner exit before getting on the power for a long straight, interrupted midway by a lane-change box. Again, three vehicles – a CUV, an AWD sedan and a FWD compact – were used and it was interesting to feel the differences in the driving feel among the three drivetrain configurations – and the way one needs to react when oversteer and/or understeer occurs. What did remain consistent, however, was the way the tires reacted to steering input – always feeling very stable.

Toyo Winter Tire Test - 2020

Toyo, which is celebrating its 75th year in the tire business, is introducing upgraded versions of its lineup, including its all-season Open Country H/T II tire for light-duty trucks and SUVs. It promises improved traction, stability and handling plus added durability for off-road treks. It’s also been redesigned to deliver longer tread life.

The all-season Extensa A/S II, designed for a wide range of passenger cars, has added new fitments for 2020-21 to accommodate minivans, compact SUVs and crossover vehicles. The upgraded version of the Extensa features a new silica-based tread compound that improves wet traction, increases tire life and reduces rolling resistance for better fuel economy.

A third upgraded tire is in the works with details to be announced next month. All the new Toyo offerings will be available at dealers in the fall.