It seems counterintuitive, test-driving winter tires during a winter that has been less than wintry. While the lack of winter’s icy fury – or even a decent amount of snow – kind of killed the mood, the unseasonable climate didn’t diminish the media and dealer launch of the new Michelin X-Ice Xi3.
Held in late January at the famed Mecaglisse race park in Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, Quebec, about 80 miles north of Montreal, the event drew tire and auto media from both sides of the northern (or southern) border, as well as a rotation of some 350 U.S. and Canadian tire dealers.
Fortunately for those not used to the typical late-January weather in northern Quebec, which can easily fall below 0F, the skies were a vivid blue and the bright sun kept the temperatures at a pleasant 32 to 34F.
For the event, Michelin North America and Michelin Canada set up a five-station test, pitting the new X-Ice Xi3 against a variety of other winter tires. And a classroom session helped outline the case for Michelin’s upgrade from the successful X-Ice Xi2, which was launched in 2008 and will be phased out as the new line comes in.
Four of the test stations attempted to replicate typical driving situations and conditions drivers in northern climates – U.S. and Canada – would face.
The first station tested acceleration, braking and handling traction in medium snow, and pitted the X-Ice Xi3 against the Nokian WR, the Kebek, and the Toyo Observe Garit KX on matching Mazda 3s. For those who haven’t heard of the Kebek, it is private brand line produced by Taiwan’s Federal Tire Corp. and sold online through kebek.com, which is listed as being based in Montreal.
The next station was all ice – literally – with acceleration, braking and control exercises on a track of polished ice. The other tires used for this session, also on Mazda 3s, included the Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice, the Continental ExtremeWinterContact and the Toyo Observe GSi5.
Another station showed the tractive qualities of tires that had been “worn” (actually shaved) down to 4/32nds tread depths, demonstrating the claimed long life of the new Michelin winter offering compared to the Bridgestone Blizzak WS70, the Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT and the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R. Again, a fleet of Mazda 3s, apparently quite popular in Quebec and eastern Canada, were employed.
The final station of hard braking and acceleration – with the added element of a sudden high-speed lane change and elevation changes – was run on a Ford Escape with Michelin X Ice 2s, Ford F-250 with Michelin LTX tires, Cadillac SRT with Michelin Alpin PA4s and a Mazda 3 with the Alpin A4.
An additional session gave drivers the opportunity to cut loose a little as they attempted (often unsuccessfully) to drift Chevy Sierra SLE pickups with Michelin LTX winter tires and Cadillac SRTs on X-Ice Xi3s on a tight circle track. More fun than instructive, that segment proved that man and machine are no match for sheer ice and physics.
A classroom session gave media and dealers a look at the “consumer-up” approach Michelin said it took in developing the replacement for the X-Ice Xi2. Drivers, MNA said, were seeking a winter tire that delivered on the obvious performance parameters – confident snow and ice traction and braking – while also delivering “enduring performance,” “highway handling ” and “longer mileage,” and was “environmentally friendly.”
MNA said it addressed those added desires by developing a tire that still performed well even as tread depths reached 4/32nds, and backed that with a 40,000-mile limited treadwear warranty. MNA sees the X-Ice Xi3 as being a “five to six winter tire,” a level that makes selling the winter tire that much easier for dealers.
In MNA testing, the X-Ice Xi3 outperformed its predecessor head-to-head by 7% in ice braking, 17% in ice acceleration, 3% in snow braking and 6% in snow acceleration testing. Compared to the X-Ice Xi2, the new version has 15% more biting edges and 15% more tread blocks, MNA said.
In commissioned third-party testing, MNA said the X-Ice Xi3 stops up to 10% shorter on ice vs. “leading competitors,” which MNA listed as the Toyo Observe GSI-5, Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT, Continental Conti Viking Contact 5, Bridgestone Blizzak WS70, and Nokian Hakkapellita R, all in size 205/55R16.
Similar outside testing, MNA said, showed the X-Ice Xi3 lasts up to two times longer than “leading competitors,” those being the Blizzak WS70 and Hakka R in size 205/55R16.
To meet driver concerns about the environment and fuel efficiency, the new winter line carries Michelin’s Green X technology, which the company said “guarantees a level of energy efficiency among the highest in the market. It helps reduce CO2 emissions while maintaining all the advantages of long wear, safety and performance.”
A Closer Look
“We all want to feel safe when driving with our loved ones, no matter the weather or road conditions, and this tire does just that. It gives you peace of mind,” said Normand Latremouille, MNA winter category manager. “The innovative technology in the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 tire not only offers complete confidence while driving in any winter condition, but also fuel-efficiency and long-lasting performance.”
That “innovative technology” includes Michelin’s third-generation winter tread design and compounding technology. X-Ice Xi3 tread blocks feature four different technologies, including its Cross Z sipe for stable handling, Block Edge for improved snow and ice grip, Micro-Pumps to help absorb water, and FleX-Ice, a silica-based compound for traction and braking, according to MNA.
The siping features a tear-drop shape at one end of vertical sipes to “provide better grip during acceleration and braking, which helps high-speed handling.” Michelin’s MaxTouch Construction creates a “unique contact patch shape that evenly distributes the forces of acceleration, braking and cornering and maximizes wear life,” the company claimed.
The Michelin X-Ice Xi3 will be available in Fall 2012 in 33 sizes, covering 14- to 18-inch wheel diameters. Additional sizes will be released in 2013, MNA said, and once fully deployed, the new X-Ice Xi3 (with some holdover X-Ice Xi2 sizes) will cover more than 90% of the Canadian and U.S. winter market for cars and minivans. Half of the X-Ice Xi3 sizes will be H-rated and half T-rated, MNA said.
Backing everything up, said MNA, consumers buying a set of four X-Ice Xi3s automatically receive the Michelin Promise Plan, which in addition to the treadwear warranty, includes a free 30-day satisfaction guarantee and 24/7/365 flat-tire changing assistance anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.
To view exclusive photos from this event, click here.