All-Season Versus Winter Tires: A Racecar Driver's Consensus

Presented by Tire Rack and Michelin

by Karla Pestotnik


I think I can comfortably say that I’ve used all-season tires in almost any creative scenario that I can think of. I’ve used them on a racetrack countless times in several different cars, trying to drive as cleanly as possible with minimal grip in search of the best possible lap time for each given platform. I’ve used them as “rain tires” because that is what was available at the time and had better water dispersion than race slicks in a sprint race with down pouring rain. I’ve done some off-roading with them on trucks, SUVs and even vans, and had my fair share of times getting stuck in sand and/or mud with them (a few occasions with a trailer connected even). I have even used them for what they are generally intended for- you know, normal driving in a regular passenger car on public roads and highways. However, after attending the Winter Driving Event that Tire Rack and Michelin hosted, I can now say that I have used all-season tires in ice drag racing!

As exciting as the ice drag racing is, I’ll explain more of it in the subsequent pages to come. Let’s address a few background items first. Tire Rack and Michelin were generous to invite MotoIQ to this very fun and quite luxurious event held at the Norte Dame campus in West Bend, Indiana, to give some opinions on a commonly debated decision of whether or not to buy winter tires for winter season. As MotoIQ’s test driver, I was sent out for the opportunity. However, many MotoIQ readers realize that our headquarters are in Los Angeles, California (it's currently in the low 80s as I am writing this). Although I am originally from western Nebraska where the winter season is pretty severe, I honestly have zero driving experience in snow conditions and most of my ice driving experience has been accidental with “black ice” conditions on the racetracks during winter.  However, what my inexperience can provide is an unbiased opinion on the difference between two types of tires given the test parameters we were provided at the event. So, let's jump right into it now that racing season is over and it's winter season!


Several members of various different types of automotive media companies, myself included, were flown out to South Bend, Indiana, and were some of the first to step foot on the new football field at the Notre Dame campus. We were even lucky enough to enjoy some adult beverages there, which apparently is not normally allowed! Photo credit: Kelly Wiard, TTR

At this event, we did comparison testing at Norte Dame's ice rink stadiums. Yes, you read that correct- we drove actual cars on their very nice ice rink surfaces. I'm not sure how they swung being able to drive cars in there!

The point of the testing was to drive identical cars to narrow down the differences between the OEM tires per vehicle and Michelin's winter tires: X-Ice Xi3 (for passenger cars) and X-Ice Xi2 (for SUVs and light duty trucks). The provided vehicles were Kia Cadenzas and Kia Sportages. The Cadenzas provided a typical scenario of an average, front-wheel-drive passenger car, and the Sportages provided an example of a slightly more "prepared" winter driver, each being an AWD SUV. 


The first test module I did was ice drag racing! No tire studding here- just as much grip possible through tread design and compound. 

We split into teams, with three drivers and one instructor per car. One car was on the OEM all-seasons and the second car was on Michelin X-Ice Xi3 winter tires. This was loads of fun for me, as it was a new challenge that I have never done anything like before and had a very small amount of time to master- despite it being by far the slowest race I've ever been involved in. We each were allowed two consecutive passes in each car. That made it much like doing a Time Attack in a car I've never driven before: one pass to learn the dynamics of the car, tires, and surface, and one pass to hammer down. As I mentioned before, I have very limited ice driving experience, and I've never tried to launch a car on the ice before. Well, "launching" a car on ice ended up being an overstatement, and I found that a very precisely slow and smooth roll to nearly half throttle, followed by a little more throttle input to increase momentum with minimal wheel spin was the golden ticket. 

I tried to strategize getting into the all-season tire equipped Cadenza first so that my team and I could learn on the tires with less grip and then apply what we learned to the winter tire equipped one. Unfortunately, my sneaky plan of casually gathering near the all-season equipped car didn't work, and we were summoned to the winter tire Cadenza first. My teammates volunteered me to go first, so I basically just had to "wing it". 


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Wednesday, November 22, 2017 10:26 AM
I have those tires for my daily driver and it save my dumb arse when i was going too fast to get on the freeway. I did a tank slapper but was able to fully control my car after the tank slapper. Saved my butt because on all season tires i probably would of been spinning across lanes of traffic and in the center median. I've used them for 2 winters and probably got 2 more left in them. Great tire. Have nothing to compare them to since this is my first set of snow tires. I'm in detroit area.
Wednesday, November 22, 2017 1:19 PM
@Discotea Whoa! Glad nothing bad happened!
Wednesday, November 22, 2017 2:57 PM
Maybe you should have gotten someone from the great white north to do this test, after all we drive on ice/snow covered roads 5 months of the year and it's pretty much second nature. We race on ice too, not always with studs either, just plain rubber tires and you'd be surprised at what we do to prep them and how much grip it adds. Think in terms of making more sipes, thousands of individual tiny contact points.

I can vouch for Michelin's XIce tires, have used them on my DD for years and they are very good both on snow and ice. You're kidding yourself if you think all seasons are OK in the winter, at least in parts of the continent were we get real winter, they are truly useless compared to winter tires.
Wednesday, November 22, 2017 4:22 PM
@Hap I naturally thought the same thing, but I think that's actually what they were looking for specifically- some media members that aren't from winter areas that can provide different feedback than those in severe weather areas. They requested me specifically, so I just ran with it how I approach other types of testing. Hopefully the focus on the activities made it a decent read for you regardless!
Thursday, November 23, 2017 1:33 AM
I'm not sure I'd agree with the TireRack climate classification chart. Living in the upper Mojave we're already seeing temps in the high 30's at night. Plus, driving through the passes to Bakersfield will be significantly colder. As much as I'd love to throw some Pilot Super Sports on year-round, it'd likely be a bad idea...but I so want to do it anyway!
Colorado S14
Colorado S14link
Thursday, December 07, 2017 9:09 AM
The number of people I have to convince that AWD does not mean much and that they need to get snow tires is infuriating. We see it all the time here in Colorado, someone buys a used Audi A4 and things they are Petter Solberg all of the sudden. Right up until they understeer through a turn into a curb or rear end another car....
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