MAR 17th 2015

Do new Michelin Cross‑Climates mean the end for winter tyres?

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A Michelin launch invite conjures up images of torturing the Pilot Super Sports on a Porsche 911 Turbo around a winding test track; GRR recently travelled to France to sample tyres intended to adorn more modest machinery, but who’s existence is possibly more significant.

The get-together, attended by representatives of just about every motoring organisation and magazine/website in Europe, began with the perfectly plausible assertion by Michelin’s Thierry Chiche that across Europe 65 percent of drivers run the same ‘summer’ tyres all year round. He further asserted that in the UK we are particularly bad at changing to winter tyres, and closer to 90 percent of us don’t change rubber when the weather becomes less clement. Ouch. 

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Far from being the kind of thing you fit if you’re going on a snowy extreme driving tour of the alps, Michelin reckon a winter tyre is the ideal option when roads are simply cold and/or wet – but we all know that a second set of tyres stacked in the average garage takes up a lot of space, as well as potentially exposing the tyres to costly damage whilst in storage. So the challenge was clear: Come up with a tyre which can provide optimum performance in the dry, wet, cold, ice and snow, but with no compromises in performance.

Michelin reckons it has gone to extraordinary lengths to brew up the perfect blend of rubber compounds and tread patterns in order to achieve this – apparently also overcoming the limitations of existing ‘all season’ tyres which are ultimately compromised in both hot and cold weather to achieve a decent performance across both.

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So, 5,000,000 kilometres of testing later, Michelin reckons it has a tyre whose performance scores A-grades in all conditions. A claim backed during the launch presentation by a video of the TUV SUD evaluation, which explained that the Cross Climate tyre was ‘almost level’ with Michelin’s all-snow Alpine tyre and that it scored an A-rating for braking in wet conditions. TUV findings, as we all know, are not to be sniffed at. The compound Michelin has come up with manages to work well in all conditions because it acts ‘intelligently’ in that it adapts to (and therefore behaves differently in) different temperatures.

The proof of Michelin’s advances became clear when we tested identical cars back-to-back on a cold, dry road, a wet roundabout and an icy incline. Firstly, what struck us was that the performance of the ‘summer’ tyre was good. Perhaps this explains why so many people don’t bother changing to winter tyres; aside from the expense, hassle and storage issues, most people manage to negotiate wet, cold and icy conditions and still get to work and so on just fine …

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However, once we changed to the car shod with Cross Climate tyres the difference was instantly noticeable. As well as the ‘summer’ tyres stopped on cold tarmac, the Cross Climates stopped the car in an even shorter distance. Around the wet roundabout the car managed a few more kph before losing lateral grip and on the snowy incline the grip available was superior. Conclusive proof for us then that the Cross Climate tyre is indeed a leap forward. All this, and the projected cost is just around seven Euros per tyre over the cost of Michelin’s Energy tyre.

But, will it mean the end for winter (or for that matter, summer) tyres? No, in a word. Michelin is still keen to point out that drivers who live in areas most often covered in snow will ultimately benefit more from its Alpine tyre, and rightly-or wrongly the British motoring public is unlikely to bring Kwik Fit to a standstill demanding Cross Climates by the truckload. Furthermore, they’re only available in 15, 16 and 17 inch sizes which means that this technology will not be available to drivers of the majority of performance cars – for now, at least.

It’s fascinating technology though, and it will be interesting to see how the development affects our purchasing habits. Just don’t expect Cross Climate Pilot Super Sports any time soon!

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