OPINION: You really should spend the money on some decent tyres

23rd January 2024
Russell Campbell

This piece falls under our 'Opinion' series. But a more accurate word in this case would be 'fact'. Tyres are one of the most important parts of your car and too few people know it. When I bought my Volvo V90 Cross Country – complete with mismatching Pirellis on the front and Continentals on the rear –  I knew they'd be the first thing that would need replacing. 


Not that long ago, this would have meant a dive into the tyre-buying wilderness with not more than a few magazine reviews and owner feedback to go on, but now there are websites and YouTube channels devoted purely to tyre reviews. The opportunity to get incredibly geeky is there, and it's real.

I was only too happy to delve in. The high-performance rubber the Volvo came with seemed at odds with its character. Thick side walls give better control and steering precision in bends. But they also harmed the Volvo's ride quality, suboptimal in a car with squidgy suspension and tall tyre walls.

An excursion into a muddy field also highlighted the rubber's limitations. Confidently careering into axle-deep mud (complete with wife, dog and child in abroad) the Volvo very nearly refused to extricate itself from its treacly fate, a move that would prove unpopular on a family holiday. Only some serious sawing of the steering wheel saved us from an embarrassing trip to the farmers to ask for a tow. 

But while the idea of proper off road tyres is hard to resist, it’s easy to get carried away only to find they're useless on road – a mate's Land Rover Discovery 4 tells a cautionary tale. Its ability to spear, very slowly, through corners with bundles of steering lock is legendary. 


With my mate's Disco 4 etched permanently on my memory (where it's still understeering), the chunky charm of a set of General Grabbers was quickly dispelled, reviewer comments like "poor wet grip" and "high risk of aquaplaning" seemed a high price to pay for go-anywhere aesthetics. 

Zeroing in on the correct tyres, Michelin CrossClimate 2s began looking like a safe bet. Owners reported handling comparable with sporty rubber but with far better grip in the rain, mud and snow. The price was the only stumbling block, at £900 for the set. They're pretty steep, but their longevity (up to 15,000 miles more than competitors, according to Michelin) could pay dividends. 

With a planned trip to Switzerland and the annual Christmas pilgrimage to Scotland and Ireland looming large on the radar, I decided to bite the bullet and pay for the Michelins.

It turned out to be a great decision. I'm still determining if a car suits Crossclimate 2 better than a V90 Cross Country, built to munch the miles yet be capable of the odd trip off-road when needed.


On the road, the Michelins have given the Volvo the ride quality it's been crying out for, their softer compound and thinner side walls squishing out bumps that used to rattle through the interior. It's still not as insulating as the air suspension on a Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain or Audi A6 Allroad, but it's much closer than it used to be and without the risk of expensive airbag work the Germans will surely suffer from down the line. 

Equally impressive is the Michelin's ability to shift standing water; even deep puddles are easily cut through without the disturbing feeling of the steering going light as you momentarily lose a say in your direction of travel. Off-road ability has also improved massively. Now you can tackle mud fields without worrying you'll get bogged down, and, in the snow, the Volvo feels safer than walking.

Okay, so it's not all good news. Steering feel has, as expected, been compromised, and the Volvo is less eager to react to initial inputs, but on a vast, wallowy estate with undersized 18-inch wheels, this hardly seems relevant. Increased tyre roar is more of an issue, spoiling the superb cabin refinement that is a Volvo strength.

Nevertheless, the Michelins have done their job amplifying the Volvo's skillset where it matters while mildly reducing its performance in the areas it doesn't – the right tyres can transform your car in a way no other single part can. Too many overlook the importance of tyres – both in terms of their condition and their specification.

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