With even the lightest dusting of snow in the UK, we can be sure of one sight - BMW 3 Series stuck at even a hint of an incline, fish tailing on the spot thanks to their rear wheel drive configuration and wide rear tyres.
Perhaps the worst of these cars is the E46 BMW M3. 360BHP, 255/35 rear tyres on 19 inch wheels, rock hard suspension, and in SMG trim, a computer controlled clutch with no sympathy for the low grip surface under the rear wheels. In short, these cars can be literally unusable when it snows, with owners often choosing to leave their pride and joys the drive.
Does it have to be this way? If you know about winter tyres, you already know the answer. With extra edges, wide grooves to pack snow in, and a softer compound to ensure they remain elastic in freezing temperatures, winter tyres can literally transform a car in not just cold conditions, but on snow and ice too.
To prove this point, we've fitted a set of the latest and greatest winter tyres to our BMW M3. The Michelin Pilot Alpin 4 is Michelins newest winter tyre offering, and probably the best ultra high performance winter tyre on the market. The 255/35 R19 rear tyre has sipes for extra bite, a wide aggressive tread pattern, and three dimensional interlocking blocks to give extra stability at the high speeds and cornering forces performance cars can achieve. If anything can turn a performance saloon into a snow warrior, these are the tyres.
Do they work?
In short, yes, as this undramatic and unexciting video demonstrates.
On fresh snow, where the M3 would have been turned into little more than an expensive sled on summer tyres, the car hooked up without a fuss, with only a little slip between the aggressive automated gear changes. Even the dreaded stop and start on an incline was repeatedly dealt without a fuss. In parts of our test route the snow was so deep, the front splitter was acting as a snow plough, but still the car was unfazed. Braking on deep snow and ice was extended when compared to wet roads, but was still controllable and vastly reduced when compared to summer tyres in the same conditions.
Wet roads and light slush, even at -2c, felt no different to wet roads at 7c, with the softer compound in the Pilot Alpin 4s ensuring the tyre could still key into tarmac at below freezing temperatures and provide the grip we'd become accustomed to.
Winter tyres help your stay mobile in any conditions, even if you have an impractical winter car. Are they any drawbacks? Some. When pressing on, especially at high speeds, you can notice a slight vagueness in the steering due to the extra block movement, which isn't there on summer tyres. Likewise, high speed cornering can feel a little unstable, again thanks to the chunky tread moving around.
These are more than acceptable trade-offs considering you use winter tyres during the coldest months of the year, where driving at 10/10ths wouldn't be safe on summer tyres. The vagueness and slight instability found at high speed is offset by vastly improved grip provided in the freezing temperatures.
If you want your wide tyred performance car to remain usable in all conditions, we’d recommend winter tyres every time, and in particular the Michelin Pilot Alpin 4 is a mightily impressive ultra high performance winter tyre.