A German engineer friend who works at one very familiar German automotive manufacturer once spoke of tires to us in these words. “Summer tires are optimized for summer and shit in the winter. Winter are optimized for winter and shit in the summer. All-season tires are shit in the summer and shit in the winter.”
The conversation came over a beer while he quizzically discussed the American appetite for all-season radials. You see, Americans are all about convenience and, while perhaps not “shit”, all-seasons are honed to be passable year round just in case you don’t feel like swapping a second set on your car every six months. Where many Americans may see them as a convenience, the always-serious-about-driving Germans see it as a weakness. We find car enthusiasts are much like the Germans on this subject and those living in a climate afflicted by winter conditions for part of the year usually buck up for a second set of wheels and install a set of winter tires.
The problem with summer tires and to some degree all-season tires is mainly due to tire compound. As weather drops, tires harden and lose their willingness to grip. Never have we seen this better exemplified than this video produced by Tire Rack.
On location at an ice rink likely near their Indiana headquarters, the Tire Rack team took three of the same spec BMW 3-series equipped with summer tires, all-season tires and winter tires. Each was subjected to stopping, hard acceleration and finally a cone-defined sharp turn that not surprisingly saw a progressive improvement from best (winter tires) to worst (summer tires) where by the latter even had a BMW bouncing off the padded wall of the rink as if hockey checked by physics.
We’ll admit, we were of the convenience set for the first two years of ownership of our Touareg. Our Lux package spec VW had come on some 19-inch wheels fitted with all-season tires. The first winter proved the SUV sure-footed and it seemed wasteful to throw away a perfectly good set of tires, so we’ve spent two winters swapping back to these when things got cold enough to pull off our 21-inch Volkswagen Dolomit Accessories alloys with their summer tires.
By this, our third winter with the Touareg, our all-seasons were worn enough that we decided to make the plunge and pick up a set of winter tires. Matching the original fitment size of 265 50 19 that came on our Touareg, we ended up going with the Pirelli Scorpion Ice & Snow for Light Truck and SUV applications.
If you’re making the investment in a set of winter tires, we’d suggest picking up a second set of wheels as well. Such an investment makes bi-annual tire swaps much easier. As mentioned, we’d retained the stock wheels from our Touareg but Tire Rack also offers a wide selection of affordable ‘winter wheel’ packages for most vehicles.
One of the greatest things about Tire Rack is their website with many owner reviews, their strategically placed warehouses around the country and their deep stock of tires. After making the choice for the Pirellis, our order arrived at our central Pennsylvania office in under two days.
The Scorpion Snow & Ice from Pirelli uses the company’s Carving Edge design, meaning they’re studdable (illegal in some states including Pennsylvania) and their compound is optimized for cold weather, with a tread good in both wet and dry weather.
Once installed, the weather region the car calls home cooperated with aplomb. We’ve had them on for about two weeks and have enjoyed no less than three snowstorms, with a fourth due within the next 24 hours.
Such a plethora of winter precipitation has allowed us to sample the car in varying conditions, from pillow soft and silent running on virgin highways and icy surface back roads to parking lot hoonage as a wintery mix fell.
Our time with the Touareg has given us a considerable familiarity with the vehicle and we’ve learned that the already sure-footed Touareg on all-seasons has really substantially improved with the addition of these winter Scorpions from Pirelli. This is experienced in acceleration and handling, but it most readily displays its superiority under breaking.
On dry highways, there’s also minimal difference in road noise. As winter tires go, these are some fall on the quieter and more refined side of the spectrum.
If you live in a winter climate, we highly recommend heeding the advice of our German engineer friend. Having a set of winter tires makes a big difference in handling for what amounts to a relatively affordable investment. And, if you’re serious about driving, being optimized for every season seems the most logical… the most German conclusion. Convenience is great and all, until that time you might have saved swapping tires is instead spent stuck in a ditch in the middle of a snowstorm.