The new Michelin X-Ice Snow is a winter tire that promises more traction in deep snow and a longer use life, all with no reduction in performance on hard-packed surfaces. This new tire is chockablock with innovative features for enhanced traction in a wide variety of conditions.
To prove this tire is ready for anything Old Man Winter can dish out, the French company invited me to Canada for a chance to experience the X-Ice Snow firsthand. During my test, the weather obliged, pummeling Montreal and surrounding areas with massive amounts of snow, perfect for putting these tires through their paces.
My playground for this event was Circuit Mecaglisse, a motorsports complex about 2 hours north of Montreal in the beautiful Laurentian mountains. A variety of tracks were set up for me to test these tires in different conditions. Confident in the X-Ice Snow's superiority, Michelin even provided head-to-head comparisons with well-respected competing winter tires from both Nokian and Bridgestone.
How it works
The X-Ice Snow replaces Michelin's X-Ice Xi3 and Latitude X-Ice Xi2 tire lines, which have been around for a number of years. It will be offered in a wide range of different sizes for cars, crossovers and larger SUVs.
Giving the X-Ice Snow superior traction in various winter conditions is a range of innovative features. One of the most important -- and obvious -- is the arrangement of its tread pattern, which is a new, V-shaped design.
Michelin engineers increased the size of its main grooves to better evacuate snow, slush and water. They also added an interlocking center rib. Not only do these changes provide additional traction in snow, they also make the tire look more aggressive than its predecessors, something Michelin representatives say consumers want. Believe it or not, knobbier winter tires are an easier sell than ones that look more fair-weather-friendly.
The X-Ice Snow's sipes -- the small grooves in a tire's tread blocks -- have been altered as well. Not only do they extend 2 millimeters below the wear bars to maintain performance even as the tire nears the end of its useful life, they also feature a 3D design. Under shear loads, such as when going around a corner, the sipes lock together, maintaining rigidity, which translates to better steering feel.
Another critical component is the Flex-Ice 2.0 compound. This silica-based rubber maintains flexibility in frigid temperatures for enhanced traction. This is key because there's more to winter driving than just snow and ice. Water is an issue as frozen precipitation melts, and there are even dry patches of pavement to contend with. A winter tire has to be able to handle all these conditions.
Finally, special rigid polymer microinclusions give the X-Ice Snow additional traction on wet roads or ice. Think of these as tiny plastic pellets that are designed to wear away over time. As they get evacuated from the tire, they leave behind little pores that create a place for water to go and give the tire more biting edges for extra grip.
Thanks to all these technologies and more, the X-Ice Snow should offer similar ride comfort and noise levels to its predecessors. Michelin is also touting a 9% reduction in rolling resistance, which should equate to slightly better fuel economy.
How it handles
Putting theory into practice, the first experience I had with X-Ice Snow tires was behind the wheel of a previous-generation Ford Escape while navigating a small handling course covered in a few inches of powdery snow. The track featured some minor elevation changes and several slaloms. For comparison, Michelin provided an identical vehicle fitted with Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 tires, a respected competitor.
Driving these vehicles back to back revealed that the X-Ice Snow had noticeably more grip. The Escape didn't fishtail in corners as much as the one fitted with Nokian tires, and when it did, it was much less dramatic and easier to control. The Hakkapeliitta R3s also tended to cause understeer a lot more, suggesting they provided less front-end grip than the Michelins. With little fanfare, the X-Ice Snow tires directed the vehicle where I pointed it, while the Hakkapeliittas were less willing to play along.
When driven hard, the Escape's anti-lock braking and traction-control systems were working overtime with the R3 tires, making plenty of noise and struggling to keep the vehicle headed where I wanted it. There was much less going on with in the vehicle fitted with Michelins.
Rotating to the next driving course, I again tested Michelin X-Ice Snow and Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 tires mounted on Ford Escape crossovers, but this time the snow was much deeper, around a foot of powder. Predictably, the Michelins provided more grip throughout this twisting and turning course. They were less likely to get pulled into ruts and if I did drive into some, the Michelin-equipped Escape was noticeably more eager to climb out. The Nokians, while still a fine winter tire, were not as confidence-inspiring as the Michelins.
The final drive I experienced was designed to demonstrate the X-Ice Snow tire's enduring performance. Thanks to its deep sipes and full winter compound, they should last one season longer than competing tires, which is good news for your bank account and the environment. In this test, Hyundai Elantras were fitted with X-Ice Snow tires and competing Bridgestone Blizzaks, another popular rival. But there's a catch: The tread on each set of tires was deliberately shaved down to one-eighth of an inch to simulate how they perform at the end of their lives. The Michelins drove well, plowing through deep snow and providing ample traction, though not quite as much as when new. The worn-out Blizzaks were noticeably less confidence inspiring, causing the car to understeer in corners and fishtail more while traversing uneven surfaces. Braking was also an issue. None of this is surprising, since the Bridgestones did not appear to have as much tread left as the Michelins and their rubber actually switches from a winter compound to an all-season one as they wear down, further reducing traction in cold temperatures.
Sizing and availability
Michelin's latest winter tire is slated to go on sale this fall. Initially, around 82 sizes will be available, but once production ramps up to full capacity in 2021, the company will offer 123 different variants, fitting wheels between 14 and 22 inches in diameter, with widths anywhere between 175 and 335 millimeters. This product lineup will skew toward the larger end of the spectrum, from 18 inches in diameter on up, because of how popular crossovers, trucks and SUVs are these days. The X-Ice Snow is backed by a 40,000-mile/60,000-kilometer warranty and even comes with a 60-day satisfaction guarantee.
Around 85% of these tires sold in North America will be manufactured at Michelin's production facility in Nova Scotia. The vast majority of X-Ice Snow tires are expected to be purchased by Canadian motorists, where winter tires are more widely accepted, though it ought to be popular in cold-weather regions of the United States as well.
Finally, let this be a reminder that no matter what kind of vehicle drive, and no matter if you have front-, all- or rear-wheel drive, winter tires are a must-have if you live in a cold climate. It's the easiest step toward making your vehicle safer in bad winter conditions.