Winter tyres vs 4×4

Ok, so this isn’t the most scientific of tests, but an unexpected burst of snowy weather has allowed me to compare my Daihatsu Sirion and its Avon Ice Touring tyres versus my Land Rover Discovery on a set of Avon Ranger All-Terrain tyres. It has been a very interesting day.

Discovery still a handful in the snow

Discovery still a handful in the snow

First of all, I’d like to point out that the biggest factor in surviving tricky conditions on the road is the driver. Owning a 4×4 does not make you invincible. Of this, I was already well aware. Even so, I was surprised to get wheelspin as I pulled away in the Discovery (diff lock not engaged as snow coverage was patchy) and even more surprised that the first sharp turn had it feeling very twitchy. Proof that despite the rather general ‘Mud and Snow’ tag on the Avon Rangers, the compound just was not soft enough to provide good grip.

I engaged the diff-lock for steep descents, and it was nice to have that luxury. By engaging the diff lock, I was more effectively spreading the braking between the two axles, hopefully making it less likely that I would lock a wheel should I have to brake. The best way to avoid wheel lock is of course to use a low gear and keep well away from the middle pedal, but you never know what’s around the next bend.

But, even when the snow had cleared enough to leave dry tracks on the road surface, hitting the banks of slushy snow in between left the Discovery feeling very unstable. I got back home and jumped into the Sirion.

Sirion proved very capable

Sirion proved very capable

Straight away, the Sirion felt very different. Sure, the lack of four-wheel drive meant wheelspin was impossible to avoid when starting on a snowy slope (or from where it is pictured above on fresh snow) but it felt more stable. Hitting slush was no more dramatic than dry tarmac. The Sirion also proved how great proper winter tyres are at stopping on snow and ice. For the above shot, I braked gently on the fresh snow with no ill effects, then pressed the pedal really hard, which finally made the anti-lock brakes kick in. For me, this stopping power is what makes winter tyres an essential item.

It isn’t a conclusive test, as I was unable to test both cars on exactly the same roads, at exactly the same time. I also didn’t have the luxury of trying the Discovery on winter tyres or the Sirion on summer ones for direct comparisons. One thing I will say is that the high degree of power assistance to the steering on both vehicles is very detrimental in these conditions. It’s very hard to know exactly how much grip the front wheels have, as so little feedback comes through the steering wheel. This means it’s easy to be in a skid without realising it. A reminder that perhaps I should have dragged the 2CV out of its cosy garage!



Yeah, I’m rubbish. Sorry. I got myself into a state of regular posting before Christmas, but that was over a month ago and I’ve posted twice since. Oops.

You see, the problem is that the good chaps at Classic Car Weekly have been giving me work to do. Yes, I’ve returned to the title on which my writing career began in 2007. It’s been a pleasant return, though I shall miss working with my chums at Kelsey Publishing.

With regular deadlines to hit – important ones that lead to money coming in – I’m afraid I’ve been rather distracted from the issue of Bloggage. It’s hard to say no to work when it pays for important things like fuel and car repairs. Oh, and meat. Hmmm. Tasty.

So, what have I been up to for the past month? Mainly driving my BX Turbo Diesel actually. It’s been very busy. Christmas saw us in Devon and in the past month I’ve been to Birmingham twice (about 3hrs away if you take the pretty roads like I do). Then it snowed. Brilliant! Having sold my 4×4 Ford Maverick, I was a little nervous about bad weather. I needn’t have been. Why? Because I had winter tyres fitted.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that fitting winter tyres is not some miracle cure, in the same way that owning a 4×4 doesn’t make you invincible. You may have noticed a lot of BMW 4x4s in ditches during the snowy times as their owners discovered that a 4×4 cannot overcome basic physics. As it happens, my old Maverick fell foul of the rather dramatic snowdrifts up here in mid-Wales with its new owner…

Citroen BX in the snow

Winter tyres. A very worthwhile investment!

Having helped dig it out (bloody good fun actually!), we decided that whatever your vehicle or its tyres, when the snow is blowing into 4ft deep drifts, the only sensible thing to do is chuck more wood on the fire, get the kettle on and stay at home.

But once things had calmed down a bit, it was a good opportunity to put the Riken Snowtime tyres on the BX TXD to the test. I was very impressed. Sure, wheelspin is still easily generated but drive carefully and it’s staggering what these tyres will pull you through. Handling seemed very assured as well. I could get it to understeer if I was really silly, but rein in the hooning and turning was very undramatic. However, the biggest revelation was braking. Try as I might, getting the wheels to lock up was very difficult indeed – don’t forget that the BX has a very powerful hydraulic braking system. I once managed a four-wheel lock-up on dry Tarmac. It really did take most of the stress out of winter driving. Not all of it – you always have to respect the conditions.

I know this far too well after getting caught out in the wintry conditions. A section of the A4120 between Devil’s Bridge and Aberystwyth is very open and if there’s snow, it always drifts across this section. Several days after the last snowfall, high winds had blown snow across the road. I came around a bend far too quickly to be met by icy snow from bank to bank. I hit the brakes hard but the road was curving stongly so I had to come off them again. I turned, the front end went very light. This was no time to panic, so I didn’t. I eased off the steering slightly and hoped I’d avoid the main snow drift. I did. Just. The back end also went very floaty but we got around it. Phew! I’m really not sure I would have made it without winter tyres. I could have proved it once and for all by returning home and dragging the other BX out, but decided to count my lucky stars instead…

To conclude then, unlike the idiots on Top Gear, I can wholeheartedly recommend winter tyres. They’re not just a gimmick to con you out of money and, based on my experiences since September, they’re far from hopeless when it’s dry. The Green Tiger BX could do with some new tyres, so now I’m struggling to decide what type to fit to it…