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Continental’s Winter Apocalypse

In many parts of Canada snow came late to the party this year, but that wasn’t going to stop tire manufacturer Continental from hosting its “Winter Apocalypse” drive event at ICAR in Mirabel, Quebec.

The goal was to conduct all sorts of tests on a closed track and gather a maximum of data on a variety of winter tires. Continental brought a new model introduced last year, while its General Tire and Gislaved divisions were well represented with new-for-2016 products.

Continental WinterContact SI
This new winter tire picked up exactly where the old ExtremeWinterContact left off. In case you didn’t know, Continental reshuffled its portfolio, using “Extreme” to designate high-performance tires only. The WinterContact SI, which stands for “Snow and Ice,” is clearly aimed at winter driving. 

It is a mainstream tire designed for passenger cars, crossovers, and minivans. For 2016, six new sizes push the total to 38, ranging from 15”-20” in diameter with a speed rating of T-V.

The Continental WinterContact SI is a directional winter tire that remains flexible even at extremely low temperatures. With traction grooves and an alignment verification system (short sipes on both shoulders of the tire visually alert the driver of any misalignment), it is most certainly a great winter tire choice. 

To showcase the WinterContact SI’s skills, Continental set up an icy course featuring a slalom, a bit of drifting (with the vehicles’ ESC turned off, naturally), and a braking area. The test cars included Audi A4 quattro (AWD) sedans and Volkswagen Jetta (FWD) sedans. For good measure, we used the renowned Michelin X-Ice Xi3 and Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 as comparisons. 

I’m not saying the Continental WinterContact SI bested its two rivals, but it sure fared exceptionally well on the ice. Considering that the Bridgestone tends to wear out faster than average and the Michelin is fairly expensive, the WinterContact SI looks like a very smart purchase to tackle many Canadian winters.

General Tire Grabber Arctic
The General Tire Grabber Arctic replaces the AltiMAX Arctic for SUVs and light-duty trucks, which means the latter is still good for smaller cars. 

This studable winter tire is robust and better at withstanding the harsh conditions of the cold season thanks to steel belts that increase vehicle stability, even with heavy loads on board. Its intended usage explains why engineers inserted interlocking blades in the middle of the tread: They are designed to improve handling and reduce braking distances. On each side, the blades are similar to the ones found on tires for lighter vehicles, which limits road noise and increases traction on snow and ice.

Using the same exact course, Continental put a GMC Sierra pickup and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV at our disposal (both equipped with 4-wheel drive). For this comparison, the Grabber Arctic took on the Hankook I*Pike RW11, Cooper Weather-Master WSC, and BFGoodrich WinterSlalom. 

In these slippery conditions, General Tire’s new model proved superior to the competition. The biggest loser here was by far the Hankook. It lacked substantial bite and turned otherwise expert 4x4s into slipping and sliding buffoons. On the other hand, the BFGoodrich came pretty close to matching the General’s performance. 

Gislaved NordFrost 200
The final winter tire featured at the Continental Winter Apocalypse was fitted to a pair of Volkswagen Golf hatchbacks with front-wheel drive (including one with studs). The NordFrost 200 showed just how effective it could be on the ICAR drag strip. The exercise was very conclusive as the studded Golf almost always came out on top, whether with ESC turned on or off.

Compared to the outgoing NordFrost 100, the new model has revised shoulders for improved performance and a V-shaped middle section that should help evacuate more water to prevent aquaplaning. In addition, a new, much lighter type of studs makes it possible to install up to 130 studs instead of just 100 while limiting damage to the roadway. Gislaved really worked hard to make this tire more competent on ice.

And for dessert…
On the pictures you’ll also see a previous-generation Subaru Impreza WRX STI that was modified by Lachute Performance. On top of a roll cage, racing seats, and all the upgrades you need to take part in rallies, this special car was riding on studded Gislaved NordFrost 100 tires. We took it for a spin on a track that’s usually reserved for ICAR participants who want to hone their rally driving skills.

After just a few laps, it became evident that even a race-prepared machine can prove difficult to handle on an icy surface. With 360 horsepower on tap, this was nowhere near the time or place to try to make the most of the juiced-up Subaru’s abilities. Still, I managed to have a whole lot of fun.