Question: How do you enjoy the grip of winter tyres without having to swap your normal tyres every year? Answer: By fitting all-season tyres. So, what are all-season tyres, and what happens when you fit them on a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and drive it on sheet ice?
Over the last 12 years Green Car Guide has had a ridiculously large number of 4x4s/SUVs/crossovers on test that have been fitted with tyres that deliver hardly any grip in winter conditions. Our view is that if you’re going to buy a 4×4, there’s no point in having one if the 4×4 system – which is heavy, expensive and reduces a car’s efficiency – can’t transfer the benefits of the 4×4 technology to the road – or to the mud or snow.
We’ve tested cars with winter tyres, and they’re amazingly effective in ice and snow. The problem is that most people don’t want the hassle or the cost of having to change tyres on their car twice per year. However there’s now another solution – all-season tyres.
Summer tyres, as the name suggests, are designed to be effective in summer, just as winter tyres are designed to be effective in winter, and they achieve this by having a different tread pattern, but primarily by a different rubber compound. So surely it’s impossible to have one tyre that works effectively in summer and in winter? Well, we’re about to find out.
A new 2019 model year Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has ended up in the care of Green Car Guide as a personal family car, because it carried out its tasks so effectively during a six-month long-term test a couple of years ago. Since then the Outlander PHEV has had two revisions, the latest update being fairly extensive, including a new, larger petrol engine with the aim of resulting in better real-world economy during motorway driving, and a battery delivering a longer driving range: 28 miles according to the new, more realistic WLTP combined test figure.
Most day-to-day duties of the Outlander revolve around family tasks such as the school run. The distances covered are typically around 10 miles in the morning and 10 miles in the afternoon. Even with extra add-ons such as shopping trips, generally, 100% of local journeys are carried out within the 28-mile range, ie. on zero emission electric power.
However weekends often involve longer trips to visit family or to places such as the Lake District or North Wales. The Outlander PHEV can do all this, and it fits children, dogs, bikes etc. And after the first 1,500 miles carrying out such journeys, the Outlander has averaged 103.5mpg. This isn’t quite up to the official WLTP combined economy figure of 139mpg, but achieving over 100mpg from a large 1880kg 4×4 is pretty impressive.
So all is good with the Outlander PHEV, but there was one question: did it meet our requirement of a 4×4 having the right tyres to transfer the potential of the 4×4 system to deliver maximum traction in all weathers?
Interestingly, when we had our Outlander PHEV on long-term test, we set out one winter weekend, in bright sunshine, with the aim of giving it an off-road test in North Wales. When we arrived at our mountain test route we found ourselves in a blizzard. That Outlander model was fitted with Toyo ‘R37’ tyres, which, based on their visual appearance, seemed to have hardly any tread pattern at all, so we had very low expectations and assumed we would get stuck in a snowdrift and would need to be rescued by a local farmer. As it turned out, even with those tyres, the Outlander somehow managed to crawl through all the snow successfully, thankfully even on mountain passes with very steep drops on one side.
The 2019 Outlander PHEV has changed from the standard fitment of Toyo tyres to Yokohama tyres. Having previously owned a Subaru Forester and a Subaru Outback Diesel, both with Yokohama Geolander tyres fitted, there was a feeling of optimism on seeing the move from the Toyo to the Yokohama tyres on the new Outlander, as the Subarus with the Geolanders performed amazingly well in the snow and ice. However the 2019 Outlander has Yokohama BluEarth E70 tyres fitted rather than the Geolanders, and these are officially described as summer tyres.
Although we’ve tested the new Outlander off-road with these tyres, and they offer good levels of grip, we were really looking for the most effective tyre for all-year round use. So we decided to try a set of Michelin CrossClimates – to be specific, Michelin CrossClimate SUV tyres.
Michelin says that the Michelin CrossClimate brakes on dry roads in summer like a summer tyre; it provides excellent grip on wet roads in every weather condition, in summer and winter; and in winter, it’s approved for use in snow. It also has ‘M+S’ stamped on the sidewall, suggesting it should perform well in mud as well as snow.
So how can Michelin claim that it has developed a tyre that performs well all-year round? The company says that the secret is the combination of the innovative rubber compound and a unique tread pattern. The suppleness of the tread rubber compound provides flexibility to enable indentation in the ground, to provide maximum grip, whatever the temperature, including having the braking performance and traction of a winter tyre on cold, wet or snow-covered roads.
Also, the ‘V’ tread pattern maximises the clawing effect on the snow throughout the tyre’s life. This tread pattern also contributes to the improved life of the tyre. Michelin says that it lasts even longer than its Energy Saver +, which is best-in-class in its Summer category.
The Michelin CrossClimate features rigid and bevel-edged tread blocks, ensuring optimum safety on dry roads. This rigid design and the bevelling of the tread blocks noticeably improve braking performance on dry ground.
The Michelin CrossClimate SUV has an internal architecture that has been specially developed to take into account the load and speed characteristics of modern, powerful SUVs. The internal structure, especially the sidewall, also takes into account the different size requirements for SUVs.
There’s now also the Michelin CrossClimate+, which is an evolution of the CrossClimate. The tread and sipes have been tweaked and the polymers are slightly more advanced – the major effect of this is increased grip in ice and snow compared to the Michelin CrossClimate.
So how has the Michelin CrossClimate performed in real life? Helpfully, a couple of days after the tyres were fitted, plummeting temperatures, storm-force winds and freezing rain were predicted – resulting in treacherous, icy roads. This meant that a trip to one of the highest, most exposed points in the Peak District was required.
The weather forecast was correct: all roads other than the gritted main routes were covered in sheet ice. Not that you’d know that when driving the Outlander; it was just like driving on normal tarmac. The problem occurred when getting out of the car to take photographs. Even with footwear suitable for a trek up Everest, it was completely impossible to stand up on the roads. As soon as you stepped foot on the road surface, if there was any form of slight incline, you slid down the iced road surface away from the car, and it was almost impossible to get any traction using human propulsion to get back to the car. After battling with the ice and the hurricane-like winds and finally returning to the heated driver’s seat, it was all the more amazing that the Outlander simply drove away up the ice-covered road with absolutely no dramas. So proving that Michelin CrossClimate all-season tyres appear to work extremely effectively on sheet ice at temperatures well below freezing. This also shows that a 4×4 with zero emission electric capability can also be extremely effective on snow and ice. In other words, the Outlander and the tyres coped with the freezing roads amazingly well; the human less so.
And what about the performance of the tyres on roads that aren’t covered in ice? Well, the Outlander drove well on the Yokohamas, but it feels better still on the Michelin CrossClimates. The ride feels more comfortable, and the car feels more agile. Unlike mud and snow tyres of old, there’s no extra noise – if anything the car sounds quieter. There also appears to be no difference in fuel economy.
So we’ll be waiting for snow to report back again on the tyres, but based on our experience so far, we’re left to wonder how long it will be before all cars will be fitted with all-season tyres such as the Michelin CrossClimate.