Review: Michelin X-Ice Xi3 – Driving Impressions

Posted by: Shelton Kwan onJanuary 25th, 2012

Every single year, beyond members gather online and debate the merits of winter tires, and compares what works best in our climate. Over the last 5 years, winter tires threads are by far the most popular winter discussions on our forums. We have a mix of the all season tire warriors, the winter tire nuts, and the crazies like myself that drive their sports cars in the winter trying to find a winter tire that’s actually manufactured in aggressive sizes. These threads must have garnered the attention of Michelin, as they have invited us to their unveiling of the brand new 2012 Michelin X-Ice Xi3 for review (don’t forget to check out the Xi3 preview for more pics).

First, let’s look at what Michelin has to offer in this new generation of winter rubber. As with the Xi2, the tire features Flex-Ice compound, micro pumps on the tread to absorb water, and Cross Z Sipe to maximize stability. One of the design goals for the Xi3 is longevity. The problem with winter tires is that when there’s no snow, the tires wear at a much faster rate. Ask any Blizzak owner in Calgary, where we have a lot of dry plowed roads how they have to baby their tires near the end of the season to survive before switching to summer tires. The Xi3 improves on this by optimizing the contact patch, distributing the forces of acceleration, braking, and cornering, allowing the tire to wear more evenly which results in a longer life. Michelin backs it up with a 60,000km (40,000 miles in the US) warranty.

Michelin introduced several key improvements to the Xi3 to improve snow and ice traction, as seen from their spec sheet above. As you can see from the tread, it’s a much more aggressive pattern, offering 15% more block edges compared to the previous generation Xi2, which I’m guessing is where much of the acceleration improvements comes from. The new V-shape design reminds me of the old Aquatreads, which should help on big slushy days that we often get along with Chinooks.

Enough with specs, let’s find out how these tires handle! We were split up into 2 separate groups, and lucky for me, I ended up in the 7am morning group. A little tired from the night before, but after a few runs, I was wide awake. Our first stop was on the ice track, where the Xi3 was compared to 3 of it’s competitors; the Continental ExtremeWinterContact, the Toyo Observe GS1-5, and the Goodyear Ultragrip Ice. We were able to test all 4 tires in acceleration and braking, while the return road gave us a chance to see how they stacked up in the corners. To be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference between braking between the 4 tires, and as Michelin stated in their tests, the tires were within 10% of each other. If anything, 1 or 2 km/h difference in speed in the brake test made huge differences on ice. The same thing could be said about accelerating, with the only difference being directional stability, where the Michelin Xi3 excelled. On the return road, the Xi3 gave the most confidence when cornering on pure ice, while the Continental ExtremeWinterContact was brutal. The Goodyear and Toyo slotted somewhere in the middle.

Next up, we had a chance to test “worn” tires. Michelin provided 4 vehicles with tires shaved down to 4/32nd tread depth to show how used tires of each brand handled. Along with the Xi3, the cars were shod with Goodyear UltraGrip Ice, Nokian Hakkapeliitta R, and the Bridgestone Blizzak WS70. This was my favorite stations, as we got to drive all 4 cars on a packed snow track, with ice underneath some of the braking areas and corners, much like real life conditions. In order to guage how good the Michelin’s were, I decided to run the Xi3’s last. Starting with the Goodyear, I had to learn the course, so it wasn’t a fair test. The car understeered everywhere regardless of how I entered corners. On the Nokians, the car was all over the place, understeered if entering too fast, and oversteering excessively when I trail braked into turns. While it was fun for me, I doubt it will convey much confidence for the average consumer.

The big player in the winter tire market, the Bridgestone Blizzak, faired well in the test. Excellent stability in turns, predictable handling under braking, acceleration, everywhere. Surprising, since everyone knows the Blizzak dropoff when worn. The surprise, however, didn’t last too long once I got into the Michelin Xi3 shod vehicle. Stability and predictability was just as good as the Blizzaks, but I could carry what felt like 20% more speed throughout the corners. On the high speed off camber right hander, I was able to accelerate through the corner without a trace of understeer. Impressive stuff. In terms of laptimes (provided by Michelin), the Nokians came a respectable 1/2 second behind the Xi3, while the Bridgestone and Goodyear were even and around 1.5 seconds behind.

The third stop was the new tire test. A shorter course than the worn tire test course, it was a semi-oval featuring flat, off camber, and uphill corners/braking zones. Included in this test were the Xi3, Nokian WR (All Season), Kebek Winter (no-name brand), and the Toyo Observe Garit KX. I was disappointed in Michelin’s choice of tires for comparison, as neither the Blizzak or Nokian winter tiress made it into this test. The results were obvious, with all 4 cars on the track, the all season was lapped by the Xi3, while the Xi3 pulled away easily from the Kebek and Toyo.

The afternoon sessions were simply fun exercises to enjoy Michelin’s line of products, including the LTX Winter, their light truck line of winter tires. Cars were a mix of SUV’s, AWD Caddys, FWD Mazdas, and a Ford F-150 in RWD mode on the handling course. The drift course featured a RWD Caddy CTS. No comparisons with other tires, but it highlights how fun (and obviously safe) winter driving is with proper tires. The drift course was awesome, I was one of the few that could hold multiple full circle drifts on ice without spinning (the guy from Tirerack was the other).

So back to the warranty. Speaking with the Michelin engineers that were on-site, the Xi3 is backed by such a long treadlife warranty because they are confident it can last that long. In mileage tests against the competition, it outlasts the Blizzak WS70 by a nearly twice the distance. What’s even more impressive is that while the Blizzaks lose a lot of grip once they’re past 50% wear, the Xi3’s will retain almost the same level of performance at 4/32nd tread depths (see our forums discussions for more in-depth look at worn tread comparisons). Michelin believes that if you are using the tire as a dedicated winter set, it can easily last 7 years before needing replacement.

Deliveries of the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 will begin in July 2012 for the 2013 winter seasons. It will initially be available in 33 sizes, up to 18″ diameters and down to 45 aspect ratios. Please check out our Michelin X-Ice Xi3 thread for updated info and member discussions.

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