It’s the same every winter. Cars in ditches. Calls for more gritting. Queues at pathetic speeds on the snow. Another year. Another generation of motorists inadequately prepared for the season.
We live in a time when we’d all better start taking the colder season a bit more seriously, writes Andy Enright.
And fitting winter tyres is part of that. But there’s a bewildering choice of winter rubber on the market, so where to start? Perhaps with the state-of-the-art. Dunlop’s latest WinterSport 4D tyre is a high performance design that sits above the more family-orientated SP Winter Response tyre in the company’s range. It claims to move the market for winter tyres to a new dimension – so I flew to arctic Sweden to try it.
Dunlop has a long and successful legacy of winter tyre technology stretching back to 1993 and many premium car makers choose the brand’s winter tyre technology as original equipment.
The reasons why are to be found in the unique technology of this new rubber and its clever ‘4D sipe’ system. A ‘sipe’, you’d be forgiven for not knowing, is an ultra-thin groove made in the tyre’s tread that enhances both traction and grip. The 3D sipes on Dunlop’s previous WinterSport design were already enough to win it a whole clutch of awards and adding the fourth ‘4D’ transversal sipe that gives this tyre its name makes all the difference – more contact with the road and greater lateral performance and grip. Active safety was a key objective for Dunlop’s designers. This, they were determined, should be not only a short-braking tyre but also one that would react quickly to steering response.
It all sounds impressive – but then manufacturer’s claims always do. Putting this tyre to the test back-to-back with competitors on the frozen lake that Dunlop had laid on near the central Swedish town of Are would, I was confident, properly test the technology. Both front and rear-driven cars, Audi A3s and BMW 3 Series models, had been provided for the purpose, with the Audis first up on a frozen ice oval track. Our first test pitted cars with the new 4D against others using Dunlop Winter tyre technology two decades old, our hosts wanting to underline just how far this market has come in the last 20 years. The point was well made, the Audis shod with more modern rubber turning in quicker and sliding much less than their counterparts.
But next was the crucial test: a fleet of rear-driven BMW 3 Series saloons awaited nearby on a testing, twisting, undulating snow circuit, some fitted with WinterSport 4Ds, the others featuring the best alternative winter tyres that competitors Michelin and Pirelli could offer. First I tried a car with Pirellis which slid and oversteered luridly. The Michelin-shod 318d I tried next was better but the car fitted with the Dunlops comprehensively out-pointed it. Turn-in was sharper, lateral grip was more reassuring and even when the car broke away from you, it was easier to bring it back into line. A subsequent road route further underlined these initial impressions.