You and Your EV Deserve Safer Tires for Icy Weather

All-season doesn’t always mean winter

I've been behind the wheel of the Acura NSX before. It's a wonderful hybrid supercar that handles spectacularly. However, this is the first time I'm driving it on four inches of ice. 

This past week I had the opportunity to test the latest winter and all-season tires from Bridgestone at its Winter Driving Experience near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. While I've spent years informing friends and family that a pair of good winter tires are far better than all-wheel drive, this was an opportunity not only to see that in action but a chance to feel how far tire technology had advanced. 

A test car driving on a snow covered road.


And while spring might be just around the corner now, if we've learned anything from HBO's TV series about dragons, beheadings, and incest, winter is coming. 

Supercar on Ice

The NSX I was driving wasn't on winter tires; it was rolling on all-seasons—a tire that's sort of a jack of all trades. It offers good handling in dry weather but can also make short work of rain, snow, and ice as long as the driver understands the conditions. On the supercar, I still managed to get around what was essentially an autocross course with me behind the wheel, even though I did take out a cone. I braked too late and turned too quickly. But I never just slid wildly out of control, which, maybe 10 years ago on all-seasons, would have likely been the case. 

I spent years driving up to Lake Tahoe in the snow with all-seasons on my all-wheel-drive WRX. They worked very well, but I knew I needed to be cautious. If I had that car still (RIP boxer engine that exploded one day) and was rolling on the latest batch of all-seasons, I'd feel way more confident. 

EV Tires

Which brings us to EVs. Most are outfitted with high-efficiency tires. They have low rolling resistance and generally benefit from the range numbers the automakers have secured via EPA testing. However, the trade is that they're not exactly built to tackle snow and ice. 

A closeup of a Bridgestone tire tred.


I've gotten more than a few EVs (my Kona Electric included) to spin the wheels on even mildly slick roads during acceleration. Sure it's kind of fun, but it's also a reminder that if it was snowing, I'd really have to baby the accelerator, braking, and steering to get to my destination. 

Many EVs do have the added benefit of outstanding torque vectoring. That's when the rotation of each tire is managed by the vehicle to give the maximum amount of traction. If one tire is slipping, the van, truck, or SUV can reduce power delivery to that wheel and increase power to another wheel with better grip. That's awesome, but if none of the tires can get a proper grip, well, you have a problem. 

Back to Back Driving

Winter tires might be the best bet for those that deal with months of slick and snowy roads, and I can tell you, those are far better than I remember. Bridgestone outfitted Acura MDX SUVs with its Blizzak (real name) winter tires and its all-seasons as an opportunity to test both setups on the same type of vehicle. Like the NSX, the MDX with all-seasons performed surprisingly well. But then I drove the vehicle with the Blizzaks. 

At one point, I was told to drive 30 miles an hour down a frozen hill, then slam on the brakes, release the brakes, then turn quickly to the right, quickly to the left, then hit the brakes again. Growing up driving in snow and spending a few years tackling Tahoe's roads during the weekend in my brain, this is all a recipe for disaster. But I did it, and it was fine. Wait, it was better than fine. It was incredibly impressive. Throughout the day, the instructors had me do things in the Acura MDX outfitted with Blizaks that I was sure would slide me into the snowbank.  

A yellow Bridgestone test car driving on a snowy course to test tire traction.


Then I asked about all-wheel drive—both the MDX and NSX are outfitted with Acura's SH-AWD (super handling all-wheel drive) system—I heard the same thing from the instructors and Bridgestone's Senior Product Manager, Brad Robinson. All-wheel drive is great for acceleration but has advantages over rear-wheel drive and front-wheel drive vehicles in cornering and braking. One instructor told me about an event where the front-wheel-drive vehicles outperformed the all-wheel-drive vehicles on the ice track when both were outfitted with winter tires. 

In other words, tires matter in slick and icy conditions. Way more than most people may realize, and the technology behind how they work is intriguing. 

Compounds and Snipes

What sets all-seasons and winter tires apart from other types of tires is the compound and tread. Tread differences seem like a no-brainer. But it's more involved than just throwing a bunch of snipes (aka grooves and treads) on the rubber and calling it a day. Robinson told me that the company uses virtual modeling initially, then takes the tires to ice track to test them for grip and bite on the road and to make sure drivers have an enjoyable, comfortable driving experience. "The evolution is not only to give you confident winter traction but also the tire acting more like a regular tire," Robinson said. 

The rubber that hits the road is also far more complex than most drivers realize. The compound needs to remain soft and compliant during extremely cold weather to grip the road. Bridgestone uses its proprietary multicell compound that removes and repels water from the tire's surface as it comes in contact with the road. It turns out the slipperiest conditions are a few degrees above and below 32-degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature at which water freezes. That's because unfrozen water in the mix makes tires slide more on top of the ice. 

Two drivers testing Bridgestone tires on SUVs on a snowy road.


EVs in the Winter

For those rolling with electrons, there are tires on the market, both all-season and winter, that will fit most EVs. If you're unsure what tires to buy, a metal stamped plate with tire size and required weight rating is in the jamb of the vehicle driver's door. You can also talk with your local trusted tire shop. 

Robinson does admit there are additional challenges with creating winter tires for EVs. "Rolling resistance is definitely in consideration. I think it may become more important as we transition to EVs because I think range is a little more relevant to people," he noted. 

Bridgestone is working with OEMs on tires for EVs, so it has insights into how vehicles interact with the road and what automakers expect drivers to experience behind the wheel. There are also considerations about weight, regenerative braking, and torque. Fortunately, many vehicles on the road are shipping with traction control settings for slippery situations. 

You combine that with a good set of winter or all-season tires, and EVs are ready for almost anything the elements can throw at them. Even driving on a windy, hilly, track built on four inches of ice. 

Want to know more about EVs? We have a whole section dedicated to electric vehicles!

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