There's something about that 49th parallel.
Looking outside at our first snow of the season, I was compelled to find out just how much of our country is blanketed in the white stuff. Turns out the stereotypes and old wives' tales are true: on a snow-cover map of North America I found on the website of the Canadian Cryospheric Information Network at the University of Waterloo (www.ccin.ca), there is a line that roughly follows the Canada-US border. Above that line it's white, below there's nothing but brown and green. Who knew?
It's no surprise, then, Yokohama's latest winter tire, the iceGUARD iG52c, was designed specifically for the Canadian market. New this season, these tires represent the latest in winter technology available from Yokohama and build on the iG51v truck and SUV tire introduced last year.
This year's test tires were installed when the pavement was still dry but temperatures had already dropped below that magic 7 C mark, where winter tires have been shown to provide traction superior to that of all-seasons even before snow and ice make an appearance.
All winter tires are designated as such only after passing rigorous testing as established by ASTM (the American Society for Testing and Materials) and earning a traction rating of 110 or higher on packed snow. It's the Rubber Association of Canada that recognizes tires that meet this standard and approve use of the "snowflake-on-mountain" symbol that can be found on the sidewall of all winter tires.
But that's just the start. There are plenty of winter tires out there that claim to be of the "performance" variety, which do an excellent job of preserving your car's sharp handling characteristics through the winter months. But this is invariably achieved at the expense of optimal snow and ice traction. And personally, I'm happy to sacrifice dry-pavement handling to get the best winter performance possible out of my tires.
The iceGuard name may not have the same market presence as Blizzak or X-Ice, but rest assured there is some serious winter rubber technology at work here. There are certain traits we expect to see in all dedicated winter tires, and those traits are a softer rubber compound and plenty of sipes (those narrow, closely-spaced zigzag slits in the tread). Yokohama complements these characteristics with some tricks they hope will differentiate their tires from the class standards. While it's always difficult to get specific information out of tire companies -- rubber compound formulations are highly-guarded company secrets -- the differentiating feature of this tire is said to be the ability of its compound to draw moisture away from the contact patch to reduce the chances of skidding on slick surfaces. Small air pockets ("absorptive balloons" in Yokohama-marketing speak) wick water away through capillary action to keep the rubber acquainted with the road.
Other iG52c features touted by Yokohama include generous drainage grooves in the tread to disperse water and slush, plus a wide, continuous central rib to aid in straight-line stability -- a must when dealing with tread blocks that allow a lot of flex.
The tires also meet Yokohama's own "BluEarth" eco-standard thanks to their low rolling resistance and long tread life. But in my book, any claim of long tread life should be backed by a treadwear warranty. Like most winter tires, though, the iG52c does not carry a treadwear warranty.
The 225/45-17 tires were installed on our Volkswagen Golf Wagon by my local Kal Tire shop on one of the busiest Saturdays of the year, according to manager Mike Downey. "Our sign says we're open until 5 but we'll be here well after 10 tonight."
My first drive on the new rubber was exactly what I'd hoped for: the VW's normally first-rate steering response had been reduced to a muddled mess. Lest you think I've completely lost perspective here, allow me to explain. Tires that behave like this do so because their tread compound is softer and the tires' structure is designed to allow more flex as the car makes its way down the road, around corners and to a safe stop.
But I see that squishy feeling between the VW's controls and the road as a sign of promise. A sign this isn't a tire that rides on the fence. And without giving too much away about how the tires performed after we woke up to a blanket of white outside, let's just say this is a great start for a tire that just might challenge the front-runners in the studless winter tire market.