Long-Term Car: The Mini's Snow Tires Get Tested

By Brandon Turkus

February 25, 2012

(photo credit: Chris Amos)
To be frank, this Michigan winter has been a bit of a joke. We’ve been treated to extremely mild weather for a healthy portion of January and February, with only an occasional dumping of snow (that quickly melts away within three days). So it was with some glee that I stole our long-term Mini Cooper S Coupe from Multimedia Editor Amos, upon hearing that we’d be getting a whopping (extreme sarcasm intended) four to six inches of snow.
Finally, we’d have a proper test of our Michelin Primacy Alpin winter tires. I pulled out of work to dry weather on that Friday afternoon, and made it home in record time (people, hearing there was snow on the way, must have ditched work early to avoid a slow-go on the way home). I parked the car, and waited.
After a brief nap (okay, it was about five hours, but whatever) I woke up to a snowy wonderland outside my bedroom window. For once, the predictions seemed spot on, with a solid four inches of packing snow on the ground. I set out onto the mostly abandoned roads.
My first impression of this rubber was that it’s a solid winter tire. Initial acceleration was vastly improved over the summer rubber, with only a modicum of wheel spin off the line. At speed, acceleration wasn’t an issue, although the lower grip amplified torque steer, requiring a firmer hand on the steering wheel.
If there was one area where the snows made a major difference, it was under braking. Thanks to the extra traction, the ABS system wasn’t kicking in every time I touched the brake pedal. Even under emergency, pedal-to-the-floor stops, ABS intervention was kept to a minimum, as the brakes and rubber worked together to keep control firmly in my hands. I’d make the argument that the most important thing about driving in the snow is slowing down (yes, more important than the ability to go around a turn, feel free to debate this with me in the comments section), and in that regard, these tires are ace.
As for bends, driving in the snow can often produce terminal understeer, as the front end just has no grip to go around turns. Fitting the Michelins has improved things, making the Mini feel more sure-footed around turns. The other benefit of the improved braking is the ability to sort out understeer faster when it does crop up. Simply dip into the brakes, reestablish front-end traction, and go on your way. In a straight line, the snow rubber also gave the Mini a more stable feeling, and hitting the occasional patch of deeper snow didn’t pull the front-end out of line.
—Brandon Turkus, Online Editor