Besides tightening the nut behind the wheel, the biggest improvement you can make to your car is with a good set of rubber. That’s doubly true when the white stuff starts flying and the temperatures plummet. Not only can semi-slick summer tires not handle the snow it self, but the low temperatures essentially turn the warm-weather rubber compound into a material that resembles brick.
Thankfully, right in time for our first (and so far only significant) taste of snow this season, we received a 2012 Mazdaspeed3, shod in eighteen-inch Bridgestone Blizzak snow tires. The MS3 is the perfect vehicle to test the difference between summer and winter tires, as its high-horsepower and high-torque engine and front-wheel-drive layout tend to be quite hard on front-end grip. Switching from summer to winter tires means giving up some ultimate grip, as the winter rubber features a lower contact patch due to the various grooves that siphon water out from under the tire.
On wet, slick, or snowy roads though, the improvements are notable. Initial acceleration, an area that is difficult for a high-powered, front-drive car like the Mazdaspeed3 was far easier on the slick roads of our test route. Wheel spin is still an issue, but we were able to hook up sooner and gain speed quicker and with more confidence on the winter rubber.
The improved wet-weather grip is also noticeable in the bends. Where a car shod in summer or all-season tires might hydroplane or understeer on wet roads, our winter-tired Speed3 just hunkered down and zoom-zoomed along.
For an idea of what we're talking about, check out the video below, where we take our Mazdaspeed3 through a winter wonderland.