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Slippery slope proves gripping stuff for new tyres

17:10 16 October 2015

Firestone’

Firestone’'s Multiseason tyre has been designed as a tyre for all seasons, as happy on snow and ice as it is on Tarmac.

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Should we all have tyres both for summer and winter? Most of us still don’t want the hassle, but one brand reckons it has a solution with a tyre for all seasons. Matt Kimberley gets to grips with it.

To winter tyre or not to winter tyre – that is the question we’re forced to ask ourselves every year. Since it means being forced to find somewhere to store your summer tyres, as well as paying someone to remove and re-fit the respective sets – twice, by the time spring arrives again – most of us just can’t be bothered.

Those of us that don’t fit cold-weather rubber always have that nagging ‘what if’ rattling around our noggins, though. What if it snows, or what if there’s heavy rain just before a freeze? In my three decades on the planet I’m fairly sure I’ve witnessed that after a hot summer comes a cold winter, so if I’m right we could be in for a chilly one.

Spending out

Still, that doesn’t make you want to spend out on an extra set of tyres – or even spare wheels with tyres on them permanently – so what’s the alternative? Either you can risk slithering about on your summer tyres in slippery conditions or you can choose something like Firestone’s new Multiseason tyre.

The company claims it does what it says on the tin – it’s a tyre for all seasons, as happy on snow and ice as it is on Tarmac. I was invited to Germany to try it out.

Snow Dome

More than 8,000km of mistreatment had left the rented Fiat 500L feeling distinctly used but it was a stable platform for the job. First stop was the Snow Dome at Bispingen, south of Hamburg. The indoor ski slope is covered with real snow, compacted in places to ice in the making of a short up-and-down course for the car. It’s ours for the next 60 minutes.

A short ‘here’s the obvious’ safety briefing outside the cars courtesy of company test driver and former F1 talent Stefano Modena shows:

a) Just how cold it is in here.

b) How slippery.

This is a proper test, and I’m a bit surprised. Usually these things are a bit half-baked for ‘elf and safety’s sake’, but I’ve been on grippier water slides.

Off we go in the Fiat, and as it starts up the slope, empty ski lifts swinging idly on our right, we reach the point where summer tyres would give up. But the Multiseasons plug away quite happily. Even stopping, flicking the handbrake on and then starting off again doesn’t get you stuck. They struggle a little, but this front-wheel drive car, setting off uphill on snow, escaped being stranded.

Going downhill

With safety in mind, the corner at the top of the course and the descent on the other side are at least as important. The corner offers no real problem at all – we’re doing only about 18mph even on our fastest run at it. Braking is arguably the crucial bit. Being able to not hit stuff is fundamental. While stomping on the brake locks the wheels, there’s a surprising amount of decelerative force on tap before they do and I was impressed every time the car stopped safely.

It’s no real surprise once you dig into the technology. The Multiseason is derived from a winter tyre compound and tread pattern – you’ll see the increased number of sipes (grooves) in the tread – but with stiffer sidewalls for greater durability and handling stability in the dry than a winter tyre will give you. Hence you can use them all year round.

They’re a Jack of all trades, and while it’s true they’re also a master of none, how often do you take a summer tyre to its performance limits, or a winter tyre to Siberian conditions? Be honest, a one-size-fits-all solution makes a lot of sense.

The Firestone Multiseason is available now, with more than 20 sizes planned between 14 and 16 inches.

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