Tyres for the Alps: CrossClimate feedback

21st October 2020, by Chris Gill

A near-ideal year-round tyre

A near-ideal year-round tyre

In the run-up to last season, I wrote about my plans for driving in the Swiss Alps to research the planned fourth book in our new series, and specifically about the tyres I planned to use. It’s time for an update. This may be of wider than usual interest because anyone hoping to go skiing in the Alps this season would be well advised, in my view, to drive out to a self-catering property, to minimise exposure to The Virus. (Of course, an effective and available vaccine would change things.)

The story so far. Ordinary ‘summer’ tyres are next to useless on snow and ice. In some circumstances, chains and other devices can be fitted to overcome their deficiencies. But in practice, to be safe and legal you need winter tyres, which are specially designed for use in low temperatures and on snow – or ‘all-season’ tyres, which aim to provide acceptable grip year-round. (As in December, I must note for American readers that ‘all-season tires’ in America are not the same thing – that term seems to be used for regular, normal tyres.)

What I discovered in December was that one all-season tyre had become widely recognised as offering a better compromise between winter and summer performance than others – indeed, offering performance involving very little compromise at all. This is the Michelin CrossClimate (CC). Test results vary from one test to another, and in some tests the CC doesn’t give the same grip as the best summer tyres in summer or the best winter tyres on snow, but in other tests it does measure up to the best of both. This is quite a feat. I quoted lots of test results and included a very illuminating video of one testing session in my original blog.

So I had a set of CCs fitted to the editorial Skoda SUV before setting off for the Alps in early January – first for a week in France, and then several weeks in Switzerland in the period mid-January to mid- March, at which point The Virus forced us to abandon our research and postpone publication of our Switzerland book.

My approach to driving in the Alps is a bit like Johnson’s current approach to controlling The Virus: three tiers. First, I use a four-wheel-drive car equipped with suitable tyres, with fancy traction control gadgets switched off. If I get into difficultly, I can step things up by turning these gadgets on – the Skoda has two systems you can turn on, one of them including an electronic differential lock to prevent one spinning wheel bringing things to a halt. Then, in the boot I carry lightweight plastic ‘chains’ to be applied in an emergency.

During my time in Switzerland I can’t claim to have undertaken any particularly adventurous driving, but we did encounter snow in reasonable quantities, and we did climb and descend some modest gradients. I didn’t need to use the traction control gadgets, never mind the plastic chains. And I’ve been perfectly happy with the behaviour of the tyres on normal roads, both in the Alps and in warmer conditions back home. The video shows one attempt to attempt a steep slope in Arosa – which turned out to be a piste. Ooops!

So I’m happy with the CCs, and very happy that I no longer have the twice-yearly chore of swapping summer/winter tyres. Full disclosure: the CCs were provided, at my request, by Michelin. But I’m sufficiently convinced about the merits of these tyres that I’ll be fitting them at my own expense to our other car, a SEAT Leon that never goes near the Alps. The thing about winter/all-season tyres is that they give better grip in cold, wet conditions as well as snow – and we do get snow down here in Devon, now and again.

The CC is quite expensive. For the Leon, Kwikfit quotes the CrossClimate+ (soon to be replaced by the CrossClimate 2) at £77, and they have plenty of recognised brands at around £65. The only other all-season tyres they are offering me are a Hankook at £70 and a highly regarded Goodyear at £115. (That has run-flat capabililty, which may explain the painful price.) The Kodiaq of course takes bigger tyres – £122 for the CC SUV version.

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