With Groundhog Day now behind us, various locales in Canada have been reporting conflicting information as to whether we’ll have an early spring or six more weeks of winter. In any case, we can still expect colder temperatures and should still be prepared to accept a decent helping of snow and ice in the vast majority of the country. This means that winter tires are still very much an important thing – don’t forget that those little four rubber contact patches are all that separates you and the road.
Continental Tire Canada recently invited Daddy’s Digest out to Quebec for a day of winter tire testing at the Circuit ICAR racetrack in Mirabel, and full disclosure – they covered our travel and hotel stay for this trip. We got to test the Continental WinterContact TS 830 P, 850 P, and 860 S, which are geared toward premium sports cars and crossovers, and many of these types of cars have wider tires and larger wheel diameters. Sizes are available in between the 16 and 22-inch range.
Why Winter Tires?
Safety, safety, safety. Everybody appreciates it, and when the season calls for it, winter tires are one of the easiest ways to maximize your safety margin behind the wheel. It’s not only about traction when taking off from a stop – winter tires can help you stop significantly shorter, which can mean all the difference in the world when it comes to avoiding a collision, and the added steering control will help when needing to maneuver around an obstacle. Some locales such as Quebec mandate it, and others such as Ontario mandate insurance companies offer drivers a discount when their car is equipped with winter tires during the right time of the year.
It’s quite likely that those who are non-believers haven’t properly tried winter tires because the added control and confidence are tough to give up. Keep in mind that they don’t make you invincible; always drive according to conditions and slow down when surfaces are slippery.
All three tires we tested feature an asymmetrical tread pattern and are ideally suited for optimal performance and handling on wet and dry roads. They still perform well in packed snow, and will most definitely beat any all-season tire on ice. Compared to a more conventional winter tire (Within the Conti lineup, think of the VikingContact 7), they do give up a bit when in deep snow or ice, so these tires are a better fit for those who live in urban environments with roads that tend to be plowed and salted more quickly.
The WinterContact TS 830 P, 850 P, and 860 S can typically be found as original equipment manufacturer (OEM) compliant winter tires, so you’ll likely find them available as a part of winter wheel and tire packages available at your local dealer. Various automakers sometimes have their own manufacturer-specific versions of these tires with the same tread pattern and a proprietary rubber compound. This can mean that they’re more likely to comply with the original design specifications of your car. That said, Daddy’s Digest believes that non-manufacturer-specific general replacement tires can be more than good enough, and you can find the general market versions of these WinterContact TS tires at most local tire shops.
With three models to choose from, the TS 830 P is geared towards passenger cars such as the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and BMW 3 Series, but you’ll also find them in OEM-approved applications for the Audi R8 and Porsche Panamera/Macan/Cayenne. The TS 850 P is meant more for premium crossover sport-utilities such as the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC/GLE, and the Land Rover Discovery. The 860 S tends to be reserved for higher-end machines such as the Tesla Model 3/Model Y, Porsche 911, and electric heavyweights such as the Mercedez-Benz EQS.
Four test scenarios were created at Circuit ICAR for us to try using considerably different types of cars. The first was sending retired all-wheel-drive Ford Taurus police cars equipped with the TS 830 P through a road course, and we were able to see that cornering, accelerating, and braking on snow and ice worked a treat when the right tires are under you.
Test two moved on to the crossover SUV, and the Volvo XC90 was selected to put the TS 850 P through its paces on a course that somewhat resembled an open snowy skid pad. We noted that having the winter tires on the car allowed for the traction and stability control systems to work more effectively, and there was surprisingly little drama. This might not be so fun if you’re attempting to drift a corner (don’t try this at home – we were at a race track, remember!), but the car and tire got the job done seamlessly, which means you’re more likely to get to your destination in one piece.
The third test involved electric vehicles, namely the Polestar 2 and the Tesla Model 3. Equipped with the TS 860 S, the EVs were put through a slalom course and drivers were encouraged to push the limits to get a proper feel for the tire. While we found that the Tesla Model 3 was a little more engaging to drive in a sporty manner compared to the Polestar, both cars kept things very well under control, and yours truly had to get pretty deliberately ham-fisted before a more unpredictable skid started to happen.
For test four, we’ll move on to something completely different: a pair of rally-prepared Subaru WRX STI race cars were equipped with studded Continental IceContact XTRM tires, and safety gear like helmets and roll cages were part of the equation. We got to take these out on the main Circuit ICAR course with an instructor riding shotgun, helping to initiate massive slides for a few laps around the track. We didn’t think that there could be this much traction and grip on snowy and icy surfaces, but these race cars opened our eyes to what can be done.
Continental’s competitive advantage comes in an area that some may not think about when it comes to shopping for tires. Their Total Confidence Plan program offers a 60-day exchange customer satisfaction trial, twelve months of road hazard coverage, and three years’ worth of complimentary flat tire roadside assistance with tows up to 250 kilometres. There is also emergency trip interruption coverage, which covers up to $200 per day. Other tire manufacturers don’t tend to go into this much detail with their warranty coverage, but we do find that Michelin tends to offer longer kilometre treadwear warranties.
The car testing experts at Daddy’s Digest already knew that winter tires are integral to driving anywhere the weather is cold and snow and ice can cover the roads. The whole idea of them has many different facets and areas of focus, and the Continental WinterContact TS 830P, 850P, and 860S are three choices that are likely to win over buyers who are looking for dealer and manufacturer-backed tire options, in addition to having a more fair-weather bias in terms of performance. City dwellers who want to make the most of cold and dry conditions with regularly plowed and salted roads will do well here. It’s a case of having your cake and eating it too.