It’s getting close to that time of year where many Canadians (and Americans, and probably some Europeans, too) change over their tires on their XC90 to what are commonly called Winter or snow tires.
Growing up, I don’t specifically recall anybody having tires specifically for the snow or winter. Maybe they weren’t a thing, or maybe people actually knew how to drive in the snow, but today, snow tires are a real consideration for safety.
All-season Tires Don’t Cut it in Winter
There was a period of time when folks used to think all-season tires got them the best blend of safety and price in a tire they could use year-round, and in snow. The truth is, all-season tires just aren’t designed for use in the snow and ice. They’re really just a three-season tire. They provide sub-optimal traction than their dedicated, seasonal counterparts. In fact, some refer to these as a no-season tire.
Also, “snow” is not a season, nor are “ice” and “slush” – which leads me to think that “all-season” is a term that tire manufacturers made up to get you to buy tires and give you a false sense of security.
Here in Canada, some tire manufacturers place an “M” or an “S” on the sidewalks of their tires. To indicate that the tires is designed for either Mud and/or Snow. However there is no objective government testing, leaving manufacturers to but these quasi-designation on any off their tires. I really suggest you stay away from all-season tires for your XC90 in the winter if at all possible. Some will invariably write to me and say “But all-wheel-drive, blah blah blah W button…”
It’s all crap when the rubber meets the road. It’s why I don’t wear dress shoes in the snow…if the traction isn’t there, the control isn’t there either and that’s how I feel about all-season tires on the XC90. When I lived in North Carolina, I could get away with a decent set of year-round tires, butt in Canada, it’s not an option for me.
Now, if you’re dreading the idea of having to change tires twice a year (and pay for it, along it possibly storage, balancing, etc) then there is a third option for winter tires…
Enter the All-weather Tire
A few tire manufacturers have dedicated resources to take the all-season tire and re-design it to pass government standards for snow traction here in Canada. The all-weather tire is a true all season tire that is designed to be left on your XC90 year-round. Unlike other tires that get hard and lose their grip at 7 degrees Celsius, all-weather tires keep their flexibility to maintain roughly the same traction as a dedicated snow tire.
The compound used in the all-weather tire is somewhere in between all-season and winter tires. It’s softer than all-seasons to give you grip in cold weather, but it’s harder than winter tires to withstand hot highways and roads during summer driving.
Because of the tread pattern and slightly higher stiffness of the rubber, all-weather tires tend to be a bit noisier during the summer (I think every tire is noisy on winter roads) and that may be a turn-off to those who enjoy a quiet ride in the XC90. But the idea of not having to switch (or pay somebody to switch) your tires could outweigh any road noise you experience.
When it comes to stopping power on ice, snow tires typically outperform both all-weather and all-season tires. However, on wet pavement and dry-freezing surfaces, the all-weather is slightly more effective than a winter tire. In slush-covered roads, both the winter tire and all-weather tire acted similarly but vastly out-performed the all-season tire.