MINI Mods: New Snow Tires

With the MINI’s first winter approaching and memories of 2009/2010’s Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, and Snoverkill still fresh on my mind, I figured it would be a smart idea to get equipped with a good set of winter-only snow tires.  Unfortunately, I needed to maintain at least a 17″ wheel diameter to fit over the Brembo brakes up front, severely limiting my options.

After checking out the results on TireRack (and the limited availability of the remaining stock), I settled on the Bridgestone Blizzak LM60 in 205/45/17 fitment.

I had the tires shipped to PBC Automotive in Chantilly, VA for install – they arrived in about 2 days with standard shipping.  Short of having to wait a few days for an appointment, the guys at PBC did a good job mounting the Blizzaks on my JCW challenge wheels – no noticeable scratches on the finish.  By mounting on my existing wheels with TPMS already installed I was able to keep the cost down.

With about two months and 2,000 miles on the tires, I’ve been pleased with the performance so far although this winter has been much more temperate than the last.  The first time we did get snow I found an unplowed parking lot to see how both the car and tires would act with a few inches of snow underfoot.  Snow grip was great – the tires were reluctant to break traction without significant motivation.  Braking was predictable, although stopping distances were of course longer in snow than on dry pavement and the ABS eventually stepped in if enough brake was applied.  The tires are not studded, so in the few instances where I’ve encountered ice I’d say it’s best not to ask too much in the way of braking or directional changes.

The vast majority of my driving so far as been 25-40 degree weather on dry and wet pavement.  Some would question getting dedicated snow tires for these relatively tame conditions, but the rubber compound on summer tires (and many ‘all season’ tires) isn’t meant for temperatures below 40-45 degrees.  Even the highest-performance summer (and all season) tires will get rock hard in  typical winter temperatures and deliver much less grip than a cold-focused rubber compound like that used in the Blizzak.

From a handling perspective, I haven’t asked as much of the Blizzaks as my dedicated summer tires, but I would given them good marks.  Turn-in is crisp (likely due to the firm sidewalls – these are runflats after all) and they don’t have much trouble putting power down or bringing the MINI to a stop quickly.  Tire wear seems to be minimal so far (admittedly a short sampling period).  I have noticed a slight drop-off in fuel economy since installing, but I think this is primarily due to different driving cycles in cold weather (longer warm up).

Biggest complaint so far is the ride quality.  I was hoping for an improvement when rotating off the OEM runflat Dunlops but any difference has been negligible on the runflat Blizzaks.  Paired with a stiff suspension set up and the deteriorating road surfaces throughout the winter, the ride can be downright unbearable and necessitates a lot of swerving around potholes and grimacing before every crack and expansion joint.

I should still have another 6 weeks or so before rotating back to a dedicated summer setup.  More thoughts on the Blizzaks at that point.

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