They can be used anywhere in Europe, summer or winter, but will this go-anywhere capability make our new All-Season tyres too compromised for year-round use in the UK? The fuel economy seems to be suffering already.
The idea had been to fit All-Season tyres just before our recent trip so that – on the way from northern Holland to southern Spain – we could safely divert through Germany and/or Switzerland.
There’s not a huge risk of snow or ice in Germany in late October – the law says you need M+S marked tyres to drive on frozen roads – but we bought All-Season tyres, fundamentally, because we don’t want to be restricted in where we can go during the winter (and don’t want the hassle or storage issue of buying winter and summer tyres).
Meanwhile, in Switzerland there was snow in the mountains. Swiss law doesn’t require ‘winter tyres’ but in practice you have to be ‘properly equipped’. Any trouble you run into without them – legal or otherwise – is likely to be serious.
What with one thing and another we couldn’t get hold of them before we left so we ended up driving mainly through France. That was no hardship, obviously, but neither was it what we had planned. It wasn’t until this weekend we managed to get our new boots fitted.
Full-on Winter Tyres – marked also with a snowflake symbol, though there is no legal definition – are made with a soft rubber compound which remains flexible below the all-important 7⁰C. They are also cut with hundreds of extra grooves (sipes) to maximise the grip surface in snow.
The rubber compound on regular ‘summer’ tyres hardens below 7⁰C, reducing grip, while their wide grooves quickly fill up with snow and turn them, effectively, into racing slicks.
All-Season tyres – marked M+S (for mud and snow), the only legal requirement in all European countries which have rules on tyres in winter – combine the snow sipes of winter tyres, in the centre, with the wide water-dispelling grooves of summer tyres on the outside edges.
The tyre industry has a saying that All-Season tyres provide, ‘90% of the grip of a full winter tyre on ice and snow, while keeping 90% of a summer tyre’s performance in the dry and wet.’
Nevertheless, the received wisdom is that they are compromised in all conditions, cost more, wear out quicker, are noisier, harden the ride and reduce fuel economy.
However, according to the label on our new Continental Cross Contact ATs (All-Terrain), the three main criteria – fuel efficiency, wet grip and noise – are all exactly the same as our previous summer tyres.
They might have been shockingly expensive at £1039 but that’s actually a few pounds cheaper than a direct replacement for the old ones.
After less than fifty miles they seem to be working well. Thankfully, the comfy ride in our Range Rover Evoque remains unchanged, and they don’t seem to be making any more noise.
Apart from longevity – the previous set lasted 24,500 miles – the only remaining anxiety is fuel economy. In the eight months we’ve had the car it has averaged a few clicks under 37mpg. Already that’s down to just over 35mpg… hopefully just because of some spirited test driving.
After the last trip we didn’t think we’d get away again until next May. Now we’re thinking it would be criminal to let these new tyres go to waste this winter. A week in the Alps is out of the question, but we might manage a few days in Germany’s secret ski region, the Sauerland, just 350 miles from Calais.