It's alright, you can admit it. Despite living in an area where it snows in the winter, you've never owned a set of winter tires. At best you have a set of barely-there all-seasons on your old stock wheels. We've been there too...
The reasoning behind such a dangerous and unwise decision on winter roads is snow tires suck. They're mushy, don't handle and, unless you live in Finland, they're just not that necessary most of the time. Usually, it may snow for a day or two, but after that the roads are wet at worst and typically dry before you know it. Then it's back to the poor-handling snow tires on your finely-tuned Euro.
When Falken Tire, known for its high-performance rubber, invited us to the introduction of its new Eurowinter HS439 tires, we couldn't refuse.
The HS439 is Falken's entry into the performance winter category and the idea is to have your cake and eat it too. A tire that maintains a sporty character in the dry or wet, but won't leave you in a ditch at the first wisp of a snowflake. Larger, lower-profile fitments mean they fit modern performance cars.
The core elements are an asymmetric tread design, high volume circumferential grooves, multi-angled sipes and a new silica compound. Beefy tread blocks sit on the outside for cornering and dry traction, while the inner tread provides traction in the snow and rain. The overall look is of an ultra-high performance tire rather than a snow tire. The silica compound ensures the tread stays flexible under super-cold conditions, while the tiny sipes actually bite into the snow. The wide grooves then help evacuate water and slush.
Although these Falken tires meet severe snow requirements, we're told the HS439 won't provide the traction of a traditional winter tire in deep snow. In the real world, they should take care of almost every winter storm thrown at them, with better high-speed stability.
So how do they work? Falken set up four arenas at the International Club Academy Racing (ICAR) at Mirabel Airport outside Montreal, Quebec to allow us to test the limits. The formula finesse and accident avoidance courses were fun and informative, showing how responsive the HS439 was under hard braking and delicate low-speed maneuvers, but the snow drifting and handling segments got the blood flowing in the freezing conditions.
The entire course had been hit by 48 hours of rain before we arrived. With ice under snow it was incredibly slippery, but HS439 did an admirable job.
The handling course was a medium-speed autocross. We were told to aim for the snow when hitting an icy patch. Darned if the car didn't hook up when doing just that. Turn in was surprisingly crisp, and road feel was excellent. We were able to achieve higher entry speeds and push harder through the corners than was expected, without that "uh-oh" feeling that accompanies driving on snow.
Drifting a BMW 328i in the snow and ice was possible with the right steering input and power application. Again, we were getting excellent feedback from the HS439s. In fact, we came away with a new respect for what a proper performance winter tire can do.