When testing winter tires you usually assume that it would be done outside in the harsh condition, but this time it isn’t so.
Being headquartered in Michigan, where winters are usually gray, very often snowy, and bitterly cold, we’re major proponents of winter tires. Indeed, if you’ve ever driven a car on winter tires and experience the kind of additional stopping power they provide when ice, snow, and slush cover the roadways, you no doubt feel the same way. Of course, driving or testing winter tires in appropriate conditions is difficult in all but the coldest portions of the year, which is why Hankook invited us to Ivalo, Finland, some 186 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where we sampled its winter tires at an indoor facility called Test World.
Test World sits just a short distance east of the 4000-person city of Ivalo in the Lapland region. Lapland is about the size of Indiana, with the total population of Worcester, Massachusetts, but the only thing Lapland and “Wooster” have in common is funky pronunciations to us Midwesterners. Given that there are few signs in English, you need GPS to navigate—without it, you’ll likely end up in Russia, Norway, or Sweden.
You might think that indoor winter testing is commonplace. Tire Rack does a lot of testing on ice rinks as well as outdoor venues, but Test World is different than most manmade winter facilities in that the staff stockpiles natural snow in early spring and fills its two buildings with about 60 cm (24 inches) of packed white stuff. It’s worth noting that you can’t just dump a ton of snow in at once. Five-millimeter (0.2-inch) layers are applied and then given time to settle to make the resulting packed testing surface as natural as possible. Carefully controlled humidity and temperature keep snow loss, or evaporation, to a minimum. The painstaking process ensures consistent testing conditions, which is critical to tire development.
Hankook showed us its worldwide catalog of winter offerings including a newly updated Winter i*cept Evo2, a performance winter tire available in the United States. For those less familiar with winter tires, they can be grouped into roughly three categories. (There are more, but these three cover all the basics.) First are the studded winter tires that are fairly self-explanatory; metal studs inserted in the tread provide maximum grip on ice. Then there are studless snow-and-ice tires, which are our favorites because you get the most traction possible without noisy studs humming in your ear (not to mention studded tires are illegal in many places). Then, there are the aforementioned performance winter tires. These tires are generally rated for higher speeds—the Evo2, for example, is rated for 168 mph in some sizes—they come in lower-profile sizes, and they are usually constructed with an asymmetrical tread pattern. Performance winters give up traction on packed snow and ice in favor of improved performance in mixed conditions, or in the cold, wet, slushy mess that is common in metropolitan areas.