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Winter tyres better than four-wheel-drive, tests show

Don't buy a 4x4, grab yourself some winter tyres instead, says Autocar.
Don’t buy a 4×4, grab yourself some winter tyres instead, says Autocar.

Research by Autocar has revealed the best way to try and stay safe when the snow descends is by investing not in a Land Rover, but in a set of winter tyres. Sound advice, when a new set of snow-defeating automotive boots will set you back £400 rather than £15,000, the average cost for a used 4×4, according to data from British Car Auctions.

“Of course the ideal scenario is to fit your 4×4 with winter tyres and enjoy the best of all worlds, but faced with a simple choice between the two, our tests indicate strongly that for most people most of the time, they’d be better off both literally and figuratively keeping their current two-wheel drive car and investing in a set of winter boots,” Autocar editor Jim Holder explained.

To find out just how effective winter tyres were at tackling the snow, Autocar pitted two identical diesel Skoda Yetis against each other: one with front wheel drive and winter tyres, the other with 4×4 and regular 225/45 R17 section tyres. Both cars were then put through an acceleration, braking and cornering test to see which performed best in the snow.

Now you would be forgiven for thinking a 4×4 and its ability to provide and monitor traction at all wheels would annihilate its winter tyred front-wheel drive brethren, but that was not the case. While the 4×4 emerged victorious from the acceleration test, the braking test was a bit of a disaster – the 4×4 model took three car lengths longer to stop from 20mph than the 2wd car.

Not only that, the cornering G generated by the 4×4 was also substantially less: 0.17g while constantly cornering on snow versus 0.23g for the winter tyre-sporting Yeti. Not exactly a big difference, it would seem, until you do the maths and realise the winter tyres allowed one of the Yetis to corner with 35 per cent more cornering force.

So there you have it. Unless you can afford both, given the choice of tackling snow, the snow tyre is the safer option around town.

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