Yokohama Winter Tyre Launch 2017 - Lulea Sweden
Have you ever imagined what it is like to drive a car on winter tyres on a frozen lake in the artic Circle? Well that experience was offered to me this week. Yokohama's winter proving ground is located at Arctic Falls in the north of Sweden. Many leading tyre manufacturers have their own testing grounds in this area due to the perfect Arctic conditions from November through to May. Sub zero temperatures, constant snow, huge expanse of space and frozen lakes makes his region of Northern Europe perfect to develop winter tyres.
I have been an avid fan of Yokohama W-Drive winter tyres for many years, I even use the V905 tyre on my own car, but to have a chance to test their entire winter range, including studded tyres, was too good an opportunity to miss. It was the launch for the new European BluEarth V905, the studded IceGuard iG65 for SUV and the studded GO75 car tyre. Studded tyres are not legal in the UK and Central Europe but are essential in Scandinavia. Now I know what you are thinking, we don't get enough snow in England, but when we do get some wintery conditions we must realise how ill prepared and ignorant we are. For many years we have sold winter tyres on the fact that they work better in all conditions below 7 degrees as we as how well they work on the dreaded white stuff. It is not until you have used winter tyres in these conditions do you realise the true benefit.
Ironically the first test we did when we arrived at the proving ground was a simple a simple slalom test using front wheel drive Golfs, fitted with 3 different sets of tyres. One car was fitted with the new BluEarth V905, one with Bridgestones Blizzak LM001 winter tyre and the last one with Yokohama BluEarth AE50 summer tyres. This was a fantastic opportunity to directly test a competitors tyre against the new product as well as against a premium summer tyre. The new Yokohama V905 was sure footed, good drive away from standstill, crisp and progressive turn in and precise correction when required. It was effortless and easy to control and as confidence grew we all drove faster as if we were on dry Tarmac. The Bridgestones again had good traction but when pushed the Golfs traction control Kicked in earlier than with the V905 and oversteer became worse the harder we pushed. Although progressive, they were not as confidence aspiring. Finally we drove the Golf fitted with brand new premium Yokohama summer tyres, the BluEarth AE50. The contrast was dramatic! At first it just wheel spun, unable to get off the line, traction control cutting in and eventually the car got some traction. On reaching the first cone, 30 KPH less than the winter tyre, we turn in only for the car to initially under steer, then over steer and eventually half spinning to almost stand still. The traction control could not keep up with the demands placed on it. With a huge grin on my face, and a lot of sweating I finally managed to complete the course as if I was Torvill and Dean!
Joking aside, I felt angry that we still allow our customers to buy summer tyres, let alone cheap budget tyres, in the winter in the UK. On a frozen lake in Sweden, with nothing to hit for hundreds of yards, we could not control a modern car with all the technological advances of the modern age. This feeling was even worse when it came to the brake testing. At 60 KPH the Yokohama winter tyres stopped 2 car lengths less than the Bridgestones but the summer tyres sailed past the end of the test lane, smashing into the cones and eventually stopped over 100 metres passed the safety area. The question we all asked was "What if that was your child that ran out ?" The answer was a unanimous "No chance!"
The next test was again using the Golfs on a polished ice surface using studded tyres. Although this has little relevance to us in the UK, it helped us to understand the demands on a modern winter tyre in Arctic conditions. Again it was a simple brake test using the new Yokohama GO75 studded car tyres versus the Bridgestone Noranza 001 studded tyres. On sheet ice, on which we could not even stand up on, we were asked to accelerate the car up to 30 KPH, then brake to standstill. The two brands had fairly identical results in breaking but the Yokohama's had a more precise turn in on the corners. A point I want to get across is every single tyre made has compromises to achieve its ultimate goal. With studded tyres the aim is to cut into the ice to get traction. This results in a huge increase in road noise. The major concern in Arctic conditions is freezing rain on a snow covered road, grip is more important than noise! Again speed is the key, Scandinavian drivers will happily drive at 110 KPH on ice, but they are totally aware that there is no chance of stopping. We when increased the speed by 10 KPK to a mere 40 KPH, it added an extra 2 car lengths to the stopping distance, compared to travelling at 30 Kph.
The next test in the Golfs was to directly compare the studded GO75, the new Yokohama BluEarth V905 Winter and the Bridgestone Blizzak LM001. We were to test the three tyres on their ability to hill start on a snow covered 14 degree incline. All tyres worked fantastically from a standing start at the bottom of the hill. The real test came when you stopped halfway up. If you controlled the power initially all three would wheel spin but eventually it find grip and would make the top. After repetitive runs, the top layer of snow was worn away down to the ice underneath. At this point only then did the studded GO75 have an advantage. It proved not only the advantage of studs on sheet ice but also how good standard winter tyres are on a snow covered surface. It also emphasised the need for driver skill and control in winter conditions, the tyres can't do it on their own!
After lunch the challenge of a rear wheel drive BMW 1 series was waiting for us intrepid explorers. A circular snow covered test track is being used to test the stability of winter tyres at speed whilst cornering. Again the Yokohama BluEarth V905 were up against the Bridgestone Blizzak LM001. As you pushed the Bridgestones to 37 KPH the car became nervous. It switched between under steer and over steer with the traction control cutting power constantly. The Yokohama BluEarth V905 were far responsive and stable at 43 kph. There was a fair more confident and better feel from the Yokohama's and better stability and were easily controllable from under steer to oversteer. Our final test were using the same tyres but on front wheel drive Audi A3. This was on the high speed 1.2 KM test track. This really did have the sense that we were taking part on the Swedish rally. Again the overriding feeling was a sense of amazement and confidence. Driving through the trees in a snow and ice covered forest rally stage at over 90 Kph bears testament to the precision of these fantastic products.
This amazing experience in a truly beautiful place reinforced how uneducated and unprepared we are in the UK. The new Yokohama BluEarth V905 is another step forward in winter tyre safety. The confidence and grip levels are awe inspiring and in my opinion the UK should follow European law and make winter tyres a legal requirement. Ignorance by the average British driver is not bliss, it is putting lives at risk.
Matt Sunderland - Company Director