We've all seen the look that drivers of big 4x4s have in bad weather - it says "we're pretty safe thank you" as they plough down the icy road, happy that 4WD technology can keep them out of trouble. But could a humble hatchback turn the tables? The guys at Autocar certainly think so, having tested a 4WD Skoda Yeti on "ordinary" tyres against a 2WD Yeti on "winter" tyres.
In another life, Parallel Lines was involved in teaching skid control, and the results of the Autocar test are unsurprising. On a snowy road the 4WD car accelerated more quickly, but from 20mph the lighter 2WD/winter tyred car stopped much more quickly. It was a similar story in the cornering test, the 2WD/winter tyres registering 35% more lateral G than the 4WD version could muster.
Autocar's conclusion was clear - the humble hatchback, if properly shod, can keep you out of an accident for longer than a 4x4.
So what are winter tyres? Well, in the temperate UK they're relatively unknown but are compulsory in many European countries from October to Easter. These aren't ice and snow tyres with studs, they're a special compound rubber with added grooves to give more grip and stability on slippery roads at low temperatures - not merely ice and snow, but wet or cold roads too. As the weather gets warmer, winter tyres are perfectly safe to drive but they wear very quickly - the normal changeover point is around 7 degrees Celsius.
During the summer, Winter Tyres are normally removed and stored ready for the enxt season. It's good practice to mark them so the tyres can be rotated around the car for maximum efficiancy, and where possible the tyres should be stored in a cool dark place not subject to variations in temperature. Yes, it's an expensive choice, but more effective than a new 4x4 and much cheaper than an accident!
Merry Christmas, and Stay Safe!