In the warm weather there’s no doubt that the Scion FR-S is a great daily driver, but now in the colder winter, is that fact still true? Will the car be as fun in the snow? Or will it be too much fun; a dangerous handful with little-to-no control in slippery conditions? With the snow finally here, I got the chance to find out.
About mid-November I got myself a set of winter-wheels. Nothing fancy, just Subaru-spec silver steel rims. The rubber itself was generously provided by Vredestein, a little known Dutch tire-maker that my editor introduced me to. Vredestein is known for their Wintrak Xtreme tires, which score ties for third in Consumer Reports Performance Winter tires ratings.
These tires are pretty high-tech, featuring a sporty directional tread pattern, something called Optimum Silica Processing and a feature that distributes pressure equally across the footprint of the vehicle. The tires also are made in collaboration with the famous Giugiaro design house (known for designing cars like the BMW M1 and Lotus Esprit), meaning that not only do they have functional zigzag siping patterns on the tires to help with grip in wet conditions as well as snow and ice, but as far as winter tires go, they look pretty cool too.
Since the tires arrived at the office over a month ago, I’ve been impatiently waiting for a few inches of snow so I could have some fun, and put these tires to the test.
Mounted on my car early, the Vredestein tires, even on the cold and dry asphalt, performed dramatically different than the Michelin “performance” rubber that came with the car. They have an immense amount of grip, which is translated directly into the steering-feel, which is considerably heavier. However, the downside to all this additional grip is that the car doesn’t feel as sharp, nimble or “darty” as it did before.
Every day I’d wake up at the crack of dawn and listen to the weather reports. I felt like I was 9-years old all over again, praying the forecast would call for snow, so I could put the Vredesteins to the test. I was waiting and hoping for “The Big One” so I could enjoy the fine art of doing donuts in an empty parking-lot.
It took until December 26th before I finally got my first taste of winter weather this year. Snow came down like it was on a 2-for-1 sale, and by the morning of the 27th, there was close to half a foot of snow on the road.
Getting out of the driveway and onto the main streets was my first challenge. My street wasn’t plowed yet, but I still managed to get off my driveway. Things were looking good until I (clumsily) navigated right into some deeper snow. Forward progress came to a stop, and I got worried. Out before the plows, I brought a shovel for the worst case scenario, but decided to not call it quits just yet.
The FR-S’s traction and stability control were detecting a lot of wheel-spin and decided to intervene. A blinking light on the information cluster was taunting me, laughing at me as I hoped to get out of the snow. I chose to ignore the traction control’s suggestion of cutting power, and turned all the nannies off to attempt to power my way out. Poking the OFF button, I stopped the blinking skid light appearing on my information cluster, started the FR-S in second gear and …. with surprising levels of grip, plowed my way out.
The main streets were lazily plowed. A white powder coating still remained on the road, and the salt truck had yet made its rounds. In the interest of safety, I decided to turn traction control back on.
The new winter tires ensured that my morning commute was without incident. The traction light didn’t come back on again, and the FR-S didn’t get stuck at any stop-signs or lights. Even starts were brisk, and I experienced no wheel-slip. I poked my head out of the window to ensure that there was actually still snow on the ground.
As advertised, the Vredestein tires gripped snow well and felt unbelievably safe. Vredestein says that siping was a priority with these tires, and it clearly shows. Siping allows for tires to have a bit more biting edge when dealing with the snow. With siping across the tread, there are also zigzag sipes at the ‘shoulder’ of the tires, so that the car can handle in the wet and cold weather too.
Appreciating a level of handling performance I didn’t expect from a winter tire, the Vredesteins also provided plenty of safety in the form of confident braking. Due to the advanced compound that these tires (as well as other performance winter tires) use that makes them grip better than all-season or summer tires I didn’t have to deal with ABS at all.
Like any rear-drive sports car, when coerced, the FR-S will hang its tail out in the snow. The grip provided by the Vredestein winter tires, however, allowed me to operate the car with little thought to the wintry conditions.
Combined with defeatable traction control to get me out of the tough spots, not to mention the FR-S’s smart Torsen limited slip differential (LSD) that sends power to the rear wheel with grip, and this dynamic sports car designed to deliver driving enjoyment makes for a surprisingly confident all weather machine.
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