Drivers who have experience with winter weather already know most of the tricks when it comes to driving on cold pavement, ice patches, snow, and slush, but if you’ve never driven on anything like that, winter conditions can be quite intimidating.
Education and Experience
I’m seeing this fear and worry first hand, as we get hammered by subzero temperatures and layers of snow. Having lived in this region for all my life, I’m used to it, but my better half hasn’t driven on snow before — ever. Getting her educated and prepared for the snow was my number one concern as winter approached, and winter tires are a huge part of that process.
It took a while to get the tires installed, and our busy schedule punished us, as we got caught in a small flurry while our Subaru Outback still rocked its all-season tires. It made for a good benchmark, though, and reminded us of the impact that cold weather and snow have on mainstream all-season tires.
For starters, the ABS was triggered commonly, and coming to a stop was a situation that was met with uneasiness. The brakes pulsate and the car feels just a touch out of control. Steering response was significantly delayed, and the vehicle felt unreliable on the road: many inputs were lacking, leaving the car to feel iffy in bad conditions.
Getting the Winter Tires on and Seeing Them up Close
The next week, we installed a set of Cooper Tire Discoverer True North winter tires. These are some of Cooper’s latest and greatest winter tires, having been on display at the recent SEMA show in late October. They’re designed to excel in specific conditions in the winter, but immediately, they felt stable and responsive on the cold pavement.
That’s primarily because unlike all-season and performance tires, winter tires stay flexible and soft. This is a very important part of the puzzle. All the tread and sipes and grippy features of any tire would go to waste if the rubber isn’t flexible too. That lack of flex is part of what makes all-season or summer rubber feel like harsh hockey pucks when it gets cold.
These winter tires use a special coupled compound that boasts the highest silica count that Cooper has ever had in a winter tire. Silica is what gives the tire that flexibility in the snow and winter tire compounds are also fairly sticky in the cold as well.
There are also plenty of sipes, about a cluster of four per shoulder block. Sipes are these thin zig-zag grooves in the rubber that open and compress to aid with traction. The sipes are like fingernails and provide a biting edge on snow and ice. In addition to the sipes, there are larger grooves on the tire that have what Cooper describes as saw tooth features. This design helps the tire trap snow in the tire, rather than on the tire so that you can cut through more snow. The tread blocks have wider gaps between them, to help the tire ditch the snow and slush once it’s driven through the inclement conditions.
READ MORE: When Should You Put on Winter Tires?
Finally, there are some important design decisions made by Cooper Tire to make the rubber quieter, which is a common complaint of winter tires.
The new Cooper Discoverer Truth North winter tires have all the right features of a good partner for crappy weather, but they still have to be put to the test.
My first impressions of the tires were average, mainly because the snow and ice hadn’t arrived for quite some time. It’s worth pointing out that the braking distances were a bit inconsistent, and little long on dry cold pavement. That’s to be expected sometimes with winter tires since they’re designed for a different surface. However, the tires are quiet in these conditions. I was a little surprised at how much more compliant these tires were, they could take a bump, that’s for sure, as the pavement cracks and creates ugly potholes during this season.
When the snow started falling, the tire was put to the test. Indeed, the True North winter tires cut through snow, whether it was deep or shallow, fresh or impacted. It feels sure-footed in straight line driving and setting off from a stop. Any slides or loss of traction, whether it’s at the front or rear wheels, was hard to detect.
When it comes to maneuvering our big SUV in the snow, the car definitely reacted better than it would have on all-season rubber. You can feel a bit of the flex in the tires though, meaning the way the tires catch on the snow is a touch delayed, but they have feedback and grip, which is perfect for dealing with snow driving.
When the snow thaws a bit and gets all slushy, one of the tires best attributes, its quietness, was negated. The tires are a bit louder dealing in wet weather, but the confidence and handling are still good. Where other tires had the vehicle spinning the wheels, or had me relying on momentum more to get through tough patches, these provided a confident and planted feel.
When the slush and wet stuff got cold again, it froze over, which allowed us to see how the tires react on one of the most difficult types of surfaces for winter drivers. Sliding is expected, as steering that can feel completely unresponsive for a few moments while the tread catches on, but these True North winter tires didn’t have any issues at all. I actually had to step out and make sure that I was indeed driving on icy pavement, and after walking and slipping around, I was convinced. These tires have fantastic ice performance, and that special compound is working wonders.
Time will tell how long the tires will last, but the performance they afford in the winter has been above average. Winter tires are always a huge upgrade over all-seasons, but each winter tire has its pros and cons. The Cooper Discoverer True North tires have great grip and handling characteristics in snow and ice, and are pretty quiet in every condition but slushy and wet roads. I wasn’t too impressed with the dry braking performance, but that’s an acceptable trade-off for the confidence the tires inspire in other conditions.
Our Final Verdict
The Verdict: Cooper Tires Discoverer True North Winter Tire Review
Prices for the Cooper Tires vary based on sizes, but the 225/60R17 that were used on our vehicle cost $125.76 each at TireRack.com. These are much cheaper than the Bridgestone Blizzaks and Michelin X-Ices I’d usually recommend to friends and family, and a bit more expensive than the Yokohama Iceguard tires that are also recommended by many. However, I found these tires to be just as capable as many tier 1, expensive tires I’ve driven on, and a great choice in winter weather driving, if you can accept some of those trade-offs.
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