BMW E36 323i – Michelin CrossClimates First Impressions

In recent years winter tyres have suddenly been getting a lot of press time come winter, and for those offering services (e.g. taxi drivers) or high mileage or jobs you must turn up to I still reckon they’re a must. But doing around 5000 miles a year I’ve always found it difficult to justify the idea of running two sets of tyres, much as the BMW is fairly useless as soon as the snow hits, having cut the day job commute to a mile, any sign of fluffy snow clouds and I simply walked.

BMW out in the snow?

But as a keen photographer, I still like to get out in snowy conditions for those wintery scenes, so the summer tyres mean strictly sticking to the well ploughed routes, assuming you can a) get off the estate to them b) safely get on/off somewhere to park when you get there. Whilst I carry (thus far unused) snow socks they’re fragile nature meant I thought them mainly aimed at emergency use.

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But last year, I jumped ship, and went fully self employed, finding myself needing to go out on the odd icy & snowy road, the sat nav pointing you up a one in something silly icy hairpin road and you’re thinking “not a bloody chance”, I started thinking I should consider at least a compromise of an all season tyre.

So with the rear Michelin Primacy fast approaching 3mm I started the research earlier this year, and started hunting down the options, which at the time were winter tyre based Goodyear Vectors, Dunlop SP 4 Seasons, Bridgestone A001, Vredestein QUATRAC, but with their winter underpinnings I was a bit concerned about how well they’d hold up if driven hard during summer.

Interesting spreading the search to the USA opened up a whole range of all season tyres never heard of over here in the UK, such as the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3, this to me sounded to me like “the tyre”, a performance orientated tyre that could also handle some snow. Unfortunately, even going direct to Michelin UK I couldn’t find a way to get hold of any in the UK.

Then a few weeks later in February Michelin announced these new Michelin CrossClimate, which is actually based on a summer tyre (the Michelin Energy Saver), but with full 3PMSF accreditation for performance in snow. A perfect UK tyre?

But they weren’t to be release till May, I wasn’t sure the Michelin’s I had fitted with 3mm left would last on the rears till then, so a few days later I got the tyres rotated putting the front Dunlops SP2000s with around 5mm left on the rear. Two days later I woke up to a flat on the rear right. “This isn’t going to work” I thought. But re-inflated, it never gave me any further bother.

Rather Worn Dunlop SP2000

In the end they actually lasted till August, by which time the inners were wearing a bit heavier on the now Dunlop rears, so that, timed with a timely offer from Eden tyres of £40 of Love2Shop vouchers with 4 Michelin tyres, I had all 4 replaced, and for good measure also had full 4 wheel laser alignment carried out (£40 well spent).

For those interested, the Dunlops SP2000 had done 20,648 miles (95% of which on the front), and the Michelin Primacy HP had lasted 13,625 (90% of which on rear). Left on the front, I reckon the Dunlops would have probably lasted till around 30,000, though not sure about the aging sidewalls. I’m not sure the Michelins would have hit 13,000 left on the rear.

Michelin CrossClimates Tread

For tread nerds, I think the Michelin CrossClimates has a pretty decent looking tread, but I know out the blocks that they aren’t going to be such a “sporty” oriented tyre. Also, as like most all season tyres, they don’t come in 225/50/16 the BMW was wearing, I’ve also dropped to the 205/55/16 which has an identical rolling radius. It’s also the same width the car would run on the standard 15″ wheel, so I know I’m not running below factory recommended width, just the 16″ wheels gained wider tyres for better looks. I toyed with the intermediate 215/55/16 which didn’t bugger up the rolling radius (and therefore the speedo) by many millimetres, but 205s were £300 fitted, and 215s were £450 fitted. If it had been 225 vs 205 then I may not have quibbled it, but £150 or 50% of costs of the 205, is a HUGE argument.

For those already running a compatible size Michelin Energy Saver or Primacy 3 tyre, these almost feel like a no brainer choice. They run at pretty much the same price give a take a few quid, and work all weather conditions, instead of leaving you stranded as soon as the weather turns, so as yet I’m struggling to see a down side.

BMW 323i on EVO Triangle

So since fitting at the end of August, I’ve put 1100 miles on the tyres, 95% in the dry, and 70% of these in Wales, so testing ground included Llanberis Pass, Horseshoe Pass, Evo Triangle (above) and many more.

Now I’d established fairly early on, the 205 Michelin CrossClimates don’t have the full lateral grip of 225 Michelin Primacy HP, when I got a nice progressive little drift coming quickly off a dry roundabout. Now depending upon your viewpoint, this is either good, or bad. Me, I’m in the good camp, I reckon the 323 is probably over tyred on decent 225s (heck a bloody NSX runs 205front/225rear), it had a huge amount of grip, so you really needed to be pushing hard to find the limits on them. The 205 CrossClimates meant whilst “pressing on” on the Welsh twisties with the roof down you could hear the tyre blocks just starting to fight, and you could feel like you were playing closer to the limits. Of course I can’t fully attribute how much of this is down to dropping 20mm cross section, and how much is the change of compound.

Michelin CrossClimates First Impressions

Of course, this is not to say it loses any confidence, I came home on some local back roads the other night, and comfortably covering ground as fast as I ever could on the Primacys, and for eg on the fast open sweeping A543 section of the Evo Triangle, speed limits and an unknown road, were the limiting factors in speed, not the tyres.

Ultimately, I know that the small amount of grip I’ve traded in dry grip, should, in winter give me significantly more winter grip, as can be seen here…

…that’s the Michelin Primacy’s similar to what I was running on the left car, and the Michelin CrossClimates on the second car. That’s a BIG difference. A recent EVO article that went along with TyreReviews to the above test says that of course similar results could be seen in the braking which is just as important, as I’m sure we can all stick our hands up to having been “passengers in the drivers seat” on summer tyres in the snow.

If you’ve seen the usual annual AutoBild Review review, you’ll see these Michelin CrossClimates have come second to the improved Goodyear Vectors, however, as these are for the German market, they always bias the reviews for the tyres that perform best in snow, but, personally I reckon the much better dry road performance that we UK users find ourselves in more than snow, makes the CrossClimate the sensible bet for here.

First impressions on tread wear on the Michelin CrossClimates seems good, I didn’t measure when new, but I’m reliably informed that tread depth is 7mm, and they’re still showing 7mm on both the front (expected) and rear, which bearing in mind the abuse I gave them in Wales is a pleasant surprise.

Depending on the sort of winter we get this year, I’ll update on how well they cope when the going gets tougher.

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