Let it snow: Winter shoes for your Porsche
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Every self-respecting Porsche enthusiast should be educated on the fundamentals and importance of using quality snow tires. I bought my 2009 Cayman in the summer, and I was in awe of the superior handling delivered by an incredible mid-engine design coupled with extraordinary performance from the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2.
At that time, snow tires were the furthest thing from my mind. But in early November of that year, the Northeast sent down a freezing rain from Canada overnight. Not knowing the severity of the cold snap, I got my first hint as I entered the garage from my kitchen, noting my crystalized breath rising in the cabin as I fired up the flat six.
Our garage emptied out onto 70 feet of blacktop that progressively tipped toward the apron and then into the street. Backing out of the bay and down the slope, I dipped the clutch and touched the brakes — then immediately felt the panicked chatter of the ABS underfoot as my Cayman skimmed along the black ice that glazed over the asphalt.
In reaction mode, I managed into the roadway and began picking up speed as I slid backward down a hill that approached the intersection at the bottom of my street. Hitting a patch of gravel, I thankfully caught some traction that finally slowed my Cayman to a stop in the mouth of a neighboring driveway.
The whole event took perhaps 15 seconds, but I sat there idling while gathering my faculties. Now acutely aware of these previously unknown conditions, I negotiated my neighborhood streets that emptied into the main arteries where morning congestion was slowly warming the asphalt.
As I made my way to the office, I accused Porsche for designing a car that was magic in the summer, but utterly useless in winter conditions in an area of the country not particularly known for harsh weather. I expected more from the Porsche engineers who otherwise produce some of the finest cars on the planet.
Our garage emptied out onto 70 feet of blacktop that progressively tipped toward the apron and then into the street.
I shouldn't have blamed anyone but myself.
What I didn't know then — but learned later that morning with the help of Google and several posts on the Porsche forums — was that the compounds used for my amazing summer track-tested tires have completely different characteristics than winter tires. I'm embarrassed to say I had no idea.
I discovered there are basically three categories of tires. I was already familiar with summers that are soft and clutch the blacktop like a dog with a bone. But that same blend turns rock-hard when temperatures dip down near freezing, and track-ready tires like the Michelin PS2 can be even worse than ordinary street tires.
Clearly I needed a winter solution, particularly because the Cayman was my only option for getting around. Most of my PCA friends had a beater they could use in less-than-optimal conditions — which could be anything from a wintry mix to the mere threat of condensation. Another car seemed unnecessarily costly and problematic for storage.
Most that I knew who drove their Porsches through all seasons swapped out to winter tires in the late fall — a valid option if you have the room to store them. Some would even mount snows on an extra set of wheels so they could do the spring-fall exchange at home. But a full set of wheels and tires aren't cheap, so I looked for another option.
I jumped online that week and did a search in the secondhand market, coming upon a set of winter tires from a Boxster that had about a season of life left on them. And the price was right — free to a good home. My wife had an Acura SUV at the time, so driving an hour to pick them up was a small price to pay for an immediate resolution.
But by the end of the next summer, I'd worn down the tread on the Michelins, and knowing the winter snows wouldn't safely make it through another season I was faced with the same dilemma. Mounting and balancing tires twice a year is a pain — especially when you need two cars, as the Cayman is not known for being a transporter.
So I looked into the third category of the all-season variety. Some will tell you that all-seasons are really three seasons: spring, summer and fall because the compounds used for this class degrade significantly at sub-zero temperatures. But I live just outside of Philadelphia, and those conditions are pretty rare.
There was really only one option I could find that fit the Cayman front and back — Continental Extreme Contact DSW. The reviews were pretty good, and my plan was to ditch the whole swapping exercise by actually using them year round. They were not in the same league as the Michelins, but a Cayman can make you forget about ordinary quality.
There was really only one option I could find that fit the Cayman front and back — Continental Extreme Contact DSW.
I lived with the Continentals for two years before I sold my Cayman. Was it worth the savings? I guess that depends on how you define value.
At the time, I thought the cost-benefit was worth it (four shoes mounted and balanced for less than a grand). Compromise always comes at a price, and I would later find out what that amounted to.
In July of this year I purchased my second Cayman — a 718 delivered with Pirelli P Zeros. Excellent tires that compare favorably with the Michelin PS2. As the cooler days of fall approached, I was looking into the mouth of the same quandary, only this time there was no all-season option due to model sizing.
My second Cayman was a 718 delivered with Pirelli P Zeros.
Once again, I explored online and even asked a number of friends for advice. Everyone seemed to think the Michelin Pilot Alpin was the best choice, but they came at a premium. No one it turns out makes an all-season option with front and back sizing for the 718, so I had few choices with no real bargain-basement option.
Luck was once again in my favor as Tire Rack had a sale on Michelin Pilot Alpin previous inventory for the front tires — offsetting the higher price of the rears. The net was reasonable, though not as much of a giveaway as the all-season Continentals, so I ordered them before the inventory dried up.
I had them delivered to my favorite local Porsche independent who was willing to mount, balance and then store the off-seasons for me at a fair price. Having downsized the year before, this was a welcome feature. In a few days, I came by the shop and hung out for a couple hours while the operation took place.
I paid the bill and fired up the Cayman, pulling out onto the road that led back to my place through the rural horse farms that lined the ribbons of tarmac. Expecting a diminished ride and subpar handling, I was stunned when I experienced neither. Actually, I couldn't notice a difference between the winter and summer models.
With the memory of the Continental all-seasons droning in my head like a cruising Cessna, the Michelin Pilot Alpin was a welcome addition, chirping quietly as I negotiated the strips of cold blacktop. The 718 Cayman power plant is a bit rambunctious, so I'm hard-pressed to say if I could hear the tires over the sounds of the motor.
Having now experienced the range of options and quality, I can proclaim with certainty that it pays to do your homework before investing in tires for your Porsche. While the Cayman is forgiving and can compensate for bargain-quality rubber, it is far more rewarding to spend a little more on a premium-quality option.
With the first snow already behind me this season, I am confidently commuting to work in my Cayman. I know some of you cringe while picturing me taking on corners of snow and ice-covered streets, but Porsche cars beg to be driven — even in this weather.
Just be certain to have a confident set of winter shoes.
With the first snow already behind me this season, I am confidently commuting to work in my 718 Cayman.
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