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Can a former all-season tire favorite measure up against new competition?

We put the versatile Continental Extreme Contact DWS to the test, again

Published: December 23, 2013 12:00 PM

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In 2010, we tested the Continental Extreme Contract DWS all-season, ultra-high-performance (UHP) tire in the 225/40R18 size. We were very impressed with the Continental’s handling and balanced grip on dry, wet, and snow-covered roads. The attractively priced tire came in fourth place out of 17 models, and we recommended it as a very good choice.

For our latest UHP-tire evaluation this year, we tested the Continental DWS again, this time among 21 models, including many new entrants.

The test size was the same as before, but the vehicles used were the agile-handling Scion FR-S and the very similar Subaru BRZ. (For the past test we used a Chevrolet Cobalt SS.) The Continental DWS continued to impress and still holds a strong position, but it is now a third-place finisher among the tested UHP all-season products.

But we were dismayed with its low bite in snow, distinctively different from the 2010 snow-traction performance. Indeed, snow traction is now among the worst in the group. Continental DWS is still a very good choice if you live in an area where snow is rare, but we can no longer recommend it as an effective all-season tire.

Careful readers picked up on the snow-traction deficiency when we posted our new Ratings. So did major tire retailer TireRack, which asked whether we made a mistake. And, not surprisingly, the snow-traction results got the attention of Continental’s engineering and marketing groups. Continental claims it made no changes to the tire model, our snow-traction results notwithstanding. We shared the production codes and snow results with the manufacturer and invited the company to look at the tires. They declined the last offer.

We figured that we could let the Ratings ride. After all, we bought tires that any consumer could have purchased. Still, we were curious to know whether our tires were affected by some production anomaly. So we recently purchased new tires from a major retailer and performed a snow-traction test comparing last year’s tires to the new ones. The testing revealed that last year’s tire performed, well, like they did last year, needing long distances to accelerate up to speed over packed snow and some careful use of the throttle to keep the tires from spinning out.

The new tires had distinctively better bite in snow, though, amounting to about a 33 percent difference between the two sets.

Trying to understand the variance, we measured the tread rubber hardness and found last year’s tire tread to be much stiffer in cold weather than the new ones. We’re not saying that this physical difference explains the variation in snow traction, but in our experience, we see this magnitude of hardness in line with summer tires. Of course, some of the elevated hardness could be a function of aging in the older production tires. But could that be all of it?

Regardless of anyone’s opinion of tire differences, our snow-traction results prompt us to re-evaluate the latest production tire in all performance areas, which we will do again for a late summer update after we have all the testing completed. Stay tuned.

—Gene Petersen


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