New England is getting pounded by the biggest storm yet this winter, but a few days before, we got a quick shot of about four inches of snow. It coincided with Chevrolet sending a 2015 Chevrolet Corvette up to New England, shod with Michelin Alpin PA4 winter tires. It was a perfect opportunity to test my contention that if you live where it snows, that you can buy a rear drive car and still get around in the winter.
Chevrolet sent the Corvette up to compete in the New England Motor Press Association’s Official Winter Vehicle of New England competition. While most people think about trucks and SUVs in the competition, it’s great to see one gung-ho PR guy that wants to send his sports car, equipped with snow tires. It’s a perfect opportunity for media up here to experience these cars, and let readers and viewers know how they perform when the conditions are less than ideal.
There are four considerations when driving a car like this in bad weather:
Tires: Look for a soft-compound winter tire with aggressive siping — the little slits in the tread blocks that help the rubber bite through the snow and grip the surface underneath. Have the mounted on a spare set of wheels. Taking tires on and off the same wheels every year is a pain, it’s kind of expensive and you can reduce the life of the tires over the years.
On a car like the Corvette, you’re limited to a small handful of wheel and tire combinations because of the size of the brake rotors. On a more conventional sedan, like the Dodge Charger R/T, for example, you might be able to pick up police-spec black steel wheels in a smaller diameter.
I also like the most aggressive tread pattern possible, but you have to put up with a little more noise and a little less performance in dry conditions.
Studs are an option, but check your local laws to find out if they’re legal. Where they are legal, they generally need to be removed by the end of April.
Electronics: I used to fight with electronic traction control in the past, but in recent years, I’ve come around to how good it’s gotten. It’s only going to be as good as the tires you put on the car, though. Traction control with all-season tires can actually work too well, halting your forward progress completely.
I strongly advise against buying any car with traction control that you can’t disable at the touch of a convenient button. There are times when you need a little wheelspin to maintain forward progress. At one point, the Ford Fiesta had traction control you couldn’t turn off, and I got it stuck in about three inches of snow on a completely flat driveway.
Electronic Stability Control does a phenomenal job of keeping the car in line when it tries to swap ends. In the Corvette, while you can disable traction control, the stability control continues to function, adding even more confidence when the weather turns bad.
Ground Clearance: Here’s where you’re going to be limited with the Corvette’s performance in the winter. In four or five inches of snow, it’s not much of a consideration, but when the snow get deeper, wetter and heavier — like we’re experiencing today — the Corvette is eventually going to get hung up, with snow packing under the underbody, causing the tires to lose traction.
Here’s where a car like the Charger R/T or something like the Mustang GT might be a better choice. They’re not as fast as the more performance oriented trims like the Hellcat or the Shelby GT350R, but they’re drivable in most of the conditions you’re ever going to face.
Experience: Where most people get into trouble is a major lack of experience. If you take nothing away from this article, get outside in the snow, find a safe place and spend some time understanding what the car is doing under you.
Does the back end come around? Does the front end push straight ahead when you try to steer? Does the ABS just pump wildly as you roll along unabated while trying to stop? Those are all things you want to know about your car before you’re 1oo miles from home in a major winter storm. They’re also indications that the tires your car came equipped with are garbage.
In New England, we have access to the amazing Team O’Neil Winter Driving School, along with several other schools that offer winter driving courses. Check with schools in your area to find out if there’s an opportunity to get some experience.
If you’ve always wanted a Mustang or a Camaro, or would rather experience the fun of a rear-drive BMW instead of the less-spirited all-wheel drive trims, by all means, buy one. But invest $1,500 in the best set of snow tires you can buy, mounted to wheels you can swap off in the spring, and get out there and experience what the car is capable of doing in the snow.
VIDEO: CLICK PLAY TO SEE HOW THE 2015 CHEVROLET CORVETTE PERFORMED IN THE SNOW