For most motorists in North America, winter tires without studs are the right choice for cold-weather driving. The best snow tires power through snow and ice, improve stopping distances and handling, and ride smoothly and quietly on roads. The Michelin X-ice Xi3 (Est. $85 and up) draws excellent feedback in this category, just as Michelin X-Ice tires have for the eight years ConsumerSearch has been reviewing snow tires. But for 2015, it cedes its top position to the newer Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 (Est. $85 and up). These two tires run neck and neck in every comparative test that we saw, and invariably take top spots in expert opinions and user reviews. Which is best will often come down to small differences in performances on different surfaces, driver preferences, and, perhaps, price, but the overall consensus now tips the balance ever so slightly in the direction of the WS80.
The Michelin X-Ice Xi3 is the highest rated winter tire in one comparative review, running just ahead of the Blizzak WS80, which is also recommended. However, Canada's Automotive Protection Association (APA) put the WS80 in its highest Top Rated category and now places the X-Ice Xi3 one step below in its Very Good category. The Blizzak also takes first place in a four-tire test at TireRack.com, finishing narrowly ahead of the X-Ice Xi3. "All four tires delivered very good snow traction with a small overall advantage for the Bridgestone Blizzak WS80, especially noticeable when asking the tire to brake and turn at the same time," the site's editors.
The WS80 holds some small advantages on dry and wet roads as well. The Blizzak finished first in dry and wet panic stop tests, and in cornering on dry roads, but the X-Ice Xi3 was close behind, and the Xi3 performed slightly better in test of cornering on wet roads.
Both the Bridgestone and the Michelin tires are well behaved on the road, but with characteristics that could lead some drivers to prefer one or the other. One key difference is road noise. TireRack.com says that all the tires tested produced more road noise than a "typical all-season tire," but that the Michelin was the best in that regard, though only a touch quieter than the WS80. However, another comparative test puts things in starker terms, rating the road noise of the X-Ice Xi3 excellent but that of the Blizzak WS80 as only fair. In terms of the overall ride over dry roads, like one might frequently encounter at the start of the winter driving season, TireTrack.com gives the WS80 a small edge in ride comfort. However, testers also say that "Under the light handling workload of our Road Ride, the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 continued its leading position for the category, feeling well connected to the road." Followed by, you guessed it, the Bridgestone Blizzak WS80.
User feedback for both tires is similarly excellent. In an online survey at TireRack.com, the Blizzak WS80 takes first place overall, with 100 percent of reviewers saying it's the best tire in the category. However, the X-Ice Xi3 finishes right behind in second place, with 97 percent saying that it is the best tire. Both earn identical 4.5-star average ratings from owners.
Michelin backs its tires with a stronger warranty, but with some caveats. The Xi3 carries a six year, 40,000-mile treadwear warranty-- a rarity among snow tires, which usually carry no tread warranty at all -- and six years for workmanship or materials, with free replacement for the first year (prorated thereafter). However, while Automobile Protection Association (APA) editors say that the tires are "long wearing," they simultaneously gripe that the "Tricky mileage warranty requires the tires to be virtual banana peels before you can collect." The Blizzak WS80 has no treadwear warranty, and is covered for five years (prorated-only, no free replacement period) for defects in workmanship or materials.
While a few other snow tires draw mentions in some quarters, the overwhelming consensus is that one of the above two tires should be what you put on your car for superior winter performance under a variety of conditions. We are granting the Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 Best Reviewed status on the strength of its slightly stronger feedback, but the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 is, in reality, neck and neck with it and very much worth considering.