We just purchased a 2014 Range Rover Sport HSE, a luxurious $74,000 midsized SUV, and already we have faced a challenge for this go-anywhere rig. While Land Rover promotes the go-literally-anywhere message, we noticed something curious about our vehicle’s fancy 20-inch tires: They’re not all-season or all-terrain tires as we’d expect on an SUV. Instead they are high-performance summer tires, in this case Michelin Latitude Sport.
Thanks to recent weather, our Senior Automotive Engineer, Gabe Shenhar, found out how inadequate these tires are if there happens to be snow on the ground. He reports:
"I brought the Range Rover Sport home with me this past weekend. Saturday morning brought the first real snow since we bought this car and also a rude awakening. Driving on packed snow, I found it disconcertingly hard to brake or stop. Both front tires locked as I was slowing down for the first bend. Of course the Sport has ABS, stability control, and even special driving modes, including one for snow that I tried. Nothing really helped.
"These tires have no bite. You approach a stop sign and find yourself in a straight-ahead slide into the intersection. I’ve driven a lot of cars on a lot of snowy roads, but this was a jaw dropper. Not at all what you typically see in an SUV or for that matter any other car that’s not a dedicated sports machine. If it was a little scary for me, I can’t imagine how this vehicle’s typical buyers will feel."
Michelin Tire’s web site confirms that the brand itself defines the Latitude Sport as an SUV summer tire.
But odder still, the tires on our Range Rover Sport HSE have the designation M+S embossed on their sidewalls. Now, M+S, which officially stands for mud and snow, is normally a designation found on all-season and all-terrain tires—but not typically on summer tires.
So then we checked with a Michelin company rep and he explained by email how it came about: "Basically, Land Rover requires M+S marking with some 'minimal' level of winter performance, even for their summer fitments, to maintain their 'go anywhere' type of image. To carry that message, Land Rover asks for the M+S marking and for the tire selection to be capable of low-temperature running. They are certainly not snow tires, so it is still good advice to tell consumers to choose snow tires for optimum driving in wintry conditions."
So there you have it. The rubber compound is formulated to provide some “minimal” low temperature competence, unlike traditional summer tires, which don't grip well when it’s cold. Below-freezing usability notwithstanding, these tires lack sipes, those slits across the tread blocks that provide biting edges on snow. Without the siping, these tires just won’t grip.
Nor is Land Rover alone. Some other fire-breathing SUVs, including the Audi Q7, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, and Porsche Cayenne also come with high-performance summer tires. But at least that is not the case with run-of-the-mill versions of these performance-skewed SUVs. Tires like these might be just the thing for urban-warfare sorties, but not what we’d consider suitable footwear for vehicles that are supposed to keep their cool in cold weather.
We believe Land Rover should pick a more suitable tire. There are certainly plenty of better choices out there.
See our all-season and winter tire ratings.
—Gene Petersen, Gordon Hard, Gabe Shenhar
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