Toyo Observe GSi-5 Long-Term Review

Grace Under (Air) Pressure

When I first reviewed Toyo's flagship winter tire, I had not yet had the chance to drive it. I found the collection of winter technology interesting, not to mention that owners were talking about it in glowing terms I usually only hear from owners of top-tier winter tires like Nokian, Michelin or Bridgestone. While Toyo is not usually considered among the elite of winter tire makers, the Observe GSi-5 shows some clear signs of wanting to step into that group.

So when I communicated my interest to Toyo, they were kind enough to send me a set for a full-up, long-term review. That was back in August, and the tires sat for a while in my basement while I waited for some snow.

Have I mentioned that I live in Boston? Six blizzards and what seems like 80 feet of snow later, Snowpocalypse 2015 seems to have finally passed on, and some optimists are beginning to think that we may have something called “Spring” in the next few months. In the meantime, I've had plenty of time and more opportunity than I could have imagined being extremely impressed by Toyo's Observe GSi-5.

Pros

  • Spectacular linear grip.
  • Excellent road feel.

Cons

  • Merely decent lateral grip.
  • Less progressive than elite winter tires.

Technology

First Edge Technology: Shallow square-patterned sipes designed to enhance multi-directional grip just in the first few hundred miles as the tire is “breaking in” but not deep enough to cause tread squirm and odd wear.

Sawtooth Tread Edges: Large biting edges along the tread blocks increase deep snow grip.

Snow Claw Technology: As with the Xi3 and Hakka R2, this technology puts small extrusions at the bottom of the grooves for traction in deep snow and to stiffen the tread blocks.

Multi-Wave Sipe Technology: This is yet another name for 3D self-locking sipes, an advanced siping technique in which the sipe is not merely cut straight into the tread block, but is cut with an internal topology that allows the tread block to flex just enough to activate the sipes, but not enough to induce tread squirm on dry roads.

Spider Sipe: An interesting collection of hexagonal, vertical and horizontal sipes on the inner ribs purports to increase grip in all directions. It's a fascinating extension of the rapid change going on in siping technology.

Swing Sipe: Another attempt to increase lateral grip, the curved Swing Sipe runs down the center rib and provides biting edges in multiple directions.

Micro-Bit Technology: Crushed black walnut shells are distributed throughout the silica-enhanced rubber compound, providing a bit of grit in the rubber to increase ice grip.

Performance

During one of the many serious storms to paste the Boston area in the past few months, my family and I set out from a friend's house to drive home. My wife was driving, partially because I might have had a drink or two, and partially because she wanted to get a feel for the tires under storm conditions. It was well after dark and there was already a good inch collected on the roads and more falling fast. We were on the highway and moving at a decent clip when we came over a small rise and saw brake lights flash in front of us. Someone had lost control and fishtailed out, blocking the entire lane, and three cars ahead of us were desperately trying to avoid an accident.

My wife is an excellent driver and began braking immediately, but given the conditions and the reduced reaction time I was braced for that long sickening slide into what looked to at least end in a fender-bender with the car ahead of us. Instead, the tires gripped like glue and brought us to a jolting halt well short of an accident without even engaging the ABS. This is only the most notable example of the GSi-5's spectacular linear grip, which exceeded my expectations in every conceivable set of conditions. Whether in deep snow, light snow, ice, slush, wet or dry, the acceleration and braking grip is among the best I've ever encountered in a winter tire.

On the other hand, lateral grip is also important, and lateral grip is often much harder to produce in winter tires. While the GSi-5 does have lateral grip, there's just not quite enough of it.

The tires also lack some progressive grip under lateral forces – when they break loose it is immediate and without much warning, and they recover slowly. It seems to me that the Spider Sipe and Swing Sipe technology are not working as well as Toyo had hoped.

On the third hand, these are also among the most comfortable winter tires out there. The road feel is strikingly good, with a “just right” balance between firm sportiness and soft comfort. There is little to no tread squirm, and I found them extremely quiet even after being well broken-in. They're quite a lot of fun to drive in any weather.

The Bottom Line

 The Toyo Observe GSi-5 is an excellent winter tire, and with only a slight improvement in the lateral grip, I would have no problem in classing it with the top tier of winter tires, among such giants as the Hakka R2, the X-Ice Xi3, and the Blizzak WS80. I can't quite do that, but the Toyo certainly stands out as one of the very best of the second tier, and if you can find a set at a good price relative to the elite winter tires, it will certainly deliver a heck of a lot of bang for the buck. I am extremely impressed.