Review: Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4

Niche Player

Ultra High Performance Snow tires occupy a rather interesting space. Created for high performance cars, they are an attempt to optimize for two forms of performance – snow and ice grip as well as dry-road stability and responsiveness at high torques and high speeds. These are mutually exclusive goals, however, and the only real option has always been to find a reasonable balance between them. This leaves UHP snow tires in find of a restricted niche – if you don't need extremely high road performance from a snow tire, there are better snow tires out there, and if you don't need snow grip there are far better performance tires out there.

Michelin's Pilot Alpin series has occupied this niche with some authority for many years now, and the current occupant, the Pilot Alpin PA3 has a justifiable claim to being among the very best. Now, however, comes the next generation: The Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 will be available by next winter, and I had a chance to drive a set at Michelin's winter launch event at Mecaglisse in Quebec just last month.

Technology:

 

The Pilot Alpin PA4 boasts a new silica-based rubber compound called Helio. Michelin claims Helio gives greater low-temperature flexibility, leading to a 5% shorter stopping distance.

In addition, the PA4's have a new 3D sipe pattern called Stabiligrip, and it would appear that some of the tread blocks are angled much like Michelin's X-Ice Xi3 tread block design, which appears to contribute heavily to the Xi3's excellent lateral grip.

Testing:

 

We drove the Pilot Alpin PA4s fitted to a nicely appointed Cadillac SRT, on a part of the Mecaglisse snow course designed to provide a simulation of the hazards of every day city driving. These hazards included snow and ice braking, sweeping curves in moderately deep snow, lane changes, stop signs and avoidance maneuvers. What we could not do is test the tires at high speeds or on cold pavement. The surface was an extremely challenging layer of snow of varying depths over a layer of thick ice.

Performance:

 

While the Pilot Alpins did not display the extraordinary grip of the X-Ice Xi3's, they maintained a confident and stable grip throughout the course, unlike the other demonstration tires, all of which struggled in various areas. Even on a sweeping uphill turn that saw nearly every other car fail to hold a line or break loose entirely, the PA4's attacked the curve with just a bit of controllable oversteer.

Unfortunately, I will have to trust for the moment that the PA4 performance at higher speeds and on dry roads is comparable to or better than their predecessor, the PA3.(Ok, with Michelin this is not exactly a huge stretch.) On the other hand, on snow and ice the PA4's feel like everything an ultra high performance snow tire can reasonably be expected to be and somewhat more. These are probably too much tire for a daily driver vehicle, but for driving a high-performance car during the winter these are probably one of the best choices available.

So while ultra high performance snow tires may be a somewhat restricted niche, it is my opinion that Michelin's Pilot Alpin PA4 will very soon be taking its older brother's place at or near the top of that niche.

The Pilot Alpin PA4's carry Michelin's Standard Manufacturer's Limited Warranty, “which covers defects in workmanship and materials for the life of the original usable tread, or for 6 years from date of purchase, whichever occurs first.” They also carry a 30,000 mile treadwear warranty.