Review: Michelin Latitude X-Ice Xi2

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Michelin Latitude X-Ice Xi2. Michelin North America, Inc.

What Do My Star Ratings Mean?

Michelin's snow tires, particularly the X-Ice line, are consistently among the top 3 on the market. The Latitude X-Ice Xi2, Michelin's flagship winter tire aimed at light trucks, SUV's and crossover vehicles, competes with Nokian's Hakka R2 SUV and Bridgestone's Blizzak DM-V1 in a massive 3-cornered dogfight for the top spot.

As I always say, winter tires for SUV's are somewhat tricky.

They have to have an extremely muscular snow and ice grip to compensate for the weight of the vehicle and the sometimes unwarranted confidence that All-Wheel Drive can give the driver. They have to avoid excessive “squishiness” on dry roads, which is more difficult with SUV tires than with tires for cars, and they have to have some handling zip for crossovers. It's a balancing act, and Michelin's Latitude does it all pretty well.

Pros:

  • Top-tier winter grip.
  • Excellent dry-road handling.
  • Excellent treadwear.

Cons:

  • Fair-to-middling in deep snow.

Technology:

FleX-Ice Compound
The Xi2 sports a silica-based tread compound called FleX-Ice. (I've noted before that it's pretty much expected nowadays to give your tread compound a really cool name, but definite bonus points to Michelin for accessorizing the tread compound and tire names.) FleX-Ice uses high quantities of a silica-silane filler, which has the effect of keeping the tread flexible in low temperatures, as well as lowering rolling resistance, increasing wet grip and increasing tread life.

In fact, Michelin claims that their tread will wear 75% longer than comparable winter tires, and they back this up by offering a 40,000 mile treadwear warranty. While this is peanuts compared to the 90,000 mile warranty on Michelin's Defender, it's eye-opening considering the fact that pretty much nobody else in the world offers any treadwear warranty on winter tires at all.

Cross Z Sipes
Michelin calls their siping pattern the Cross Z Sipe, a form of 3-dimensional self-locking siping patterns. The sipes feature the now-familiar zig-zag biting edge pattern, but with an inner topology in which the points of the pattern are offset to one side or the other deep into the tread. This pattern allows the tread blocks to flex just enough to open the sipes and present the gripping edges to the surface, but locks the tread block together to prevent any more flex than intended. This prevents the kind of overflex in the tread block that stresses the block, leading to faster wear and the kind of "squishy" dry-road performance that everyone hates about snow tires.

Micro Pump Sipes

The Latitude also sipes in the form of tiny holes drilled into the tread blocks, which create a vacuum as the tread block flexes, sucking the last tiny bit of water remaining on the surface of road or ice sheet even after water evacuation grooves have done their work. This tiny layer of water defeats friction when left between the surface and the tire's contact patch, so removing it allows tires to grip much better.

Variable Angle Sipes
The Latitude's tread blocks have siping set at three different angles to enhance lateral grip.

Step Groove Technology
The central channel on the Latitude features a number of small raised blocks that are staggered to get a grip in deep snow for a kind of "caterpillar effect."

Spiral-Wound Steel Belts
Like the Xi2 and Xi3 winter tires for cars, the Latitude features dual steel belts with nylon cords spiral-wound tightly around them. There is some argument as to whether this does anything for performance, but Michelin gets dry-road performance out of their winter tires that is always something just short of miraculous, so I suspect that they know what they're doing with these.

Performance:

The Latitude X-Ice Xi2 handles extremely well in light-to-moderate packed snow. Linear grip, (acceleration and stopping power) is quite good for any SUV tire, and lateral grip is excellent. The tires will understeer just a bit if forced, and break loose into oversteer a bit more easily than I would like, but the grip is reasonably progressive and they recover extremely well with just a bit of steering input.

On ice they are only slightly inferior to the Blizzak DM-V1's, but then every other winter tire is inferior to Blizzak when it comes to sheer ice. In deep snow the Latitudes definitely struggle, probably due to a somewhat shallower tread than many other winter tires.

As usual for Michelin, it is on dry roads and light snow or wet conditions where the Latitudes shine. Tires that are optimized for winter conditions are not generally the best at dry-road handling, but Michelin always seems to strike a heck of a balance here. Steering is precise and responsive and the tires handle extremely well overall, considering that they are still snow tires.

The Bottom Line:

In the great 3-way fight for winter tire primacy, the top-tier competitors have drawn so close together that it can be extremely hard to rank them sometimes. This is definitely the case with car tires, but with SUV tires there is just a bit more daylight between the contenders. In terms of pure snow and ice performance, the best is still clearly Nokian, with the newest Hakka R2 SUV a head above the rest. In second place would be Bridgestone's Blizzak DM-V1. But because the Blizzaks still cannot make their Tube Multicell Compound take up more than 55% of the total tread, and because Michelin's tread lasts so much longer than the others, I have to rank Michelin's Latitude over the DM-V1 purely on overall quality. Even with marginally worse pure snow performance, I have to consider it to be generally a better buy than the Blizzaks, and the sheer price difference between the Latitude and the much more expensive Hakka R2 SUV makes the choice of which to buy a difficult question of personal preference and wallet capacity. That's the way competition goes, and competition is almost always a good thing. In this case, it certainly pushes everybody involved to constantly get better.

Available in 36 sizes from 235/75/15 to 275/55/20

Treadwear Warranty: 40,000 miles