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Get a grip: fitting winter tyres helps driving in snow

There were a lot of letters and emails requesting advice about driving in the snow but by far the most were complaints about how certain cars, especially BMWs, performed. Here are two:

"Dear Sir-- Why do BMWs perform so badly in the snow?

'I drive a €50,000 10D BMW but had to abandon it overnight in the outer suburbs on three occasions during the recent spell of snow.

'On the other hand, my wife has a 12-year-old Rover 200 with 98,000 miles on the clock which goes up hill and down dale in the snow without missing a beat... and I had to phone her to come and pick me up.

'Some people tell me that BMW's 'stone-age' rear-wheel drive system is the problem, while others says that BMW suspensions are too rigid and the tyres too wide to cope with the snow."

"Dear Campbell -- I always enjoy your column and no doubt you have been pestered with questions on the snow but here's another one for you. I drive a 520D which I love but as I live on high ground it's a disaster in the snow and ice. I don't want to go for a jeep as I need a car for business -- I was thinking of going for Audi A4 as I only bought BMW in May 2009 and don't want to spend too much. What would be the best front-wheel drives in your opinion? A friend of mine lived in Boston and he swears by the Honda Accord."

I wrote back: "Thanks for your comments. I don't rate the ordinary Audis in the snow; Quattro yes. A colleague who lives in Slane says his A4 is absolute s**t in snow and he prefers to drive his wife's new Golf, which is great.

"I have had a lot of complaints about BMW and took the one I had on test for Christmas 2009 off the road as it was totally useless in the snow. However, the winter tyres seem to solve much of the problem and perhaps you should try them before getting rid of the Beemer. The 520D is such a fine car other than that."

Another colleague was never let down by the Mondeo over the holiday and yet another always got through in his Volvo. Of course, I swear by Subaru. I have heard very good reports of Hondas in the snow but haven't personal experience. Even one of our photographers swears by his Toyota Auris that went up hills that left 4x4s floundering.

I asked BMW for a comment and they replied: "We have seen pretty exceptional weather conditions recently and I would think many two-wheel drive vehicles will have had problems coping. In Europe, where severe winters like this are the norm, BMWs are very well able to cope with snow and ice, provided that they are fitted with the right tyres.

"Fitting the winter tyres to your vehicle (no matter if FWD or RWD) is of huge advantage once temperatures drop below 7 degrees. In Germany, for example, winter tyres are mandatory for all vehicles. BMW Group Ireland has reacted quickly and introduced winter tyres to our market in October 2010.

"There are good reasons why most of our vehicles feature rear-wheel-drive: RWD is of advantage especially for high-powered vehicles. As cars become more powerful it is of disadvantage to have one set of wheels doing the steering and the accelerating at the same time. By having the front wheels do the steering, and the rear wheels driving the car, you get a better-balanced vehicle. Rear-wheel drive offers better weight distribution, which offers more predictable handling." -CS

Sunday Independent