Bridgestone Blizzak WS90 tire review: Emerging from Maine winter


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I was recently fortunate enough to get my hands on a 2024 Toyota GR Corolla Premium without a markup here in Maine, but the car’s January delivery date meant I’d need to immediately swap the factory Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires or risk a costly traction-related accident. After a bit of research, I asked Bridgestone for a set of Blizzak WS90 tires for testing, and just a few days later, I was in business. The GR Corolla wears 235/40 R18 tires, making them far cheaper than the larger wheels on other sporty cars, so I will swap between the Blizzaks and Michelins when the temps start rising here in Maine.

You might be wondering why a rally-bred, all-wheel-drive hatchback would need winter tires. The high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport 4s have a tread pattern and rubber compound that are designed to work safely and reliably in warm weather. They provide fantastic grip and handling at the expense of longevity, but they’re not designed for use in cold or snowy weather. The same tread pattern that provides water evacuation and traction in warm temperatures can’t hold up to snow and slippery conditions. Additionally, the rubber compounds in summer tires can crack and become brittle when temperatures fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Depending on where you live, you might need winter tires for part of the year, or you might be able to get away with all-season tires, which have a longer life than summer tires but are not as great at winter traction as snows. Here in Maine, some drivers opt for studded tires in winter, which is overkill in all but the worst conditions and too loud for many to live with on a daily basis. I am lucky to have a short commute to get the kids to school, and everything in my small town is nearby, so I could get away with an all-season tire, but I wanted the stability of a dedicated winter tire and to retain the warm-weather performance delivered by the Pilot Sport 4s. While maintaining two sets of tires, storing them, and changing over between seasons is annoying, it’s a hassle I’m willing to deal with to get the most out of my car.

What’s it like to drive with Bridgestone Blizzak WS90 tires?

The first and most notable differences between Blizzaks and summer tires are in the sound and feel. Even when driving well outside of their recommended temperature range the first few days I had the car, it was easy to tell that the Michelins were quiet and responsive. The Blizzaks’ sound was immediately apparent on dry pavement. Still, it’s important to note that the GR Corolla is already one of the loudest cars inside that I’ve driven, thanks to less sound-deadening materials to save weight. With their deep treads and beefier design, the Bridgestones generate a surprising amount of droning, and at low speeds, it’s possible to hear the individual treads as they scrape across the street.

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The driving feel is also quite different, though a less stripped-down car would likely hide some of it. There’s almost a “blocky” feel at first, as the chunky tread pattern is much more pronounced than the Pilot Sport 4s. The GR Corolla doesn’t have the most communicative steering in the world, but there’s a significant difference in steering feel than with the summer tires. There’s a slight vibration but nothing serious at low speeds, and things smooth out at higher speeds.

Would I buy the Blizzak WS90?

All of the downsides I’m listing for the Bridgestone tires also apply to every other winter tire. They are all noisy, feel different than summer or all-season tires, and are all a hassle to deal with when it comes to swapping back and forth. That’s a long way of saying that, yes, I would buy these tires with my own money. They provide a sense of security in the often poor weather conditions we have in Maine winters, and they are competent enough that I don’t feel like I gave up a ton of performance with the GR Corolla to get that confidence. At the same time, it’s important to note that I always advise people to take a close look at how and when they drive, as many of us could get away without needing a second set of tires.

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Bridgestone Blizzak WS90 alternatives

The Bridgestone Blizzaks are among the most popular and well-reviewed winter tires, but they’re far from the only option available.

Nokian Hakkepeliitta

You might have to program the name into your computer’s spellcheck, but the Nokians are a serious winter tire. The company offers them in a a few different configurations, including studded tires, and Nokian manufactures tires using sustainable practices that help lessen their environmental impact. Some sizes are also available with run-flat features, giving an added layer of peace of mind.

Michelin X-Ice Snow Tires

There’s an old saying I love: “Just pay for the Michelins.” While often more expensive than comparable rival tires, Michelins offer solid longevity and performance, and the X-Ice Snow tire is a well-reviewed model with low rolling resistance for better fuel economy. They are also three-peak mountain snowflake rated and come with a 40,000-mile warranty.

Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3

Pirelli tires are known for their performance, and the Winter Sottozero 3 is an excellent alternative to the Bridgestone Blizzaks. They offer run-flat tech and a unique tread pattern that channels moisture and snow, while the wide contact patch brings excellent grip in a wide range of conditions.

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FAQs

Tires aren’t the most complicated part of your vehicle, but there’s enough nuance to warrant questions.

What are three-peak mountain snowflake tires?

Tires earn the three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF) designation by passing a limited winter-weather testing regimen that includes acceleration runs. No braking or turning tests are included in the designation, though some offer better-than-expected performance that could make them a year-round tire for many.

Are winter tires required?

Some local areas may require them, but snow tires are generally not required – even in Maine. That said, they can make the difference between control and complete chaos, so snow tires are a good idea when there’s bad weather ahead. It’s worth noting that there are rules governing the use of studded tires, with places like Maine limiting their use to winter months to prevent road wear and accidents.

Are all-season tires fine for snow?

You might get away with using snow tires and not have an accident, but they are not designed to handle heavy snow and ice. You’ll find less predictable stopping distances, less grip for acceleration, and may have difficulty steering in heavy snow with all-season tires.

Can I drive with winter tires all year?

It’s certainly possible, but it’s a bad idea. The same rubber compounds that help winter tires stay pliable and grip the snow in winter can become too soft and wear quickly in warm weather. Additionally, they don’t do the best job in heavy rain and don’t provide the best performance when temps are well above freezing.

Pros:

  • Bridgestone offers an extensive range of sizes
  • The Blizzaks look like mini all-terrain tires
  • Great grip and stability in challenging winter conditions

Cons:

  • The tires are loud on dry pavement, especially at highway speeds
  • Not the best tire for fuel economy savings

 

 

 



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