High-performance cars need not be hidden away during the winter months. Thanks to the growing availability of specialized winter tires, it’s safer than ever to take your whip out for a spin when it is snowing. We tested out a set of Toyo Observe GSi-6 HP to see how a properly equipped sports car handles the snow.
The test car is my own 2013 Scion FR-S, a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive coupe. I’ve had plenty of practice driving the car in the snow, but the last set of winter tires I had on the car were well over five years old, so it was time to replace them, and see just how much winter tire technology has advanced.
To help with the ride, OK Tire installed the wheels and balanced them with a special high-speed road force balance, which is to say they were balanced at higher speeds than usual. This is important for drivers of high-performance cars, who are apt to make highway passes with their extra horsepower.
Getting up close and personal
The Toyo Observe GSi-6 HP is the newest high-performance winter tire from the brand, and it features plenty of important design traits to enhance its performance in the snow.
First is the serrated stability rib found running right through the centre of the tire. This provides stability in straight-line driving, like on the highway, and lane changes. The jagged design of this stability rib is intended to improve traction in deeper snow and slush.
Radiating from the centre rib are grooves that channel water, slush, or snow away from the tread in order to reduce hydroplaning or slippage. There are four grooves that run the entire circumference of the tires, and additional grooves that evacuate the moisture outwards, towards the edge of the tires.
The tread blocks are offset and feature a variety of siping for different purposes. Offsetting the treads enhances stability when cornering – a common complaint about winter tires, which can sometimes feel squishy or squirmy when pushed hard.
The sipes – little “cuts” in the tire that add more biting edge and surface area for the sticky, winter-focused rubber compound – come in all different shapes, each with a different purpose: A dense collection of 3D sipes improve stability when braking, cornering or accelerating; unique 360-degree spiral sipes help provide additional traction, especially in braking and accelerating. There are also a few sipes that look like lightning bolts which are designed to assist with lateral traction.
Finally, there are little rubber teeth found throughout the grooves to help the tire rid itself of excess snow or slush. You’ll find also wedges in the shoulder which do the same thing but on the outer edge of the tire.
There’s a final detail about the tire that you won’t be able to see unless you have a microscope. The tire compound uses crushed walnut shells, which have been found to provide excellent ice traction, biting and clawing deep into the ice as needed. This is a huge help and a byproduct of Toyo’s commitment to using advanced technology and sustainable materials to help develop new tires.
On snow, slush, ice, and dry roads
Surprisingly, after installing the new tires, there wasn’t a lot of snow in the Greater Toronto Area. We received a few flurries, but nothing substantial. These flurries eventually lead to slush, and when driving in the slush, the sports car felt stable and braked with confidence.
When the snow did pile up, I began to worry. The car has limited ground clearance, and that can always make for a dicey drive. But as predicted, there wasn’t any drama or loss of control. The siping and grooves played their parts to perfection, and the tires grabbed into the snow and evacuated the excess as needed. Instead of slipping, I got glorious traction.
The final impression came on the ice, where I was again pleasantly surprised. The GSi-6 HP turned in an excellent performance on the ice, hardly triggering the ABS when braking, and setting off from a dead stop almost immediately.
The Toyo Observe GSi-6 HP delivered exactly what was promised. They were stable for high-performance driving. Hard starts and stops, aggressive cornering, and high speeds were all well-managed. Based on my experience, I imagine these would be pretty good on a sports sedan as well.
I can wholly recommend these Observe GSi-6 HP tires to anyone who asks, but there are a few caveats. For starters, they’re a tiny bit loud, which is a common complaint about all winter tires. I also didn’t find the wet surface/rain traction all that impressive, at least in comparison to the snow and slush stability. There is also a fairly limited selection of sizes, ranging from 16- to 19-inch wheels, which covers the bulk of sporty cars, but not all of them. I’m also curious to see how long they last; Toyo offers a five-year warranty on the workmanship and materials, but some winter tires simply don’t last as long as you’d expect.
I’d consider those to be fairly minor issues though, and for sports car drivers looking for a new set of winter tires, I’d suggest taking a look at the Toyo Observe GSi-6 HP range.