One Month With The Cooper Tire WM-SA2
A few weeks ago I asked if you should use winter tires on your car, even if you don’t see that much snow. Well I have since slapped a set of winter rubber from Cooper Tire on my daily driver and have spent a few weeks trekking through the gray, wet and slushy mess that is winter in East Tennessee. So far the tires have seen rain storms that turned to ice storms, snow in the Appalachian mountains, clear roads but with temperatures in the single digits, and even a few random warm days with temps near 60.
Overall in the last month or so, I have experienced three of the four seasons with my winter tires and I have lived to tell the tale. But more than that, I have learned a lot about what makes my tire choice a smart decision in this climate, and what makes it seem less intelligent.
Continue reading to learn more about the Cooper Tire WM-SA2
Cold Weather Grip
The greatest advantage I have seen so far over my old Continental Pro-Contact all-season tires has been grip in below-freezing temperatures. It is far more pronounced with summer rubber, but even with good all-season tires, I just never seemed to have any lateral grip when the mercury dipped below the freezing mark. It made morning commutes treacherous, and I had more than one close call when the tire would suddenly give way when I wasn’t expecting it to. In recent weeks, temps here in East Tennessee have been frigid with lows approaching zero, and never once did the WM-SA2s fail me. Before ever hitting the road, you can just touch them with your hand and see they are still pliable and soft.
Once on the move, I was able to hold corners at speed just as I would on a nice summer day with the Contis. It really gives me a lot of confidence to enjoy the car and the mountain roads I live on.
Wet Weather and Ice Performance
One of the joys of living in TN is a winter that is constantly cold, gray, dreary and full of rain. We get several inches of rain in the winter, and with temps in the upper 30s to low 40s, it can be downright miserable. When the roads are soaked and water keeps falling from the sky, these tires do a commendable job keeping my Golf shiny side up. This is most noticeable at high speeds, where the thick gaps in the tread and the directional pattern help reduce hydroplaning. In all but the deepest highway puddles, my Golf would track true. Even when I did hit a deep enough spot of water, the steering still felt more controlled and less light than I was used to.
That said, the WM-SA2s don’t seem to hold lateral grip in the rain as well as my sets of Continental tires used to. It is a soft and gentle push, but I find myself understeering at slower speeds than before. This is most likely due to the open tread pattern of the WM-SA2; I have less actual rubber hitting the road at any one time.
What really makes the weather in my home state treacherous is not the winter rain, it’s the drastically swinging temperatures that can happen after it rains. On three separate occasions so far since I put the WM-SA2 tires on my car, I have driven into town in the evening with the temperature hovering around 40 and buckets of rain tumbling from the sky. After a nice evening with friends, I would leave the restaurant to find temperatures hovering right at the freezing point. The result is lots of dark puddles of water mixed with lots of dark patches of ice, all topped with a nice helping of worry and unpredictability.
On all three nights I managed to make it home without a single scratch, and on one occasion I even managed to help free a 4WD pickup from an icy parking lot. It was just his truck and my Golf left in the back lot, and the entire surface had frozen solid. The WM-SA2s did spin quite a bit, and things got a little sideways for a moment, but I was able to drive on the ice and make my way out of the lot. The poor pickup was wearing mostly bald, chunky off-road rubber and couldn’t do much more than spin tires and drift in random directions.
I wouldn’t drive them across a frozen lake for fun, but when faced with a smooth sheet of ice, the WM-SA2s can hold their own.
They may be known as “winter” tires, but for most people they are considered to be “snow” tires. It should be no surprise then that when the wife and I headed up to a local ski resort, we had no problems tackling the white stuff with ease. As we climbed the mountain passes, it seemed to be nothing more than a sea of giant 4WD trucks and SUVs, with one lonely red Volkswagen wondering why everyone was driving so slowly and slightly sideways. That said, I only had the one experience with the white stuff, so I will hold off on further thoughts until I can perform more testing.
With a softer compound and an aggressive tread pattern full of siping for ice and wet traction, the WM-SA2 seem to have pretty high rolling resistance. Since fitting them to the Golf, I have seen a drop in my fuel economy by about 10 percent. Our overall average fuel economy in the summer is in the 46 mpg range. With the switch to winterized diesel mixes in the cold months we see that number drop to about 42 mpg. Currently with the WM-SA2s and the winter-mix diesel I struggle to reach 40, with most trips hovering around the 38 mpg mark. In the grand scheme of things, it is a small cost to pay for having a car that performs better in foul weather, but it is something to note.
Warm Weather Performance
A few days this winter have been unseasonably warm, and I have seen temps rise to as high as 65 degrees. It is on these days that I wish I still had my all-season tires on my Golf. While the rubber compound of the WM-SA2s may be great at staying flexible in cold temps, as things get warmer they feel more like they are melting. On corner entry the nose gives up early and I plow wide, during freeway lane changes the tires feel like they are squirming underneath the car, and the car feels much less stable under heavy braking.
This was not unexpected though, and while the car was overall less stable and enjoyable to drive, at no time did it feel unsafe. It just felt as though I was using inferior tires when compared to my previous rolling stock.
This is probably my biggest complaint about the MW-SA2 tires so far. These tires fill my cabin with a drone that is much louder than my Continentals. To be fair, the Golf is already a pretty quiet car, so the effect is perhaps exaggerated. With large gaps in the tread pattern and thousands of edges and notches thanks to the siping, there is a lot of surface area for wind to rush around and create noise. If you already run an aggressive set of directional tires, you likely won’t see much of a difference, but if you run a premium all-season, expect to notice a difference in cabin noise. It doesn’t affect the quality of the product or the performance, but does make it a little harder for me to listen to NPR in the morning.
Impressions So Far
As it stands, I am happy with my decision to choose a set of winter tires for the cold season this year, rather than grabbing a new set of all-season rubber. In the last three years there have been many instances where I had to park and walk home, or just plain couldn’t get out of my sloped driveway thanks to the ice and snow. So far this season I have been actively seeking out some of the worse road conditions I can find just to see how much punishment I can give these tires. They really are doing a great job. I still don’t know how well they tackle large amounts of snowfall, but in the areas of cold-weather grip and traction in icy or rainy conditions, they have excelled. This is the first year I have ever used winter tires, but it certainly wont be my last.