Audi A7 long-term test: Spring break for summer rubber
Just a few days after having to fit the spare wheel on the A7, it was time to have a new set of winter tyres fitted.
This is very late. We know this. But it's not entirely without justification.
Audi very kindly offered to have our wheels refurbished, following a pair of unfortunate incidents that left all four of them battered. First, a steep, thin, high-curbed, right-angled up ramp in an underground London NCP took three of them out in one devastating manoeuvre...
Then the remaining good one took a dunch on a bridge (above) that was evidently built during a time when folk went about on penny-farthings and horse-drawn canoes. Having crawled the whole length of the bridge, straddled by metal tracks, the offside front wheel took a battering on the jutting stone pillar at the exit there. Embarrassing.
So while the rims are with Audi being repaired, and the popped tyre (below) plugged, we thought we'd spend a few weeks with a the A7's official winter wheel package, comprising four new alloys and a set of Dunlop SP Winter Sport tyres.
Obviously there isn't going to be much snow during the next few weeks - none, in fact - but to assume winter tyres are just for getting across snow is, well, wrong.
While it's true that time and time again we've found that the benefit of winter tyres is most obvious during braking on snow, they're also made specifically for wet and cold weather.
Normal 'summer' tyres harden at temperatures below seven degrees, and a less malleable surface means reduced grip. Winter tyres overcome this by using a greater proportion of natural rubber in a compound designed to stay flexible in very low climates.
In addition, the tread pattern (below) is designed specifically to divert water away from the contact patch, again increasing grip, but also reducing the possibility of aquaplaning.
The difference between a winter and a summer tyre isn't as obvious in rain and cold as it is on snow - when it really is night and day - but it is significant.
Recent tests by the British Tyre Manufacturers' Association showed that a car braking from 60mph in rain at five degrees stopped five metres shorter on winter rubber than it did on summer; on an icy road at just 20mph, the difference was a startling nine metres. And we can believe that, too.
But we're also expecting a notable improvement in ride quality, because the winter tyres have a significantly thicker sidewall and are on a smaller rim: 235/45/R19, compared to 265/35/R20.
The cost of Audi's A7 winter wheel package is staggering, though: £2,093.76.
It does get more reasonable the further down the range you go - a set for an A4, for instance, costs £1,143, and for an A1 £776 - but winter wheels are still a big old chunk of Bunsen to anyone.
Having said that, they do prolong the life of your summer tyres over the ownership of the car, and once they're bought they can be kept and swapped the moment the inevitable SNOW CHAOS hits the UK - meaning you won't be one of the people responsible for grinding Britain to an unqualified standstill after a light dusting of snow.
It only took Newcastle Audi an hour to fit and balance them (and valet the car), and we're told that if an Audi dealership has space to keep your summer wheels, it will, free of charge. Handy that, if you're a garage-less urban apartment dweller.
So there you go. We're undoubtedly the last media outlet to fit a set of winter tyres to a car. Let's see if it's worth it...
(Have you had winter tyres fitted for the last couple of months? We'd be interested to hear what you've made of them, and whether you thought it was worth the outlay given the relatively mild winter we've had. We're not interested in hearing your thoughts on fashion.)