Short wheelbase, rear-wheel drive cars do not mix well with snow and speed. However even for a car like the Nissan 370Z, winter driving is made easy with the right tires.
In warmer climates, cars like the 370Z are right at home. The staggered 245/275 section tires on the Sport Pack equipped models are perfect for heat-soaked black tarmac.
But in more northern regions, winter driving can be more hair-raising than smile-inducing. Wide all-season and summer tires in slushy conditions struggle to find grip on middle-weight coupes such as Nissan's latest Z car.
Look at a picture of any rally car driving on a snowy stage, and you'll see a six-figure machine riding on skinny, knobbly tires rather than the wide setups typically associated with racing cars. The reason is simple. With a smaller contact patch, the car's weight is more concentrated and is able to cut into snow and find grip, rather than slide on top of it.
I decided to apply this logic to my new Nissan 370Z, as I had picked it up just before winter and figured I'd rather eat Ramen for a few weeks than stuff it into a tree before my temp tags expired.
I decided to use TireRack to ease the buying process, as they have a system which helps you determine a winter setup for your car. You get a range of options for tire size and brand, and then an array of wheels to choose from. I decided to go with a square setup so I could rotate the tires come future seasons, and chose a set of 18×8 Sport Edition A9 wheels with 225/50 Bridgestone Blizzak LM-32 tires.
Being that a Sport Pack equipped Nissan 370Z comes with massive 19×10 rollers for the rear, it's no secret that the smaller winter wheels look wholly inappropriate, even for a winter driving setup. Function over form is the name of the game right now, but next season might see the addition of some spacers.
To put in perspective just how much better Nissan 370Z winter driving is with the appropriate tires, I owned Subaru before this car (more on that later) with run of the mill all-seasons. This 370Z with winter tires is better.
In the snow, steering has a surprising amount weight and turn in is fairly responsive. Acceleration obviously requires a gentle input but even so the tires will bite with very little momentum. Albeit, braking performance is where I was the most surprised. Even in fresh powder, as long as you don't stamp on the brakes you won't set off the ABS.
But that isn't to say you can't still have a slide or two…
So yes, with the proper tires and driving your car will not become an uncontrollable metal comet hurtling down the street. It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but you can always get winter tires for your normal wheels, and even swap over the TPMS sensors. And seeing as you'll only have them on the road for about four months out of the year, they'll last twice as long as your regular tires.
The Nissan 370Z is by no means an acclaimed all-weather vehicle but, in the first snow of the year, I had to drive around a number of all wheel drive SUVs spinning their wheels. The right tires make all the difference.
Photos by Anthony Roderman