Winter tires. If you live in a snowy climate and you haven’t made the investment then you’re missing out. If you have, you’ll likely never go back. Chalk us up to the latter, never really having much of a problem with all-season tires until we ponied up and got a set of winters. The game changed. We saw the light.
Project OE A3 came into our fleet hot on the heels of the departure of our 4 Season Audi TT S line. The TT wasn’t based on Audi’s latest transverse matrix MQB architecture, but rather MQB’s platform predecessor so fitments were close. We’d already found that the slightly larger TT-spec tire on our R8 GT wheels would fit the car (albeit with some rubbing) so we figured we could also re-use the TT’s winter tire setup having logged just one winter on those.
So what did we have on hand? First up, we had a set of 19×8.5 VMR V810 alloys finished in matte black. Following their modern mesh design that’s been a solid offering from VMR for years, this latest design is also one of the firm’s first Flow-Form wheel offerings launched last year. Flow-form manufacturing brings forged production into a more affordable spectrum, resulting in lightweight and stronger single piece monoblock construction at a price much lower than traditional forged wheels. The wheels are ET 45, not quite as aggressive as our R8 GT wheels, so obviously they’d rub less.
Rubber was also a carry-over from the TT, meaning slightly bigger than the recommended stock A3 configuration. Specifically, these tires are Michelin’s winter Pilot Alpin PA4. When we picked them up in late 2013, we’d found they were one of the best winter tires going and as such rated best in Tire Rack’s own customer rating system at 4.5 stars.
Interestingly, the Pilot Alpin PA4 is also rated as one of Michelin’s GreenX tires – offering low rolling resistance design for efficient running in addition to high winter performance.
One of the biggest advantages of a good winter tire is the compound meant for use in lower temperatures. In the case of the Michelin, this means a silica-based and sunflower oil-enriched Helio Compound+ tread rubber designed to remain flexible when temps drop. Combined with an asymmetric tread design and aggressive siping that wraps around the shoulder of the tread, it is claimed by Michelin to be optimized for acceleration, braking and handling in these conditions.
Up until we made the swap, we’d been running identically sized Michelin Pilot all-season (again from the TT and in TT sizing). In fact, we experienced our first snow with that setup still on the car and it served well to illustrate the differences and underline why you need the right tire for the task.
As all-season tires go, the Pilot all season is a very good tire. The A3 was competent with this setup in the snow, even for being such a small car on substantially wide rubber. Nevertheless, moving to the Pilot Alpin PA4 made a considerable difference in acceleration, handling and most notably stopping.
Subsequent winter precipitation has allowed us to drive the car in varying conditions, from soft and silent running on fresh snow or icy tarmac following melting or freezing rain. On dry highways, these tires are refined and we’re noticing no difference in vibration or road noise unlike other winter tires we’ve run in the past.
As for the wheels, we think they work very well with the car. The aggressive motorsport-inspired design suits the A3 well, and the matte black finish gives more of a winter battle-mode look to this otherwise super subtle silver A3. The slightly less aggressive offset as compared to the R8 GT wheels means substantially less rubbing… though there is still some audible rubbing under full suspension compression. Correct A3 tire sizing would fix that.
While both sets look incredibly cool and give the A3 a very aggressive appearance, the rubbing definitely impedes your willingness to really drive the car at the limit where full compression of the suspension is required. Maybe that’s for the best though as it has us not pushing quite so hard when the ground gets slippery.