Some of my customers disparage Continental for being essentially a second-tier tire maker. I have always liked Continental for being the very best of the second tier, in fact for making decent, durable tires for daily drivers at great prices. That's why I like seeing their excellent winter tire getting a lot of respect from testers, reviewers and customers.
- Great grip in snow and wet.
- Optimized for BMW.
- Good pricing.
- Some lateral grip issues.
- Some imprecise steering and tramlining issues.
To be fair, Continental has been among the first tier and generating an increasing amount of respect for some time now. BMW began making Continental tires the standard OEM choice on their cars many years ago, a relationship which has led to a lot of synergy on the part of both partners. Many of my customers who drive BMW's feel quite strongly that their tires are “dialed in” to both the strengths and quirks of the cars they love. Add to that Continental's tradition of excellent pricing, and what's not to love anyway?
Unlike many tire makers, Continental doesn't really bother with fancy marketing names for their rubber technology, simply noting that their rubber compound is “designed to remain flexible in extremely cold temperatures.” In fact it is largely the design of the lateral and longitudinal grooves between tread blocks that sets the Continentals apart. The central longitudinal channel is offset somewhat from the centerline of the tire, separating the tread area into a larger area on the inside designed for snow and ice grip and a smaller area on the outside designed for handling stiffness and water evacuation.
The lateral grooves on the outside shoulder of the tire are shallower than most, giving the outer shoulder a higher degree of stiffness than the inner treads, which helps with dry-road handling. Those grooves are also inclined somewhat, which Conti claims helps to evacuate water quickly out from under the tire to prevent hydroplaning.
The inner tread area contains multiple crisscrossing diagonal grooves, creating some irregular diamond-shaped tread blocks with zigzag siping patterns. The deep angled grooves bite the snow at an angle and allow snow to pack in and fall out easily, allowing for grip even in the very deep stuff. The diamond-shaped tread blocks flex in multiple directions to give an excellent bite on glare ice.
The Contis provide excellent grip on both snow and ice. The straight-line acceleration and braking performance is about as good as any snow tire out there, but I do notice some slight issues with lateral grip, as they sometimes want to kick out just slightly. They also don't always want to go exactly where they are pointed. Wet grip is excellent, although some of my customers think that they do not do as well in slush. I have to wonder if those angled grooves that provide extra grip also affect the handling by creating lateral forces that act on the tires in high-friction conditions like deep snow and slush. In other words, the diamond-shaped treads that do wonders for grip might also be pushing the tires to one side or the other whenever there is something to push against.
On dry roads, the Contis are light, responsive and remarkably quiet for winter tires. Handling is excellent and they provide a smooth, clean ride with very few bumps transmitted to the driver. Steering feel and firmness are almost comparable to the Dunlop Graspic DS-3.
The Bottom Line
All in all, the Continental ExtremeWinterContacts are excellent winter tires that come with excellent price tags. I recommend them most highly for BMW owners who are tired of putting their cars away for the winter, but also for anyone who needs a good snow tire, but doesn't like the price of a Michelin X-Ice or Nokian Hakka R.
Continental ExtremeWinterContact: $75 - $150 for most sizes.