November 23 2009   Story: Bryan Joslin

It’s said that Chicago has only two seasons – winter and road construction. One by one this latter season’s shovel-ready, stimulus-funded projects are coming to a close; with each passing day a new section of road re-opens, resplendent in fresh asphalt and bright new stripes, easing up traffic congestion ever so slightly on a daily basis. That can only mean one thing: Winter is coming.

Having lived in the area our entire lives, we know that this happens every year, like clockwork. The routine is familiar – dig out the heavy coats, a pair of gloves and boots; find an ice scraper and/or snow brush to throw in the trunk; top up the washer fluid tank with the sub-zero blue stuff; bolt up some snow tires and throw in the winter mats.

So, with winter’s icy breath soon to be blowing down our necks, we set to work winterizing our long-term BMW 335d. Our first stop was the Tire Rack website for a look at the current range of winter tires. We’ve installed and driven a variety of winter performance tires over the years, and we often find ourselves coming back to the Bridgestone Blizzak lineup for a performance car like our 335d. The decision to once again mount Blizzaks –in this case Blizzak LM-25s – was helped by the fact that there’s a run-flat option designed specifically as a BMW OE fitment. After all, the only thing worse than changing a flat is changing a flat in the snow.

We chose to downsize from our sport package’s staggered 225/40-18 / 245/40-18 setup to a more winter-appropriate 225/45-17 size all the way around. The theory goes that the narrower-than-stock rear tires will sink deeper into snow rather than float on top, resulting in better traction. If you’ve ever watched a WRC winter rally, you’ll certainly see that this logic applied, as every car seems to be wearing 175-section tires.

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The downside to choosing this fitment is that it requires a different set of wheels. Fortunately, the aftermarket wheel business has given us a wealth of inexpensive alloys in recent years, and Tire Rack is fully stocked in BMW applications. We chose a fairly basic five-spoke from Rial, a company who also supplies numerous carmakers with OEM alloys. The 17x8-inch Salerno wheel – finished in silver paint – looks as though it could be a factory wheel; in fact, its center cap is the exact diameter as the one on our factory wheel, allowing the roundel to be fitted for an even more factory look.

The option we chose is what we consider the “right” way to do a winter package: a separate set of wheels and tires requiring only a quick swap to be ready for the change of seasons. Of course, doing things right doesn’t always come cheap. Our LM-25 Runflats run $189 apiece (non-runflats in the same size cost $145 each) and the setup also demands a new set of tire pressure monitors at $49 each. The total cost of our package is $1424. The other option is to simply purchase winter tires and have them mounted to the existing wheels. This would have cost $844 in 225/40-18 Blizzak runflats (LM-60), but would have required us to pay a tire shop to dismount, remount and balance the alternate tires at a cost of $60-80 twice a year. In a typical three-year lifespan for a set of winter tires, the cost of constantly switching tires would essentially wash out the savings, not to mention add the seasonal inconvenience of getting into the tire shop for the changeover. On some vehicles, opting for steel wheels, despite the higher unsprung weight and lower visual appeal, is also a cheaper option than our alloys.

With new shoes on the 335d, we turned to protecting the interior from the elements. For as long as we can remember, we’ve been covering our carpets with the impermeable and ubiquitous black rubber mats from WeatherTech. For starters, we’ve known the guys who run the place since they were in an office the size of ours (in which they were also importing baby bottles from the same manufacturer that popped the floor mats). But really, the product has always spoken for itself; the heavy, natural rubber mats seem to hold gallons of salt-infused slush as it melts off our Timberlands, keeping the precious carpets underneath clean and dry as a summer day.

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This year we broke from tradition though, if ever so slightly. Instead of fitting rubber mats we opted for a more 21st-century solution in the form of WeatherTech molded floor liners. Made of flexible thermoformed plastic, the floor liners are CAD-designed to fit each car perfectly. We simply pulled out the carpet mats and installed the trays in their place. Black was our color of choice, matching the carpet for a seamless appearance.

The floor liners are considerably thinner and lighter than the old-style rubber mats (which we still have in several of our other cars), and because they have such high walls they hold even more of winter’s ugliness. For neat freaks, they’re also easier to clean than the many ribs of the rubber WeatherTechs, and we’re hoping they prevent the buildup of road salt that inevitably runs off the edge of the rubber mats. Our set of four liners runs $159.90, about a sixty percent premium over the rubber mats. The fit is phenomenal, and we’re actually looking forward to some snow just to see how much they’ll hold.

It may not seem like a lot, but with these two simple changes our 335d stands a far better chance of making it through to the next construction season unscathed. Now, if we could just remember where we put the ice scraper eight months ago.