The snow is starting to fall in parts of North America and full-on winter is right around the corner, so it is time to start thinking about all things icy: Do I need a new jacket? Where did I stash those goggles? Is it gonna be Utah, Colorado, Montana or B.C. this February? And of course, what kind of snow tires should I get?
This question already assumes you need snow tires instead of all-weather tires, and you do. All-season tires are great for 3 out of 4 seasons, but if you are going to be spending time in real winter conditions, you need to forget about chains and get the proper hardware. Snow tires outperform all-weather tires in test after test, and so they should. Besides, if you live up in the mountains or far north, you probably already have burly studded snow tires on your favorite ski car. But do you know which snow tires are really the best? Here are five of our favorites.
5. The BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A KO is a good truck and SUV tire for the snow. It handles well and gets good customer ratings EXCEPT for icy conditions. In ice, the T/A KO loses its grip a bit. This tire is best for light snow and not for the hardcore, long winters. That said, if you are a city dweller up North, this could very well meet your needs.
4. The Bridgestone Blizzaks WS70 is a great all-winter tire for driving everyday in snow and ice. This is the fourth generation of Bridgestone “WinterBiter” tires which now integrate the latest in nanotechnology to bite into the slush and ice with a stronger, molecular level grip. If any of these tires becomes sentient, Transformer-style, the Blizzak is the most likely candidate, based on their “NanoPro-Tech silica-enhanced Tube Multicell compound.” Thousands of microscopic tubes and cells are spread on top of the normal winter compounds in a way that continues to grip even as they wear down. All of these nanotubes biting, scratching and gripping the snow and ice lead to a seriously reliable set of tires.
3. Continental ExtremeWinterContact make for a great set of high-traction tires. They also have their own proprietary high-tech winter tread compound to deliver extreme gripping. These are unique in their asymmetrical tread pattern with grooves, treads and sipes that expel water especially quickly so your tire can get down to the brass tacks of gripping the road tightly. Most enticing of all, these are the best-priced tires in this top tier, so if you are on a budget this winter, these are for you.
2. The Michelin X-Ice Xi2 is a great winter tire that also rides well in the summer, unlike many competitors. But it really only excels on ice, not snow, and it is this weakness on snow that keeps Michelin from reaching the top of our rankings. This tire did rank highest in the Consumer Reports’ Winter Tire category, topping the list of 16 tires tested in everything from wet and dry grip to ice braking and rolling resistance, so it’s definitely an excellent product. This Michelin tire’s secret sauce is its extra deep grooves with “Cross Z-Sipes” that have a specially designed curve for increased traction. The sister Xi3 model was noted for superior rolling resistance, while the Xi2 offered better handling overall. These are great tires and you’ll pay for the quality, but they still have a bit of innovation to go until they can be considered the best snow tires in the world.
1. The best studless snow tire in the world also has the most unique name: the Hakkapeliitta R. The Finnish company Nokian invented winter tires back in the 1930s and they still hold “more winter tire patents than all other tire companies combined.” Despite the origin of the name Hakkapeliitta – referring to Finnish light cavalryman who fought during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) and excelled in sudden and savage attacks – the tire Hakkapeliitta exhibits traction and handling that is “logical and calm.” They feature highly efficient “pump sipes” with a small water pocket where the tire hits the road that helps to push the water away. These pump sipes, combined with sharp shoulders that increase lateral grip make the Hakkapeliitta R the most sure-footed steed. Motor Magazine finds the Nokian “a little weaker on ice than the Michelin” X-Ice Xi2, but it is great overall and grippier in snow than many studded tires. This is the best snow tire out there.
Finally, make sure to check out Popular Mechanics to get the most bang for your buck on your new winter tires:
- “Make sure you buy four tires; skimping and putting winter tires only on the drive end of the car will result in unpredictable handling and could be dangerous…”
- “If you’d rather not remount your tires each season, pick up a separate set of inexpensive steel wheels for permanent winter-tire duty. (This also keeps expensive alloy wheels from getting damaged in harsh, salty winter conditions.)…”
- “Keep in mind that having two sets of tires isn’t doubling the expense, it’s halving the wear. You’ll have twice the number of tires but buy new ones half as often.”
Be safe out there, and let us know your favorite winter tires in the comments below!