With winter now just weeks away, this is a good time to plan for your winter tires. Our tire ratings have been updated, and include a wide range of all-season, performance all-season, and dedicated winter tires, including notable studded tires.
Most winter tires are what we call studless, that is, there's no provision for installing metal studs to enhance grip on icy roads. Based on our past testing, studded models do indeed grip well on ice, but they do not always out-perform studless models, which have more advanced winter tread compounds that stay pliable in the cold.
This year we tested four conventional studdable models, including the Firestone Winterforce, General Altimax Arctic, Hankook Winter I*Pike, and Uniroyal Tiger Paw Ice & Snow II. We call them "studdable" since they all come without studs, but you can usually have studs installed by the retailer at an extra cost. We also tested the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 7, a tire from this latest group that comes studded right from the factory.
For studded tires, our testing is limited to snow traction, ice braking, ride, and hydroplaning resistance. We don't do braking and handling tests since the studs could damage the tire and our test track.
The Nokian proved to have excellent snow traction and the shortest stops on ice of any winter tire—even slightly better than the impressive studless Michelin X-ice Xi3. While ride compliance was impressive, there was no escaping the tire noise on cleared pavement.
You may have never heard Nokian, a Finland-based company that has been manufacturing winter tires since 1934, but this tire is the best choice if you need uncompromising winter grip, routinely encounter icy conditions, and are willing to accept the noise. (The name refers to warriors from Finland that fought during the Middle Ages.) But for many drivers, we feel there are better choices.
Our ratings detail the findings in numerous test areas, enabling you to quickly research the best balance of characteristics for your needs. If you're considering studs, consult your state's Department of Transportation for possible tire restrictions.
And if you're looking to buy winter tires, do it before the roads get slippery. By then, local tire inventory may be limited.