Snow tires, studless friction tires, extreme winter tires, nordic winter tires. This category of tire goes by many names, and they have one design goal, to be the very best on snow and ice for harsh winter climates, where studded tires aren't appropriate, or for people who don't want studs.
To find out which is the best, Tire Reviews has taken 7 of the most popular tires available to both the North American and Nordic markets, and will be putting them through a full range of tests, including ice, snow, wet and dry testing to find out which is best at what. Also, to help you understand where these tires fit in the market, I'm also including the very best of the central european and studded winter tires, the Continental WinterContact TS870 and the studded Nokian Happapelliita 10.
|Dry Braking||▲Continental WinterContact TS 870: 41.27 M||▼Yokohama iceGUARD iG53: 49.49 M|
|Dry Handling||▲Continental WinterContact TS 870: 71.03 s||▼Federal Himalaya ICEO: 73.8 s|
|Subj. Dry Handling||▲Continental WinterContact TS 870: 110 Points||▼Federal Himalaya ICEO: 80 Points|
|Wet Braking||▲Continental WinterContact TS 870: 25.78 M||▼Yokohama iceGUARD iG53: 38.72 M|
|Wet Handling||▲Continental WinterContact TS 870: 74.29 s||▼Cooper Weathermaster S100: 85.41 s|
|Subj. Wet Handling||▲Continental WinterContact TS 870: 120 Points||▼Yokohama iceGUARD iG53: 75 Points|
|Straight Aqua||▲Continental WinterContact TS 870: 99.45 Km/H||▼Nokian Hakkapeliitta R5: 71.46 Km/H|
|Curved Aquaplaning||▲Continental WinterContact TS 870: 77.4 m/sec2||▼Nokian Hakkapeliitta R5: 55.8 m/sec2|
|Snow Braking||▲Yokohama iceGUARD iG53: 15.37 M||▼Continental WinterContact TS 870: 16 M|
|Snow Traction||▲Nokian Hakkapeliitta R5: 5.55 s||▼Federal Himalaya ICEO: 6.03 s|
|Snow Handling||▲Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10: 87.73 s||▼Continental WinterContact TS 870: 92.12 s|
|Subj. Snow Handling||▲Pirelli Ice Zero FR: 100 Points||▼Federal Himalaya ICEO: 75 Points|
|Snow Circle||▲Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10: 28.9 S||▼Yokohama iceGUARD iG53: 30.35 S|
|Ice Braking||▲Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10: 7.7 M||▼Continental WinterContact TS 870: 12.71 M|
|Ice Traction||▲Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10: 3.23 s||▼Federal Himalaya ICEO: 9.18 s|
|Ice Handling||▲Continental VikingContact 7: 52.17 s||▼Continental WinterContact TS 870: 59.99 s|
|Subj. Ice Handling||▲Michelin X Ice Snow: 100 Points||▼Continental WinterContact TS 870: 70 Points|
|Subj. Comfort||▲Yokohama iceGUARD iG53: 100 Points||▼Cooper Weathermaster S100: 90 Points|
|Noise||▲Nokian Hakkapeliitta R5: 61.9 dB||▼Yokohama iceGUARD iG53: 63.4 dB|
|Rolling Resistance||▲Michelin X Ice Snow: 7.25 kg / t||▼Federal Himalaya ICEO: 10.54 kg / t|
Fortunately all the tires performed well during ice handling, apart from maybe the Federal which was over 10% off the best, and just had a lot of understeer, especially on throttle, but still impressive grip on this semi rough ice.
Yokohama, Cooper and Pirelli were next, all three tires having good levels of grip, but you had to be extra careful with all your inputs, instead of the regular amounts of careful ice demands.
The top three, all within a few percent of each other, were Nokian, Michelin and Continental.
The Conti was the fastest, it had excellent levels of grip, but of the three it was the most peaky, meaning the grip fell off a little bit faster. The Michelin was my favorite of all the tires to drive as it felt like it had the best turn in and grip when trying to do more than one thing at the front, but the Nokian was a very close, impressive second, both these tires were the most predictable and balanced and lovely.
As for the two reference tires, the Central European Continental WinterContact TS870, wow, what an impressive tire. Yes it was the slowest, but not THAT much slower than the worst nordic winter tire, and it was easy and friendly to drive. The studded tire felt really great on the brakes, but I was finding quite a lot of understeer mid corner so it didn't have the advantage it should. This is a multiple test winning studded winter tire, so it just goes to show how advanced these friction winter tires are, especially on rough ice.
Ice traction and braking brought back the advantage to the studded Hakkapeliitta 10 which had a huge advantage on the smooth ice. This really highlights how impressive studded tires are in the most difficult conditions.
Once again during snow handling, none of these tires were really bad. Yokohama, Cooper and Federal were at the back, because shockingly, they had less grip than the rest. This meant you just had to do everything more slowly, steering, throttle, cornering, with the Cooper and Federal having the most understeer of all the tires.
The top 4 were all within 1% of each other, with the order being Michelin, Continental, Pirelli and Nokian the fastest.
Like on ice, the Conti was a small amount more difficult to drive as the transition from grip to sliding was more abrupt, but we're talking very small amounts. If I had to pick one to drive just on snow, it would be the Pirelli as it was a tire that felt like it willed you around the lap, or the Nokian, or the Michelin. This Golf 8 test car makes separating things really hard.
The CE TS870 again managed to pretty much match the best extreme winter tire on test, which is very impressive again as I think this is going to do very well in the dry and wet, and the studded tire pretty much matched the Nordic Nokian, which means Nokian technically won this test twice.
Snow traction had the Nokian once again leading the group, with the Central European winter tire actually beating three of the studless friction tires!
The Yokohama stopped the car extremely well, leading snow braking.
Like snow handling, snow circle was another double win for Nokian.
Even though these tires are going to see a lot of snow and ice, the wet grip is still very important. Of the seven, Cooper was the slowest of the group and was difficult to drive with limited grip in all directions. Yokohama was the next slowest, this was the only tire that made the VW Golf have a loose rear end and while the oversteer was fun, it wasn't what I'd call the best balance for the road. Federal was fifth, it felt like it had much better grip than the previous two, but the steering was a bit vague, while the Nokian in fourth had a great balance and what felt like good grip, but it was one of only two tires that felt like it was aquaplaning in parts during the wet handling lap which was costing it time. The top three were very close, and were formed of Pirelli, Michelin and Continental. All three of these tires were a joy to drive, if I had to give it to one it would be the Michelin by the smallest of margins in terms of balance and steering reactions, however the Continental clearly had the most grip as it was the fastest, all while having the same micro aquaplaning issues that slowed down the Nokian!
The all important wet braking test was led by Federal, with the Continental, Nokian and Michelin all performing well. I'm really not sure how the federal jumped up the order here, I knew what I was on when doing the braking test and it was definitely this good in braking, so gotta respect that result. Even if it is at odds with the rest of the tests.
The aquaplaning tests backed up my subjective feelings with the Nokian and Continental having the worst performance over the straight and curved tests, with the Michelin proving best in both deep water tests. This is impressive considering the Michelin did so well in wet handling and in my head this will be good for slush, though I don't actually know that.
If you've been looking at the data you may have noticed two things about the reference tires. Firstly, there was no data for the studded tire, that's because the test facility I conducted the braking and handling didn't allow studded tires on their tracks due to damage, which I totally respect. But more importantly you should have noticed that the central european Continental Wintercontact TS870 absolutely owned the wet grip tests. It wasn't even close! I actually wrote in my notes when testing "This is how I imagine most people imagine going from road tires to slicks, only it's a bigger difference. And it's a winter tire!"
The dry handling data almost perfectly matched dry braking, so I'll summarize them together. The Continental was the best in both handling and braking with the Pirelli close behind it in terms of grip and subjective handling. The Nokian was excellent around the dry handling lap and fourth in braking, closely followed by the Michelin.
Like in the wet the Federal, Yokohama and Cooper were the slowest over the lap with the Federal being particularly difficult to drive, and like in the wet the Federal was much better in dry braking than dry handling.
If I've done my job properly, by this point it should be no surprise that the CE winter tire held its wet advantage in the dry too, though not as vast, but it was certainly noticeable, especially in braking.
What about noise and comfort? The Nokian and Continental led the way in the internal noise measurements, with the CE winter tire joint third with Michelin. The Nokian was also the most comfortable subjectively, tying for points with the far noiser Federal and Yokohama so if you want a quiet and comfortable tire, the Nokian excels.
The rolling resistance of the top four performing tires was only split by 4% which is a pretty insignificant difference in fuel use, maybe around 1% in the real world.
The next group of tires dropped 15% from the best and the Federal was 32% behind, which you would certainly notice. Again, it was Michelin, Nokian and Continental leading the way with the lowest rolling resistances, with Yokohama sliding into the front running group.
For the overall results I'm going to use a score weighting which matches these tires intended use, IE heavily in favor of the snow and ice performance of the tires. If you want to use a different score weighting you can now alter this to your own taste using the link below.
Excellent in all conditions, Best wet and dry handling lap times, shortest dry braking, very good wet braking, good in snow, best ice handling lap, very low noise levels and low rolling resistance.
Average aquaplaning resistance.
The Continental was the best in the dry and had a small advantage in the wet grip tests, but did struggle in the deeper water of the two aquaplaning tests. It was excellent in the snow and ice, had the lowest internal noise and was comfortable, but of the top three tires it did have the highest rolling resistance, but even that was just 3.1% off the best.
1st: Michelin X Ice Snow
Best aquaplaning resistance and very good in the wet with excellent handling, best ice braking and very good on ice, good in all the snow tests, very good in the dry. Low noise, high levels of comfort, lowest rolling resistance on test.
Average dry braking.
The Michelin couldn't quite match the Continental in the dry, but was essentially the same in the wet and had the best hydroplaning resistance of all the tires on test. It was a few percent behind the Continental in the snow but equaled it on the ice. It was also quiet and comfortable and had the best rolling resistance of all the tires tested.
Best in the snow with the best handling lap, traction and lateral grip, very good in ice with best traction on smooth ice, good wet and dry braking, very low noise, best subjective comfort, very low rolling resistance.
Lowest aquaplaning resistance on test.
The Nokian ever so slightly edged the Michelin in the dry, matched it in the wet grip tests but was the worst in hydroplaning resistance, but then was the best in the snow overall. It had the best traction on ice, but then the Michelin had the best braking and the Continental the best handling. The Nokian was also joint quietest and had the second lowest rolling resistance overall.
4th: Pirelli Ice Zero FR
Very good grip in the snow, the wet and the dry. Dynamic handling in all conditions.
Limited snow braking, average rolling resistance, average aquaplaning resistance.
The Pirelli Ice Zero FR was a fun tire to drive, and well deserved fourth overall. It's only weakness was snow braking, but that was only 3.3% off the best, it excelled in snow handling being the fastest and nicest tire to drive, to had excellent snow traction, it was good on ice, and very good in the wet and dry. I'm recommending the Ice Zero FR as a good all round tire.
Best snow braking on test, reasonable ice traction, good aquaplaning resistance, low rolling resistance.
Very long wet braking with difficult wet handling, longest dry braking on test, average ice performance, high internal noise.
The Yokohama Iceguard IG53 peaked in snow braking where it had a surprise win, but that was the only standout result. It had the longest braking in the wet and dry, it was mid pack on ice and has the noisiest tire on test. It did however have one of the lowest rolling resistances on test. A tire like this is certainly a better buy than a tire like the Federal, but it still sits behind the rest of the group.
Good aquaplaning resistance, no huge weakness in the snow.
Long dry, wet and ice braking distances, lower grip on ice, high internal noise, high rolling resistance.
The Cooper Weathermaster S1000 has a fine, if not class leading snow performance, but struggles more on ice where it has the second weakest smooth ice traction of the test and below average in handling and braking. In the wet the Cooper has longer wet braking distances and the slowest wet handling lap, but the aquaplaning resistance is good. A longer than average dry braking distance and high rolling resistance rounds out the test for Cooper.
Very good wet braking, high aquaplaning resistance, good dry braking, good snow braking.
Weaker in the handling tests, very low grip on ice, higher levels of noise, very high rolling resistance.
The Federal Himalaya ICEO was excellent in the wet with good braking and high levels of aquaplaning resistance. It was also good in dry braking, but struggled more on the dry handling lap. The snow performance was average, however for a nordic winter tire it struggled on ice, and was nearly 40% worse than the best on test during ice traction. The ICEO also had the highest rolling resistance on test.