(This guide is authored by a regular contributor to the specialized Tire News (Pneu Mag) magazine, which he co-founded over 10 years ago)
Does the perfect winter tire exist? Most experts in the domain don’t believe it does. In general, the winter tire is considered a “compromise” solution. And this is reflected on the marketplace; despite the wide range of excellent products offered by all of the major tire manufacturers, each one of these indispensable wintertime accessories has one area in which it doesn’t rate as highly among consumers.
Hence the usefulness of a car tire buying guide! Here are our choices for best winter tires for cars (and SUVs in many cases) for 2018-2019, that is to say those that require the least compromising in terms of performance and safety.
Identify your needs
If you want to be sure of getting the best possible tire for your car, it’s important to identify your needs in accordance with the uses you put the car to, the routes you drive most often, and of course your budget. By the way, we should stress that the most expensive tires are not necessarily the best or most appropriate for your needs; at the same time, tires at the lowest end of the price scale could well be lacking in effectiveness.
Keep in mind that we’re not dealing here with “snow tires” or “snow grips”, but “winter tires”! You may have noticed that most tire manufacturers insist first and foremost on their products’ excellence on ice; this is because most motorists drive most of the time on snow-cleared roads on which ice forms or on hard-packed (and thus slippery) surfaces. If you plan on driving in the country or on mountain roads, smarter to choose tires whose tread surface features a more aggressive design.
The early bird gets the tire!
The smartest advice we can give you is not to put off getting your tires for the winter. Stocks start to fly off the shelves in early autumn, especially those that are more reasonably priced. Wait too long, and you could well be stuck buying more expensive high-end tires still in inventory, especially if you drive a popular model.
And don’t assume that the tire companies will simply make more, even if demand is strong. Even as you read this guide, manufacturers are already busy producing the all-season or summer tires they’ll be selling in early spring.
If you’re looking to save a bit on your tire purchase, consider the possibility of getting a tire of a different size mounted on replacement wheels. A tire retailer could, for example, suggest that you fit your vehicle, equipped out of the factory with 19-inch wheels, with 18-inch wheels which can fitted with less-expensive winter tires. To do this, your retailer will propose what’s called an “equivalence” that will bring the total diameter equal to that of your original wheels/tires.
Speed in, speed out
Lastly, if your vehicle left the factory with performance tires designed for high-speed driving (like tires with a Z-speed rating or even higher), it’s recommended that you opt for a winter tire with a similar rating. This is because we all know that promises not to push the car hard in the wintertime are pretty hard to keep! And lower-rated performance tires might not be up to the task when you do give in to temptation.
By the by, some of you may prefer studded tires, especially if you need to drive on roads that ice up frequently, like country roads or highways exposed to strong winds. This is indeed a smart choice, but you should know that studs are generally not permitted in indoor parking garages in major cities. On the road, studs are allowed pretty much everywhere in Canada, with the exception of some parts of southern Ontario. Although, if you’re merely passing through, you shouldn’t have much trouble.
Here then is an overview of the most recommended winter tires for cars (and SUVs in many cases) on the market for winter 2018-2019. This list is not necessarily focused only on the very latest new models, as many older but currently available tires have proven their worth previously. The list may not include all tire brands.
We take moment to reiterate that if you have adopted a defensive driving style (and kudos to you for that!), it may be that that goes well with certain different kinds of tires. If so, please feel free to share your experiences with us.
Incidentally, the tires included here were generally tested on automotive manufacturers’ press vehicles in wintertime.
Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9
This Finnish brand is recognized by most specialists in the field as being the best maker of winter tires, whether they’re friction tires or studded tires. And actually, if you choose the latter option, know that Nokian installs these studs at the factory. The most recent product from Nokian is the Hakkapelliita 9, available with or without studs. The consensus among those who tested the model? It offers better performance than all of its predecessors. Check out our account of a recent day of testing the latest products from the manufacturer.
Nokian also offers a friction winter tires (not available with studs), the R3, which has also been warmly received by the experts. They are, however, on the expensive side.