Auto123.com presents its winter tire buying guide for 2023-2024. Yesterday we presented a summary of the current state of affairs in the field, and the choices vehicle owners have to make when deciding on a new set of rubber. Today, our choices for best winter tires for cars and small SUVs. Tomorrow, winter tires for larger SUVs and pickups!
Here then are our picks for the best tires we have tested out (all fitted to press vehicles of various segments).
Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10 and R5
For a number of years now, Nokian tires from Finland have been at the top of the class. We've seen the gradual development of the Hakkapeliitta range, now in its tenth generation. Once again this winter, they are available in studded (factory) versions.
In addition, the Finnish manufacturer has recently created a completely studless version of its winter tires, the R3 which has become the R5. Tested on several new vehicles, these Nokian tires proved superior to almost all other brands in terms of grip and ride quietness. Some buyers may balk at the higher cost of these tires, but over time, they prove to be extremely durable.
Among the “homologated” tires (certified for year-round use) is the Nokian WR-G4, which we are currently testing with the help of a Mercedes-Benz C300. It delivers an impressively quiet ride and proved effective on lightly snow-covered roads in terms of grip, handling and braking. It also provides good control on icy or wet pavements.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS90 and LM
Here's a tire that needs no introduction. Its formula has been with us for years, and over time Bridgestone has improved its durability. The Blizzak WS90 is suitable for the majority of cars, SUVs and MPVs, but there are also variants including the LM001 and 005 for deeper snow, the LM32 with wider tread for luxury vehicles and the DM-V2 for larger SUVs (more on that tomorrow).
In all cases, they have proved highly effective in all conditions, and exceptionally quiet on the road.
Michelin X-Ice Snow and North
Introduced to the market a few years ago, the Michelin X-Ice Snow and X-Ice North tires have now succeeded in making us forget the old X-Ice tires, which lacked grip in the snow.
In my case, I've often driven vehicles with Michelin X-Ice Snow both on my own car and on press cars. It's definitely a big improvement over the old X-Ice. If, like many motorists, you have a great deal of confidence in Michelin, you can be at ease choosing these; they should satisfy you.
As for the North tire, only my aversion to studded tires will prevent me from recommending it unless you're going to be driving regularly in heavily snow-covered or often icy regions.
Otherwise, for those who prefer an all-year-certified tire, we're testing the Michelin Cross-Climate2. Like the Nokian WR-G4, it delivers a quiet ride, is efficient and grippy on lightly snow-covered roads, and provides good control on icy or wet pavement.
Continental Viking 7 and XTRM
Once again, these tires are highly recommendable, if only for their grip in snow and on icy roads. My personal experience is based on it use with a 2017 Ford Escape of my own. The XTRMs fitted to this smaller SUV in winter have proved to be stable and efficient in all winter conditions.
What's more, this will be the fourth season they've equipped the Escape, and they've hardly shown any noticeable wear.
The studded version was developed in collaboration with Montreal's Pneus Touchette, and the German engineers took their expert advice seriously. Note that, in this case, the studs aren't just factory-fitted to the XTRMs - they're glued on!
Pirelli Sottozero III
If you own a performance car that you'd like to drive in winter, look to Pirelli's Italian products, specifically the Sottozero range. There are some models in that product range specifically designed for certain types of sportier and more muscular cars.
I tried several, and often in extreme conditions. Last winter, for example, during a heavy snowstorm, I drove a Mercedes-Benz CLS AMG equipped with (very) wide Sottozero IIIs as a test car. At one point, I drove a stretch of highway that had not yet been cleared of snow. Despite the width of the tires, they proved very effective, even if I could feel some resistance in the steering wheel.
Importantly, at a reasonable speed (for driving in a snowstorm!), I never felt less then secure. On another occasion, I had occasion to drive a Mustang GT in the middle of winter. Thes performance coupe was shod with Sottozero tires that proved very effective in both snow and ice. Highly recommendable.
Motomaster Winter Edge II… by Hankook!
Lest you think I only drive – and recommend - expensive tires, know that I’ve been able to try out several other more “affordable” winter tires. And among them, there's one I tested when it was brand new on the market. In fact, this tire was one of the few new products to be introduced last winter.
That would be the Motomaster Winter Edge II. Indeed, it's a tire offered by one of the country's leading tire retailers, Canadian Tire.
This Motomaster tire was designed and tested by South Korean giant Hankook, and Motomaster wants it to be considered a “Tier 1” tire, in the same general category as the Michelin X-Ice and Bridgestone Blizzak products.
The Winter Edge II is available in 46 sizes for 14- to 20-inch rims on cars, SUVs and crossovers, with speed ratings of T (190 km/h or 118 m/h maximum sustained speed) and H (210 km/h or 130 m/h maximum sustained speed), which should suit some 70 percent of winter vehicles in Canada.
The tread pattern has been designed to meet the needs of our winters. I did several laps at ICAR, driving a Toyota RAV4 and a Corolla (you can see who this product is for!) in snow, on ice and even on wet pavement. And I have to tell you, I was pleasantly surprised. Even with all the driving aids switched off, I was able to maintain good control of the vehicle in those conditions.
Incidentally, it will not be marketed with studs. What's more, Motomaster has just announced a version for tougher vans, the Edge II HD. Hankook also has its own winter products, such as the I-Cept and I-Pike.
So many other products...
There's a whole range of other mid-range winter tires to recommend, including:
- Goodyear WinterCommand Plus
- Firestone Wintergrip
- General Altimax
- Toyo Observe GSi-6
- Yokohama IG56
- Kumho Wintercraft
You'll find more names and details in our 2022-2023 guide to winter tires.
Of course, there will always be discount brands, many of them Chinese brands. In the case of the latter, for the moment I've only tried a set of Sailuns, and over time this manufacturer (which now has official offices in Canada) is adopting newer technologies that should gradually prove their worth.
According to some of our sources, there are small-brand winter tires that are getting good marks from their owners. This is the case for Asian brands Minerva (studdable) and Radial GT (whose North American factory is producing more and more tires). Except for limited travel, these tires can be good fit for motorists who don’t rack up tons of winter miles thanks to their affordable price.
By and large, the fact remains that we still recommend sticking with the big, well-known brands.
Lastly, three points to remember as winter approaches:
1) Beware of brands with strange names that have just appeared. Better to wait and let them prove themselves.
2) Remember that a winter tire is a compromise. Some models can be very effective on certain makes and models of car. Others...less so. But no matter what, if you go with a recommended quality tire, chances are you'll be satisfied.
3) As I like to repeat, remember that when you're in a vehicle (of any size), your life and that of your passengers rests on four points of contact, each barely larger than the palm of your hand! Keep that in mind when at 110 km/h!
Once again, I'd like to thank a number of different informed sources for providing me with information on their customers' tires, and especially the team at Pneus premier Choix in Laval, Quebec (most notably Étienne) for their help with my research.