Auto123.com presents its winter tire buying guide for 2021-2022. Today, winter tires for cars and smaller SUVs.
That's it! We're back! Despite one of the most beautiful summers we’ve seen in years, the spectre of the cold season is looming on the horizon again, forcing us to think about our winter tires - already. And this, despite temperatures currently hovering well above the traditional average for this time of year.
But this is life. If we want to continue to travel safely and peacefully, we have to plan the annual ritual of equipping our cars and SUVs with tires suitable for winter travel. Our country being so vast, that planning can vary depending on the region you live in. Obviously, the east, especially Quebec and the Maritimes, are more affected by snowstorms and the cold weather that affects grip and performance on the roads. However, all parts of Canada, with a few exceptions, are affected in some way by winter. Hence the need for appropriate tires. Those you call “snow tires”, or maybe “winter tires”.
The best choices
Last year, we put together a wide-ranging survey of almost everything available on our market for winter tires, both for cars and trucks, and including several new products. That made it a little trickier to assess some of those tires.
This year, there are fewer “big” new products on the market except for the Nokian Hakkapelliitta 10. On the other hand, we have had the opportunity to test the majority of last year's new tires in real-life situations on both test vehicles and our own.
However, it turned out that Quebec, where much of our testing took place, did not have a typical winter, as this one was milder than usual, with more snow but less cold causing frozen roads. Nevertheless, we wanted to let you know which tires we found to be the best performers in one of the most demanding environments not only in Canada but also in the world. While many European publications make much of the performance of certain tires on the Old Continent, nothing can compare to the ever-changing winter conditions of Eastern Canada.
Note that most of the brands mentioned are already well known to consumers.
See also: Are All-Weather Tires a Good Choice?
See also: Should You Buy Studded Tires or Not?
Expect some shortages!
At the time of writing, there is much speculation about a possible shortage of winter tires this coming fall. According to Anthony Jolicoeur of Pneus à Rabais and Raymond Cadieux, representative at GT Radial, the two major causes for a possible shortage of tires, especially those coming from Asia, are the cost of containers that importers must use to ship their products (up from around $3,500 to $23,000 USD!) and transportation challenges (shortage of truckers).
This means that if you don't act quickly, you risk ending up with only what is left in the warehouses, i.e. very expensive high-end tires ... if there are any at all!
Another thing to remember: every year, new brands, especially Asian ones, appear with promises that have never been proven here. We'll talk about them towards the end of our guide, but if you prefer to play it safe, best to trust the well-known names.
This Finnish brand remains the one that stands out from the other winter tire brands in Canada. Its Hakkapeliitta products have earned a reputation among motorists, especially in Quebec, thanks to their grip on snow and ice.
Available in rubber-on-ice or studded versions, the old Hakkapeliitta 9s (now replaced by the Hakkapeliitta 10s) have already proven their worth on many vehicles of all sizes. Among the tires I've tested was a set of Hakka 9s (as they are familiarly called) installed on a recent-vintage Volkswagen Golf used in Abitibi, a region well known for its wintertime driving challenges. At no time was there any loss of control of the vehicle under any circumstances. These tires were studded for that drive.
Note that I do not recommend this solution in urban areas, where underground parking lots prohibit entry to vehicles with studded tires in order not to damage the cement flooring.
This year, Nokian is offering us version 10 of the Hakkapeliitta, which will be available in all popular sizes (including an EV version for electric cars). We plan to install a set on a brand-new Ram pickup (though not in its studded version). Knowing the great features of the Hakka 9, we're confident that the 10 will do as well or better than its predecessor.
For those who advocate studless tires with a performance that approaches studded-tire performance, let's remember that Nokian's R3s have proven a pleasant surprise to many of their users, especially on ice. We tested them on a Nissan Xterra in Abitibi, where they proved to be much more efficient than the BF Goodrich All Terrain KO2s that were on the vehicle before.
And most importantly, they proved to be even more effective on a Dodge Durango used regularly (in winter) on the highway between Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Montreal, a road known to be slippery and treacherous in winter! Despite being an all-wheel-drive SUV, the R3s stood out for their sure-footed grip and stability on the road.
By the way, of the many drivers we have recommended Nokian winter tires to in the past, most have been quick to praise their very slow rate of wear.
If you're on a budget, don't forget that Nordman winter tires are based on older Nokian Hakkapeliitta models!