For most motorists in North America, winter tires without studs are all they need for cold-weather driving. The best snow tires power through snow and ice, improve stopping distances and handling, and ride smoothly and quietly on roads. The Michelin X-Ice Xi3 (*Est. $105) dominates this category.
It's "one of the best tires," say tough testers at the Swedish auto magazine Vi Bilägare. Not only does it grip better on snow and ice in tests, but the Xi3 also proves quieter, more comfortable and more durable than other snow tires -- just like the Michelin X-Ice Xi2 before it, which held the ConsumerSearch Best Reviewed title for four years straight. Moreover, Michelin backs the Xi3 with a 40,000-mile treadwear warranty. That's rare among snow tires, which usually carry no tread warranty at all.
The slightly more expensive Nokian Hakkapeliitta R (*Est. $135) winter tire fares nearly as well in reviews. According to Scandinavian tests, it handles extremely well in snow, but it can't brake as quickly on ice as the Michelin. Ride quality isn't quite as good, either, say reviewers.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 (*Est. $95) also earns positive reviews, particularly from owners who leave feedback at retail sites. "I will drive NOTHING ELSE," writes one owner at TireRack.com, where nearly 300 owners rate the Blizzak slightly better than the Michelin on snow and ice.
Experts agree that the Blizzak feels perfectly confident in blizzards -- but when the roads clear, the Blizzak flounders. It's so soft that it proves difficult to control in some Scandinavian tests, and it takes a long time to brake on wet pavement. It's extremely comfortable, but a little louder than the Michelin and Nokian.
Although the Scandinavian sources we consulted conduct thorough tests, they don't include a couple of budget-priced snow tires that earn high marks from North American reviewers and owners.
The General Altimax Arctic (*Est. $80) is a studdable tire. Without its studs, it's not quite as fast-braking on ice as the top-rated Michelin in one top test. With its studs, it still can't grip ice as fiercely as the top-rated studded tire, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 7 (*Est. $165). Owners love it anyway; they say it plows effortlessly through snow, rides smoothly and lasts a long time. And it's really pretty good on ice: When TireRack.com experts hauled the General Altimax Arctic up to northern Sweden for ice testing, it "felt sure-footed ... even without studs."
The Continental ExtremeWinterContact (*Est. $85) performs pretty similarly in a leading test (interestingly, it performs better with truck sizes rated at slower speeds). Like the General, the Continental delivers excellent snow traction, and in that test it even brakes a little faster than the General on ice, although both ride comfortably and quietly. Like most severe-winter tires, neither one performs very well on bare pavement, however. We also read several complaints from owners who say the Continental tire wears out quickly.