If snow and ice are a rarity in your area, experts say all your car may need is a good winter performance tire. These tires are designed to keep sports cars and performance sedans safe at high speeds in cold weather on wet or dry pavement that's otherwise clear -- not to plow through snow- or ice-packed roads. Note that the prices estimated reflect the smallest size readily available; performance cars and performance winter tires often use larger rims than nonperformance cars.
The Michelin Pilot Alpin PA3 (*Est. $185) has long been a favorite of reviewers and consumers alike. It also earns kudos from experts at TireRack.com, Car and Driver magazine and a major consumer testing publication. The PA3 is best for "traction in the alpine regions for which it's named while maintaining sports-car responsiveness on dry roads in winter," Car and Driver says.
The PA3 isn't the best tire for drivers who must contend regularly with severe winter weather -- the top-rated Michelin X-Ice Xi3 (*Est. $105) is a better choice for extreme conditions, experts say -- but it's sharper than the Xi3 on cold, clear roads, wet or dry. Compared with all-season tires, it "immediately makes you feel like a better driver in snowy conditions," Car and Driver says of the PA3.
Owners at TireRack.com say the PA3 is excellent on ice, even better on snowy, wet or dry roads, and is quiet and comfortable to ride on -- judgments borne out in other reliable independent tests. One Denver resident says the PA3 allows him to take unplowed back roads to avoid traffic -- in a rear-wheel-drive BMW convertible.
A solid runner-up in several reviews is the Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D (*Est. $105). TireRack.com experts mention the Dunlop right alongside the Michelin as "very good options" for performance cars in winter. Experts at Canada's Automobile Protection Association (APA) -- who give a lot of weight to snow-and-ice performance -- actually prefer the Dunlop to the Michelin PA3, which they say is "optimized for dry pavement handling, but not optimized for snow due to shallow tread depth and narrow openings between the tread blocks."
Customers at TireRack.com agree that the Dunlop grips better on snow and ice than the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA3, but not quite as well on cold, bare pavement. And in a leading independent test, the Dunlop finishes with no real weaknesses, but it's a little noisier and a little less confident on both dry and icy roads than the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA3.
The Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 (*Est. $170) acts more like a regular snow tire. It dominates other performance winter tires on snow and ice -- making it a top pick at Canada's APA -- but the trade-off is less bare-road grip. This is confirmed in a test conducted by a leading consumer review publication, where the Bridgestone also turned in poor results when braking on dry pavement.
Still, performance-car owners in snow-prone regions swear by the Blizzak LM-60 in reviews at TireRack.com. They award it outstanding scores for ice and snow traction -- better than any other performance winter tire, and even better than some severe winter tires -- and just slightly lower marks for wet- and dry-road grip.
The Pirelli Winter Sottozero Serie II (*Est. $110) earns a couple of nods as a solid mild-winter tire. It's "competent on ice," say experts at Canada's APA, and it powers through snow just fine -- as long as you have all-wheel drive. "Most rear drive vehicles will do better with a tire that offers more snow traction," APA says.
But a leading test finds the reverse: The Pirelli plows eagerly through snow, but it's just fair on ice. It's not as athletic on bare roads as the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA3, either. Still, if you don't see much ice, experts say the Pirelli can be a good replacement for your summer tires.