If you drive mostly on cleared roads, experts say all your car may need is a good winter performance tire. These tires are specifically designed to keep sports cars and performance sedans safe at high speeds in cold weather on wet or dry pavement -- and the best ones handle confidently on snow and ice, too -- but are an appropriate choice for any type of car if you live in an area where winters are milder. Note that the prices estimated reflect the smallest size readily available; performance cars often use larger rims than nonperformance cars.
The Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 (Est. $190 and up) is pricey, but experts and owners say it's worth it for maximum winter driving fun. At TireRack.com, it finishes on top in a test of tires for performance vehicles, though some competitors come close, editors say, "The Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 delivers the best balance of performance in this group, driving well on the road plus providing good ice, snow and very good wet traction." It also earns Recommended status in a test by another independent reviewer. Testers say that if offers "Excellent snow traction and stopping on ice without much compromise to handling and traction on cleared roads."
However, the PA4 isn't the best tire for drivers who must contend regularly with severe winter weather, experts say. If you drive a performance vehicle through more treacherous conditions, at least on occasion, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 (Est. $110 and up) (profiled in our section on the best winter tires overall) might present an acceptable compromise.
About.com's Sean Philips drives a set on an Audi RS4 for a trip through "Nokian's 'White Hell' test center in Finland. While he does not have the chance to drive the tires to their limits (such as putting the car into an intentional slide to see where the tires regained their grip), he still is impressed with their overall performance over ice and snow. What surprises him the most, however, was their performance on pavement. "The R2's were as much fun to drive on cold pavement as any ultra-high-performance winter tire I've ever driven," he says. He adds that they were "remarkably quiet for winter tires."
On the other hand, while the Automotive Protection Association of Canada includes the R2 in its short list of top-rated snow tires, it is a little less enthusiastic about casting it as a performance choice. Instead, the editors note that the R2 is "a good alternative for drivers of rear-wheel-drive sporty vehicles looking for a good balance of severe weather performance and decent handling on pavement."
Most "all-season" tires get a bad rap for winter weather from both experts and owners, and deservedly so. However, a very small handful perform well enough in the ice and snow to sport a snowflake symbol on the sidewall, indicating that it's a true winter tire. Best among those might be the Nokian WR G3 (Est. $85 and up).
Dan Proudfoot of Canada's The Globe and Mail tests a set of the Nokian's on his Mercedes-Benz B200, then drives through a Southern Ontario storm that delivers snow, slush and ice in quick succession. He finds that the tires drive well through slush and snow, with great traction even when faced with wheels lodged in snow accumulations. Handling on ice is sure as well, but braking falls a little short as a foot-to-the-floor test found tires that failed to grip on the frozen surface. His take is that the WR G3 delivers surprisingly good performance, in the right situation: "I'd feel confident enough traversing a Toronto winter on WRG3s, but not while weekending in cottage country to the north in conditions colder than -10 C, with snow measured in feet rather than centimetres."
ConsumerReports.org is also impressed with the Nokian WR G3. In a free article, the editors call it "the rare winter tire that provides performance for all seasons." In testing there, it rates well for snow traction and braking performance on ice. Forgetting winter performance for a moment, editors say that it would have received "a respectable mid-pack overall score" among ultra-high-performance all-season radial tires. "Not a bad compromise for any tire … and even more eyebrow-raising considering that it's a winter tire," they add.
Autos.ca contributes to the positive feedback for the WR G3 with a year-long test. "This is a solid tire in all conditions," says Mike Lynett. "It's not designed for high-performance nor extreme winter driving but for what you'll face in the city, it's a safe, comfortable and well-rounded performer." The WR-G3 is covered by Nokian's five year from purchase, six year from manufacture materials and workmanship warranty, but unlike most winter tires, it carries a 55,000-mile tread wear warranty as well.