Among the best winter tires, most reviews come down to the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R and the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 (Est. $105). In Scandinavian tests the Nokian handles very well on snowy roads, but doesn't handle quite as well on icy or wet pavement. Although it generally offers a quiet, comfortable ride, the Michelin does better, reviewers say.
Fantastic in snow. Nokian bills the Hakkapeliitta R as a winter tire you can leave on your car year-round -- and some fiercely loyal owners do just that. "I will drive NOTHING ELSE," says one New Yorker. "I drive in everything, and I am never nervous, nor sliding, when everyone else is."
The Nokian does plow impressively through snow in several expert tests, reviewers say, and it handles nimbly for a winter tire. But on ice, it can't brake as quickly as the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 -- and its wet braking distances are particularly dismal.
Hushed and comfortable. The Nokian Hakkapeliitta R rides quietly and comfortably -- just not as spectacularly as the Michelin X-Ice Xi3. In one top test, the Nokian rides about as comfortably as the average snow tire (the Michelin is above average). In that test both prove very quiet, but a couple of Scandinavian authorities -- Aftonbladet and the Norwegian Automobile Federation -- judge the Michelin slightly quieter.
No treadwear warranty. Like most snow tires, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R carries no tread warranty. A couple of owners do report good durability, though. "I've run these for two Vermont winters," one owner says of the Hakkapeliitta R. "Tread wear has been uniform and outstanding." Another writes, "Tire life is pretty good, considering that it's a winter tire, and there's no getting away from the fact you want a soft compound for traction ... Replaced them with another set of the same."
Review Credibility: Excellent Experts test the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R alongside 15 other studless winter tires for passenger cars. They rate each tire's snow traction, braking on icy, dry and wet roads, handling, hydroplaning, ride comfort, noise and more before picking the best buys. Owner reviews are also posted.
Review: Nokian Hakkapeliitta R, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not Dated
Review Credibility: Very Good The Nokian Hakkapeliitta R earns a middling score in this comprehensive comparison test by the Swedish Automobile Association. The Nokian brakes decently on ice and snow, but wet-braking distances are disappointing.
Review: Best Winter Tires 2012, Editors of Motormännen, Oct. 19, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Reviewers aren't really impressed with any of the studless tires in their lengthy 28-tire comparison test. The Nokian Hakkapeliitta R earns a mediocre overall score: It brakes impressively on snow, but it's mediocre on ice, and its wet braking distances are the longest in the test.
Review: Sweden's Biggest Winter Tire Test, Editors of Aftonbladet, Autumn 2012
4. Norwegian Automobile Federation
Review Credibility: Very Good This organization participates in the same two-month Arctic tire test as Aftonbladet, but editors here like the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R better than Aftonbladet does. It brakes poorly on wet pavement, but good traction on ice and snow make it the best all-around studless tire.
Review: Winter Tire Test 2012, Rune Korsvoll and Jukka Antila, Oct. 11, 2012
5. Auto Motor & Sport
Review Credibility: Very Good This Swedish magazine conducts its own thorough tests of 11 winter tires. As in other tests, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R grips impressively in snow, a little less so on ice, but its wet braking distances are dismal.
Review: The Stars of the Winter Road, Nils Svärd, Oct. 4, 2012
6. Vi Bilagare
Review Credibility: Very Good The Nokian Hakkapeliitta R wins this Swedish auto magazine's exhaustive review of 10 winter tires -- all studless except one. Unlike others, testers here find it brakes decently on wet roads for a studless winter tire, and its ice and snow performance are impressive.
Review: Tires to Count On In Wet or Dry, Erik Rönnblom, Sept. 25, 2012