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Snow Tire Reviews

By: Carl Laron on October 26, 2016

Editor's Note:
Experts say that if you drive in a locale that regularly gets serious snowfall, a dedicated winter tire is a must -- providing 20 percent more grip than even the best all-season tires on snow and ice. Top tires come from the top names -- like Michelin and Bridgestone -- but Finland's Nokian brand has raced to the forefront as well.

Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Size range -- 13" to 21" Studs? -- No Warranty -- Defects: 5/6 years; Treadwear: no

Best winter tire

Nokian might not be a household name -- yet -- but experts largely say that the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 is simply the best winter tire you can buy. It performs superbly on snow and ice, bettering all tires in competitive tests, though some do come close. It's surprisingly well-behaved on dry pavement as well. U.S. availability for this Finnish-made tire is improving, but cost is a concern. See our full review »

Michelin X-Ice Xi3 Review
Runners Up
Specs that Matter Size range -- 14" to 19" Studs? -- No Defects: 5 years; Treadwear: 40,000 miles

Best value snow tire

In comparative tests, the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 typically finishes tied with the Nokian Hakkapelitta R2, or finishes just a whisker behind it. Value, however, is a major plus as this tire can be substantially cheaper in most sizes. Handling is a little sloppier than with the R2, experts say, but braking on snow and ice is every bit as good.

Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Size range -- 13" to 21" Studs? -- Yes Warranty -- Defects: 5/6 years; Treadwear: no

Best studded snow tire

If you live where roads are often ice covered, studded snow tires can make sense. For maximum ice grip, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 is the reigning champion. Its metal teeth literally bite into ice, reviewers say, and the tires do a terrific job on snow as well. Nokian's are available in a variety of sizes and for a wide range of vehicles. See our full review »

Buy from
General Altimax Arctic Review
Runners Up
Specs that Matter Size range -- 14" to 17" Studs? -- Optional Warranty -- Defects: 6 years; Treadwear: no

Cheap studded snow tire

The studdable General Altimax Arctic is a solid runner-up winter tire in reviews. As a studded tire, it doesn't grip quite as well on ice as the top-rated Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 and, as a studless tire, its ice grip trails the best studless snow tire, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2. However, experts still recommend it as a good, inexpensive snow tire, and owners love its performance and value.

Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Size range -- 18" to 20" Studs? -- No Warranty -- Defects: 6 years; Treadwear: 30,000 miles

Best winter performance tire

If you drive a sports car, your summer tires will be useless in freezing temperatures -- that's where the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 shines. It lets you plow confidently through moderate snow and ice, without sacrificing performance on cold, bare pavement. It rides quietly and comfortably, with great tread life, though it won't provide as much grip as some non-performance tires when the going gets really tough. See our full review »

Nokian WR G3 Review
Runners Up
Specs that Matter Size range -- 14" to 19" Studs? -- No Warranty -- Defects: 6 years; Treadwear: 55,000 miles

All-weather tire

Experts agree that most so-called "all-season" tires are a bad choice for handling tough winter weather. However the Nokian WR G3 is something quite different -- an "all-weather" tire that's good enough on snow and ice to earn a snowflake symbol for its sidewall, indicative of a true winter tire. It's also a respectable performer for spring, summer and fall use.

Buy for $105.00
Michelin Latitude X-Ice Xi2 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Size range  -- 15" to 20" Studs? -- No Warranty -- Defects: 5/6 years; Treadwear: 40,000 miles

Best winter tire for SUVs and Trucks

Expert and owner reviewers give kudos to the Michelin Latitude X-Ice Xi2. Once one of the best passenger car winter tires, it's now been re-targeted exclusively for light trucks and SUVs and continues to excel in that role. Though feedback about performance in deep snow is mixed, there's no difference in opinion on how the tire handles other surfaces -- including ice -- and all say it's terrific. See our full review »

Do you need snow tires?

Experts agree: If you drive regularly on ice or snow, you'll be safer on winter tires than on all-season tires. "When temperatures drop and snow falls, there is no question that dedicated winter tires provide the best road-holding grip," says Gene Petersen at ConsumerReport.org. He adds that in their testing, ConsumerReports.org found that "winter tires easily command a 20-percent benefit in snow and ice traction over all-season tires, and some of the best winter tires have nearly twice the grip as some all-season models."

Keep in mind that winter tires aren't just for snow; cold temperatures can harden regular tires' rubber, reducing their ability to grip pavement, especially when things get icy. But softer, more porous snow tires absolutely thrive in cold climates. The colder it gets, the more tenaciously they grip.

Types of snow tires

Snow Tires for Passenger Cars

Unlike all-season tires, snow tires for passenger cars have special tread designs and compounds to grip better on snow, ice and cold pavement.

Studded Snow Tires

Studded winter tires are designed for motorists who have to contend with extreme winter-weather conditions on a prolonged and regular basis. These tires have built-in metal teeth that bite into ice. They're loud, and they can damage pavement. Still, studded tires outperform studless versions at a crucial task -- braking on slippery ice.

Performance Winter Tires

These are designed for high-performance cars. They grip better on wet and dry roads than regular snow tires, so they're also great for mild winters -- you'll be ready in case it snows, without giving up performance when it's warmer. They don't cling quite as stickily to ice, though.

Snow Tires for SUVs and Light Trucks

These are similar to passenger-car snow tires -- and some lines are also available in sizes suitable for coupes and sedans -- but are top performers when installed on bigger, heavier vehicles.

What if I have all-wheel drive?

Just because you have an all-wheel-drive car doesn't mean you don't need winter tires, as the editors of Popular Mechanics found out. In a test, reviewers drove two identical Chevy Equinoxes -- one with front-wheel drive and one with all-wheel drive (AWD) -- on a packed-snow track with a milled-ice underlay.

The AWD Equinox equipped with snow tires braked the quickest from 60 mph; when equipped with all-season tires, the same Equinox went from first to worst in terms of stopping distance. The front-wheel-drive Equinox also handled better when using snow tires than with all-season wheels. "On snow tires, both cars came to a halt about a car length sooner -- often the difference between a close call and a call to your insurance company," testers wrote.

When using winter tires, both models also enjoyed a slight advantage in acceleration, cornering (how tightly a vehicle hugs the road in curves), and climbing a 10-percent grade. Bottom line, according to Popular Mechanics and virtually every other expert we consulted: AWD or not, winter tires trump all-weather tires in ice and snow.

A word about price estimates

Unless otherwise indicated, pricing estimates in this report are per tire, and for the smallest size available at retail. Be aware that larger tires can cost more, sometimes a lot more. Pricing also doesn't include installation -- sometimes free, depending on your retailer -- and you can incur extra costs for balancing, stems, tire disposal, etc. If buying online, some sellers offer free shipping, but others do not; shipping costs on one tire, let alone four, can sometimes be substantial.

How we picked the best snow tires

ConsumerReports.org conducts the most exacting snow tire tests. TireRack.com, a tire retailer, also conducts impartial reviews and names best choices. We also found a very helpful six-tire test conducted by Car and Driver magazine. Testers in countries where winters are even fiercer than what we see in the U.S. also provide valuable insights, and we looked at feedback from experts such as Canada's Automobile Protection Association and the Norwegian Automobile Federation. We scoured hundreds of owner reviews, as well -- they're an essential piece of the puzzle -- to find out whether a given snow tire will really help you stay safe in the winter. When analyzing these reviews we take into consideration how well the tire grips on icy, snowy, wet and dry pavement, the quality and noise of the ride while using the tires, and how well the tread holds up over time.

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