American drivers are starting to learn something Europeans have known for a long time: winter tires do wonders for traction in snow, slush and ice. The extra edge in slippery acceleration, braking and steering is worth the hassle of swapping rubber with the seasons. While no tire will overcome the laws of physics (and we are a nation of laws, right?), the correct winter tire can do wonders for even the weakest winter car. Plus, as more manufacturers shift to rear-wheel drive, the right rubber is an even more essential part of cold-weather driving survival.
We researched top performing winter tires for various types of vehicles and compiled this list of winter treads for your car, truck, SUV or sports car. Sports car? Hell yes. If you haven’t driven your all-wheel-drive Porsche 911 fitted with proper winter Pirellis, you don’t know the joy of snow-drifting with perfect balance and relentless traction. Get out there. And remember: always buy snows in sets of four. You need grip to stop and turn as much as you need traction to go.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS70
Best All-Around Winter Performer: There’s a reason Bridgestone’s Blizzaks leads this list — it’s almost become the Kleenex of winter tires. It’s one of the best in the business when it comes to handling winter weather at its worst. Why? Because besides using the usual tricks like grippier cold-weather rubber compounds, interlocking tread patterns and complex water-wicking sipes (grooves and cuts), Blizzaks incorporate an outer layer of rubber pocked with thousands of microscopic tubes and cells. This Swiss-cheese-like system wicks away slippery water while biting into snow and ice almost like studded tires. The same technology is offered in the Blizzk DM-V1 for SUVs, CUVs and pickups, and the Blizzak W965, made for heavy-duty trucks.
BFGoodrich Winter Slalom KSI
Best Bang-For-Your-Buck Winter Tire: Not everyone can drop a carload of bucks for an extra set of tires. But you still want to be safe, so don’t think that all-seasons are the answer for all seasons. BFGoodrich’s carefully engineered tread pattern has a high density of extra-long sipes to provide maximum bite in icy conditions. Long sipes help pump water away from the contact patch while reducing tire noise typical of rugged winter tread patterns. The Winter Slalom KSI also features tiny pores that give extra grip at the microscopic level.
Best Euro-Tuned Performance Winter Tire: Continental is synonymous with winter tires in Europe, where everyone uses dedicated snow tires and routinely swaps them out with the change in seasons. The ExtremeWinterContact is a great all-around cold-weather choice because of its superior performance across all wintry conditions. Continental also recognizes that many a winter mile is driven on completely dry roads, so the company pays special attention to the ExtremeWinterContact’s shoulder design to assure dry agility without compromising snow cornering grip.
Cooper Discoverer M+S Sport
Best Sport-Ute Winter Tire: What good is four-wheel-drive if all of them are spinning aimlessly? Designed for SUVs and CUVs driven in severe weather conditions, the M+S Sport features a deep snow groove design and a special silica compound for maximum winter performance. It also manages to look appropriately rugged without making your car resemble a lunar rover.
Dunlop Winter Maxx
Best Newfangled Winter Tire: Launched in 2013, the Winter Maxx is one of the newest cold-weather options on the market. Designed with a silica-enhanced rubber compound, the tire holds its contact patch in dry and wet conditions, as well as when snow and ice develop. An extra cool feature: Dunlop molds wear bars into the tread grooves to indicate when ice and snow traction is reduced rather than when the tire is simply too worn to use. Dunlop also offers the SP Winter Sport 4D line geared to high-performance needs of sports cars equipped with low-profile tires on large diameter wheels. Of course, no one will see your dubs when the snow is two feet high, will they? Showoff.
Falken Eurowinter HS449
Best Drifting Winter Tire: Japanese high-performance tire brand Falken cut its teeth participating in the American Le Mans Series, endurance racing and myriad high-profile drifting series. So it makes perfect sense that a company familiar with getting sideways on the tarmac would offer a strong performer in the snow and slush. Falken’s Eurowinter HS449 combines silica-enriched rubber, 3D siping and directional tread to provide ample traction on snow and ice; staggered rubber blocking cuts down tire noise and improves performance on dry pavement. In any case, we wouldn’t suggest too much rear-wheel snow throwing unless you’re willing to risk leaving some paint on the guardrails.
General AltiMAX Arctic
Best Winter Tire for the Stud: If your locality permits studded tires, this is your best option. Built for serious cold-weather duty, the tire’s rubber is made to remain flexible even when temps dip into the subzero range. Multi-angle siping across the entire face of the tire improves traction, while directional pattern grooves aid stability and water evacuation at speed. In fact, even if you can’t use studs where you live, the AltiMax Arctic remains a good overall winter weather choice.
Goodyear Ultra Grip Winter
Best Versatile Line of Winter Tires: Goodyear offers a full line of its Ultra Grip winter tires, starting with the basic version that the company claims stops six feet shorter on average than a similar general tire. We can’t testify to that, but we do note that as a full-line tiremaker, Goodyear can offer fitments for virtually every type and size of vehicle on the market. The standard Ultra Grip is fine for most buyers, offering better snow traction than all-season tires without too many ride and handling sacrifices. The Eagle Ultra-Grip GW-3 is a top-of-the-line performance tire that even the cops use. (Note: we doubt saying, “Nice tires, officer” will get you out of ticket trouble.)
Michelin X-Ice Xi3
Best Performance Car Winter Tire: The X-Ice Xi3 is uber-pricey for a round piece of rubber, but it offers impressive ice and snow traction along with very good handling and traction when the roads are just cold — dry or wet. This is a top tire for your sedan, coupe, minivan or crossover that doesn’t sacrifice too much of your vehicle’s fuel economy or dry performance for traction. They also have snow wear indicator bars to show when deep snow traction will be compromised.
Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3
Best Winter Tire for the Exotic:The Winter Sottozero 3 is designed for mild winter climates, offering plenty of traction in snow and ice without sacrificing handling and ride when roads are dry and conditions are good. For drivers of high-performance sports cars who routinely face tougher road conditions, a step up to the Sottozero Serie II might be in order. It offers plenty of snow and slush traction, with the kind of handling you’d expect from a performance tire with an asymmetrical tread pattern. Inner angled treads grab the corners while longitudinal center and outer grooves channel away water and snow to reduce hydroplaning. Irregular siping in the center tread provides superior grip in ice and snow.
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