Driving is a skill that takes both good instincts and copious amounts of real-world practice. Snow, though, adds another dimension to the equation altogether. As important as good tires are, driving on warm and dry roads is far easier than on frigid, black ice- and snow-covered roads. Even the best drivers sometimes miscalculate and end up in the frozen weeds, and a vehicle’s brand-new, expensive, all-season tires and all-wheel-drive setup do not equate to invincibility on the white stuff.
Regardless of what you drive, it’s wise to shod your ride and possibly save your bacon with a high-tech set of snow tires. We’ve put together this season’s best snow and ice tires; it’s not too late to properly outfit your car for the next few brutal months of Old Man Winter.
Good, All-Around Options
Yokohama iceGUARD iG52c
Best Bargain Tire: A second set of tires isn’t always an affordable option, but there are solid values out there to get you through the tough winter months. The iceGUARD iG52c is Yokohama’s stud-less ice-and-snow winter tire, and it performs well in both dry and wet winter conditions thanks to a tread compound that makes use of three key materials: silica, resin-coated shelled micro-bubbles and multi-layer carbon. The iceGUARDs also benefit from a fat center rib and control blocks that essentially keep the tire’s contact with the road higher for better dry traction and driving stability. Ample grooves dispel the nasty stuff (water, slush, snow) and plenty of biting edges also keep you planted when temperatures drop and you require ice or snow grip.
Goodyear Ultra Grip
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 tire maker, 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 police officers use. (Note: Saying, “Nice tires, officer” won’t get you out of ticket trouble.)
Michelin X-Ice Xi3
Best Everyday Performance Tire: The X-Ice Xi3 is fairly 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 cold (in dry or wet conditions). 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.
Continental WinterContact SI
Best New Tire: Most tires on this list have proven themselves over the course of several years on the market. Continental’s WinterContact SI is a brand-new tire for the 2015-2016 season, improving upon the Continental ExtremeWinterContact, a tire highly lauded for its superior traction in both clear and snowy conditions. The new version gets a symmetrical design and Continental’s new PolarPlus technology, which helps increase traction at lower temperatures. The WinterContact SI also is rated for speeds up to 130 mph (versus the old version’s 118 rating), if you’re going racing in the snow.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS80
Best All-Around Performer: Blizzaks are legendary in the world of winter tires, since they are at the top of the list for wet traction and ice and snow performance. An update to the old WS70s, the WS80 improves on dry road handling conditions with firmer tread blocks that prevent that “squishy” feel when driving directly on dry pavement. It also gets an improved footprint that distributes pressure across the tread, a Tube MultiCell Compound to dispel water, snow and ice better. The tire features more biting edges on the now smaller shoulder blocks on the inner and outer edges of the tire, and according to Bridgestone that increases the tire’s ice and snow traction by 10 percent.
General AltiMax Arctic
Best Studdable Tire: Built for serious cold-weather duty, the tire’s rubber is made to remain flexible even when temperatures 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.
Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8
Best Studded Tire: If you live in the absolute worst-possible conditions, a set of permanently studded tires will be your friend, and the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 is one of the most advanced sets of studded winter tires you can buy. Not only do the studs bite into the snow and ice and allow for incredible grip, they also have a cushion between them and the rest of the tire that reduce road noise, road wear and tread wear — common pitfalls of studded tires.
Unleash Your Inner Finn
Falken Eurowinter HS449
Best Entry-Level Performance Tire: Japanese high-performance tire brand Falken cut its teeth participating in the American Le Mans Series and a handful of 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, but we wouldn’t suggest getting too loose with the rear-wheels unless you’re got the course to yourself.
Hankook Winter i*Cept Evo
Best Performance Tire in the Wet: The i*Cept Evo is a great choice for drivers who require exceptional performance tires but want to stay relatively low on the price spectrum. It offers up an asymmetrical tread pattern, circumferential sipes and a high-silica compound for traction in the snow. What’s more, there are also three longitudinal grooves for extracting water, making it ideal for when the snow starts to melt.
Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3
Best Performance Tire For Mild Winters: 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 is a good choice. 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 also provides superior grip in ice and snow.
Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4
The Porsche Approved Winter Tire: Like the Sottozero 3, the Alpin PA4 is aimed squarely at performance cars and exotics, and it’s built to perform in both the dry and the snow. They’re a step up in price, but they also offer a step up in performance. The Alpin PA4 has an asymmetrical tread pattern with 3D locking sipes for better traction upon contact with the road, and it is certified by Porsche, with a special N-Spec version also available for Porsche drivers.
Trucks and SUVs
The Heavy Hitters
Michelin Latitude X-Ice Xi2
Best All-Around Truck and SUV Tire: Michelin’s X-Ice Xi2 is among the best-rated winter tires for trucks and SUVs. It is made from a silica-based tread compound that remains flexible in cold temperatures while providing a low rolling resistance — so low, that Michelin says the Xi2 wears 75 percent longer than similar tires (and they back that claim up with a 40,000-mile warranty). The Xi2 also features “cross Z sipes,” a 3D siping technology that locks the tread blocks together during road contact to increase grip.
Cooper Discoverer M+S
Best Studded Truck and SUV Tire: The Discoverer M+S is one of the few (and also the best) aggressively treaded, stud-able tires available for light trucks and SUVs. The blocky tread patterns and “D Squared” sipes provide traction in deep snow, while the studs offer biting traction in ice.
BFGoodrich All-Terrain A/T KO2
Best Off-Road Tire: Just because your SUV tires have enormous knurled treads doesn’t mean they’re great for the winter. BFGoodrich has taken the best of both worlds, combining capable off-road chops with excellent winter snow traction in a beautifully beefy tire. The KO2’s side-biter lugs are actually located on the tire’s sidewalls, so when you’re in deep mud and snow, traction is improved beyond the tread face. And, when it comes to off-roading, you don’t need to fear that these are only for frozen stuff. With thicker sidewalls and anti-chip-and-tear properties, you can get off the beaten path for some nice dirty punishment without ruining your tread.
Pirelli Scorpion Winter
Best for Performance SUVs: Pirelli Scorpion Winter tires are specifically made for SUVs and crossovers with a little more go than usual. Since a lot of winter driving is done in dry conditions as well as snow, the treads on the Scorpion Winter achieve great duality. They’re aggressive and symmetrical, which aids in snow traction, with a larger footprint to improve handling in dry conditions.