Our latest winter tire tests were conducted in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America and put car makers and dealers on lockdown. Our test models included a Toyota 4runner, a Honda CR-V, and a Honda Pilot due to compact SUVs’ popularity on the market.
There were a lot of hazards on the way, including ice and deep snow, wet and dry pavement, bumps and potholes on the way and a variety of road and weather conditions.
The criteria we used were grip, braking performance, ride quality, and driving dynamics. A component of the ratings is based on the testers’ own appreciation of each tire.
Every year, the same tire models make the top 10. Because of this, tires can stay on the market for four to twelve years. Some new tires are coming out for 2020-2021, including Bridgestone WS90, Continental Viking Contact 7 and Goodyear Winter Command.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get our hands on a set of Michelin X-Ice Snows in time for our tests. One tire that’s noticeably missing from our list is the Nord*Frost 200 from Gislaved, which placed fourth in our 2018 rankings.
Among the most capable cars available today are SUVs. There are numerous electronic driving aids that can enhance your driving experience on all of them The ability to maintain traction in bad weather. Snow and ice can be handled even better by SUVs and crossovers that have 4WD or AWD systems. These systems allow you to accelerate and turn without too much trouble.
You’ll need dedicated winter or snow tires for your SUV or crossover to perform at its best. In some cases, these tires aren’t needed. In Florida and California, for instance, all-season tires can be an excellent choice during the winter.
Living further north, however, makes things more difficult. That’s because no car can function well with summer or all-season tires in the winter. You can’t get traction if your tires lack traction, no matter what kind of electronic aids or all-wheel-drive systems you have. You will need to break more often, and your SUV will perform poorly.
Not only Bridgestone and Michelin offer many winter models, but also Nokian, Pirelli, and Toyo. With 12 models now available, Goodyear offers a wide selection. We have previously tested Ultra Grip Ice WRT, but this year we received the Winter Command, which is priced between Ultra Grip Winter (snow tire) and Ultra Grip WRT (ice tire). It’s true that the Winter Commands tread design resembles an ice tire, while the stud holes are characteristic of a snow tire.
A wide retail network and an affordable price make this Goodyear model stand out. The tires are comfortable and deliver good handling on wet or dry pavement. In addition to providing good grip on slippery surfaces, it is also useful in deep snow. Winter Command braked farther on ice than the Ultra Grip Ice WRT, but evaporating water from wet snow was much easier with Winter Command.
Most major tire manufacturers offer an entry-level brand offering cheaper products that often use older technology. For Bridgestone, Firestone is available, while Michelin offers BF Goodrich and Uniroyal. The budget brand of Nokia is called Nord man. In fact, it is an older version of the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 7, which once dominated our rankings.
Nord man 7 is a studdable snow tire that cannot match the performance of Hakkapeliitta 9 but has good braking and cornering performance on icy surfaces. Plus, it is exceptionally grippable in snow that is deep and hard-packed. Highways with studs tend to be noisier, and they are even noisier on paved or concrete surfaces. Compared to the Hakkapeliitta 9 and R3, the Nord man 7 is more affordable for customers wanting Nokian-built tires.
There are nine models of winter tires available from Pirelli. It comes in 38 different sizes for passenger cars and small SUVs. The Ice Zero FR (Fraction) is the most popular. Likewise, the Scorpion Winter is designed for larger, more luxurious SUVs and for vehicles that prioritize performance. Cinturato Winter is targeted at small and mid-sized cars.
On frozen ice and hardened snow, we liked the soft compound of the Ice Zero FR for short stopping distances. Its quieter ride and better handling make it a good choice on dry as well as wet surfaces. Ice Zero’s Double Claw studs offer extra traction on icy hills.
Our winter tire tests for full-size pickups last year ranked the Bridgestone DM-V2 second. Prior to this year, it regularly flirted with the top spot alongside Nokian models. This proven Blizzak still retains all of its solid attributes on snow and ice, including great handling and short braking distances, as it occupies the sixth place in our rankings. It can also handle wet and dry pavement in a smooth, controlled manner.
New tires like Blizzak WS90 use more modern technology, so we downgraded the model. Had our latest tests included large SUVs and pickups instead of lighter, lesser payload vehicles, it probably would have placed among the top three.
Continental will introduce three new winter tires this year, including the Ice Contact XTRM, the Winter Contact SI Plus, and the Viking Contact 7. There are two types of studded tires: one is factory-installed; the other is sold exclusively at Canadian Tire stores (and is identical to the old Winter Contact SI). There are 91 different sizes available for the Viking Contact 7 compared to 38 for the Winter Contact SI in Continental’s lineup.
The Viking Contact 7 features a brand new tread design without the center groove found on the Winter Contact SI, which improves traction in the snow and grip on slippery surfaces. Additionally, the lack of a center groove may slightly affect stability on highways. It doesn’t matter, right? You need to reduce your speed anyway when driving in the winter. Continental tires are quieter than Pirelli Ice Zero FRs.
The Viking Contact 7 is this year’s most pleasant surprise in our books because of its good overall performance, the availability of many sizes, and the reasonable price.