Best winter tyres

22 Jan 2015

What's the best winter tyre on the market? Here are the results from our winter tyre test

The Scandinavians have a saying: ‘Winter tyres first, four-wheel drive second.’ In other words, if you want to go places in the snow, a two-wheel-drive car fitted with winter tyres is better than a four-wheel-drive car on regular ‘summer’ tyres. That’s hard to believe until you’ve driven on winter tyres; they transform the ability of front- and rear-drive cars, offering grip levels on snow that far exceed those of any car shod with summer tyres, even a 4x4. Winter tyres make snow-covered roads feel like wet roads do on summer tyres.

Our test includes three elements – snow, cold wet and dry. We’ve travelled to Sweden, to Continental’s base at Arvidsjaur, close to the Arctic Circle, to put our nine tyres through their paces on the white stuff and then to the Contidrom in northern Germany for the wet and dry tests, running at night to get the necessary low temperature for the wet tests.

Swap your 17in wheel and low-profile tyre combo for a winter-tyre set-up and you’ll probably find yourself on a 16in rim with a taller profile tyre, something like the 205/55 R16 we have chosen here, which is a very popular size.

As in previous tests, the tyre that performs best in each discipline gets a score of 100 per cent and the rest get a percentage of this. Objective tests in snow, wet and dry account for 25 per cent each of the total score, while subjective scores for wet handling, dry handling and road feel and refinement comprise the final 25 per cent. The winning tyre is the one with the highest percentage score. Our test cars were both front-drive, 1.4 TSI petrol Volkswagens, a Golf and Tiguan.

Continental ContiWinterContact TS 850 - £91.67

The Continental ContiWinterContact TS 850 finished in the top three in every objective test and backed this up with the second highest subjective rating of the winters. So while it might not deliver the Michelin’s steering feel, it delivers everything else and is responsive, stable and predictable in all scenarios. ‘Winter tyres come no more capable or reassuring than this’.

Michelin Alpin A4 - £95.50

Second overall was the Michelin Alpin A4. A strong, consistent set of objective scores show that the Michelin has no real weaknesses – it performs well whether the road is dry, wet or covered in snow – and what secures it second place is that subjectively it’s easily the best winter tyre here. Of its wet handling we said: ‘Excellent steering feel – grainy grip – and very stable. You could recommend this tyre to anyone.’

>Read - VW Golf GTI on winter tyres report 7

Dunlop SP Winter Sport - £83.54

The Dunlop finished a whisker off the top step in the snow tests, and although essentially as fast in the snow, the Dunlop didn’t share the Conti’s composure. And it delivered well in the wet, too, both objectively and subjectively. Its chances of winning outright were weakened in part by a less than sparkling on-road performance, which revealed a noisy ride and light, imprecise steering.

Goodyear Ultragrip 8 - £82.15

In fourth is the Goodyear, which scored highly in the wet – clear wins in the aquaplane tests helped it to third overall objectively. It was strong in the snow too, although quite easily provoked into understeer, sliping into oversteer if the front tyres hooked up strongly. It was the fastest winter on the dry track, but ultimately let down by a poor subjective score in the wet, where it felt too delicately balanced.

Vredestein SnowTrac 3 - £79.20

A solid result in the snow backed up by an OK performance in the wet and a less good display in the dry. It felt better than this, though, offering turn-in bite and adjustability, as well as being stable in the faster sweeps. It was highly rated overall: ‘Strong front end… good balance and adjustability’. Good on-road refinement, too.

Pirelli Snowcontrol Serie 3 W210 - £80

The Pirelli scores reasonably well across the board but isn’t outstanding anywhere, its strongest results being a second in wet braking, a good wet lap time and a decent subjective wet handling score. It was surprisingly the slowest of the winters over our snowy course, more three seconds behind the Conti. Straight-line traction was fine but as soon as lock was applied it was much less effective.

Nokian WR D3 - £63.90

It’s a similar story with the Nokian, its high spot being the best subjective dry handling score of all the winters, thanks to its neat and tidy responses and good traction. It gave the best all-round feel of all the winters: ‘Feels nicely hooked up and adjustable without being wayward or too oversteery. Good on the brakes and holds a line reasonably well. A good performance.’

Linglong Winter-Hero Radial 650 - £60

A winter tyre – even an inexpensive one – will keep you moving in snowy conditions well after a summer tyre has slithered to a halt. Our lowest scoring winter, the Linglong, substantially outperforms our summer tyre on the white stuff. Our test results showed that it’s not a great performer when the roads are wet and cold, or dry, and its feel is poor too, being described as ‘floaty’ in snow, ‘treacherous’ in the wet and ‘sloppy’ and ‘slow-witted’ in the dry.

Full results breakdown

    TYRE                  %     SNOW WET   DRY    SUBJECTIVE 1. Continental        93.3    99.9    98.5    88.9    85.6
2. Michelin             92.5    97.5    95.8    87.0    89.7
3. Dunlop              91.3    99.8    95.6    88.1    81.6
4. Goodyear           91.2    97.8    97.8    87.5    81.7
5. Vredestein         90.7    97.1    94.3    87.8    83.8
6= Nokian             90.4    95.3    94.7    88.5    83.1
6= Pirelli               90.4    96.1    94.4    87.5    83.6
8. Linglong            82.9    97.2    79.8    93.4    61.5

All prices correct as of January 2015. Basic price, not including fitting.

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