Features

Best winter tyres 2018

What’s the best winter tyre on the market? We test the latest winter rubber to find a winner.  

With winter in full swing and the roads at their most dangerous, we’ve reviewed the winter tyres currently on the market to help you choose the best performing tyre to keep you safe on wet, icy or snowy roads. 

There are common misconceptions about winter tyres: you don’t need them if you have four-wheel drive; they’re only worth fitting if you’re driving on snow or ice. Both are wrong. The extra grip and traction offered by winter tyres over summer tyres is far greater than many expect. The benefits are clear to see on snow and ice, but are also tangible on wet roads and in temperatures below 7 ºC. 

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We tested 10 different tyres in total: eight winters, one all-season tyre and one summer tyre – all 225/45 R17 in size. The inclusion of a summer tyre helps to provide context and demonstrate winter tyre’s, and to a lesser extent, all-season tyre’s superior performance. We used two locations to assess the tyres, Nokian’s White Hell proving ground in Ivalo, Finland, inside the Arctic Circle, and Continental’s Hanover facility in Germany. 

The tyres

All the winter tyres had speed ratings of H or V (up to 130mph and 150mph respectively), so if you have something particularly fast, it’s worth opting for a V-rated tyre. The all-season tyre was V-rated and the summer tyre (Continental) Y-rated (up to 168mph). As required by law, the sidewalls are labeled with the wet grip (WG) and noise (N) ratings. The former is rated on a scale from A-G (A is the best) and the latter is a decibel figure. 

1. Continental WinterContact TS 860

The TS 860 was the best performer in wet and dry conditions. On the wet handling track there were encouraging levels of grip and traction, as well clear feedback, helping to determine when it would – progressively – breakaway. The tyre was similarly competent on the dry handling track. 

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Under braking, in shallow wet tests, the TS 860 brought the car to a halt in the shortest distance – over a metre shorter than the next best tyre. Standing water posed the biggest challenge for the TS 860, which failed to match the best tyres in the aquaplaning tests. In the snow-based tests, the TS 860 was average, with a front-led feel, promoting the rear to step-out, thus reducing lateral grip available.

2. Hankook i*cept RS2

Like the TS 860, the RS2 was responsive and receptive to steering inputs in the wet, also showing good traction when accelerating. The RS2 ranked above the TS 860 in deep water tests, but not by much, also struggling with aquaplaning. In the dry tables, the RS2 came joint-second, with a responsive turn-in and impressive resistance to understeer. 

The RS2 excelled on snow, well balanced and offering plenty of traction lending it a secure, controlled feel. Out of tighter corners though, throttle inputs had to be carefully measured to prevent the back end from stepping out unexpectedly.

3. Dunlop Winter Sport 5

In our wet tests the Dunlop ranked mid-pack. While it struggled in standing water, it coped better in the shallow wet tests, specifically under braking. It fared well on a wet track with a stable rear promoting good traction, but the front washed wide sooner than we expected under lateral loads.

The Sport 5 was quickest on the snow circuit and performed well in all snow-based tests. Its tendency to understeer was more pronounced in the dry handling test, with the front tyres overwhelmed far earlier than the rears.

4. Goodyear UltraGrip Performance

Wet braking was the UltraGrip’s weakest attribute, requiring just under five metres longer than the TS 860 to come to a complete stop. While it felt secure and controlled on the wet circuit, it couldn’t generate the same levels of grip as the leading tyres, seeing it rank sixth in the wet, handling and circle disciplines. 

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A better showing on the dry circuit saw it collect third in the handling tests and fourth in braking, with a marginally longer braking distance than the TS 860, which it trailed by less than a second on circuit. The Goodyear was at its best on snow with a predictable balance.

5. Nokian WR D4

The Nokian favoured snow-based performance at the expense of wet weather behaviour. Initial grip fell away as you began to apply more lock when cornering on wet surfaces, and it also oversteered too readily off-throttle, although arresting the slide was simple enough.

It was the third fastest tyre on the dry circuit with good traction, but it finished sixth in dry braking. In the snow, the Nokian was only bested by the Hankook, with strong traction on inclines and a manageable balance.

6. Pirelli Sottozero 3

The Pirelli felt sharp and responsive in the wet, with immediate steering and a stable, consistent feel. In wet shallow braking it performed acceptably too. In heavy standing water though, the Pirelli came unstuck, with a worrying performance in the curved aquaplane test. 

Oddly, the Pirelli came first in dry braking but seventh in dry handling. Its performance in snow was more clear-cut, where it was some way behind the leaders in all areas.

7. Michelin Alpin 5

The Alpin’s performance in the wet wasn’t too far from the best. While stable, the fronts scrubbed wide with too much speed preventing it finishing higher up the order. It shone in deep water tests coming second and third respectively in the straight and curved aquaplaning tests.  

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In the dry the front end limited progress, although initial response was impressive. However, its stopping distance in the dry was longer than the majority of tyres on test.

8. Bridgestone Blizzak LM001

Despite a class-leading performance in the aquaplaning disciplines, a poor showing in all other areas saw the LM001 finish last of the winter tyres. On wet tarmac the front end failed to grip or turn-in with confidence, and it fared worst in wet braking. When the TS 860 had stopped the LM001 was still doing 15mph. 

On snow the LM001 was the poorest performer (of the winter tyres). Its showing in the dry was better, finishing third fastest on the dry circuit and coming seventh in the dry braking test. 

Goodyear Vector 4 Seasons Gen-2 (all-season)

The all-season contender performed admirably in the cold weather and adverse conditions, with little splitting it and the winter tyres. In single-digit temperatures the all-season tyre was second to the summer tyre in the wet, but we’d expect that gap to grow in higher temperatures. As a compromise for UK drivers who seem resistant to buying two sets of wheels and tyres the all-seasons tyre could be the answer.

Continental ContiSportContact 5 (summer)

The summer tyre outperformed the winter tyres in the wet and dry tests, save the aquaplaning straight and curved tests. Taking to the snow though, the summer tyre was clearly out of its depth, struggling to find any traction and transitioning into a slide at very low speeds with an obvious lack of grip.

Overall Results (in descending order)

SnowbrakingSnowtractionSnow CircleSnow HandlingStraightaquaplaningCurved aquaplaningWet brakingWet handlingWet circleDry brakingDry handling

Continental WinterContact TS 860

97.20%93.20%96.10%98.60%83.30%73.40%100%100%100%93.10%99.90%

Hankook i*cept RS2

100%100%100%99.10%85.80%80.60%96.40%99.30%99.50%99.90%99.30%

Dunlop Winter Sport 5

94.30%94.00%97.40%100%81.50%86.30%95.40%97.20%97.30%96.50%98.70%

Goodyear UltraGrip Performance

95.50%92.30%97.60%99.80%83.00%89.20%87.00%96.60%97.30%97.00%98.80%

Nokian WR D4

97.50%95.90%98.00%99.00%79.10%59.50%87.80%95.80%96.20%96.30%98.80%

Pirelli Sottozero 3

90.60%91.40%97.40%97.20%81.00%53.50%93.30%98.00%100%100%98.70%

Michelin Alpin 5

93.90%84.70%94.30%96.60%90.60%87.20%89.60%97.00%98.10%95.60%98.80%

Bridgestone Blizzak LM001

92.20%88.60%90.60%92.30%100%100%87.10%95.00%97.80%93.20%98.80%

Goodyear Vector 4 Seasons Gen-2 (all-season)

98.40%97.20%95.00%95.90%83.10%67.50%93.80%97.60%100.80%96.50%99.90%

Continental ContiSportContact 5 (summer)

41.30%36.90%67.40%70.00%84.80%85.50%101.20%102.40%106.10%120.20%102.00%
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