These are the tire comments and pictures following this article from the September issue of CARS.
Tires are suitable for FWD, RWD and AWD vehicles, for sedans, SUV, minivans and in some cases pick-up trucks. Occasionally, performance winter tires could be better suited for luxury or sports cars. Prices may vary according to regions across the country and tire rebates may also be offered until mid December. Inquire about any warranties available.
Tires are listed according to ranking order within each rating group.
Some consumers concerned with country or suburban driving may be looking for studded tires. Models offered with quieter factory shaped studs are indicated as are those available with retailer mounted and usually noisier conventional studs.
Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 – Hakka 8
Top rated is a terrific trio: the R2 is similar if not better to the WS-80 in certain exercises and the Hakkapeliitta 8. The Hakka 8 is available with or without factory studs, but definitely the trouble-free winter product to buy. Longevity, predictability, security and performance guranteed. Some Run Flat, some extra load available. A more expensive product than others. Limited network. Both Nokian tires are also available in SUV version.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS 8
Bridgestone set the pace with the Blizzak early in the 90s, and the WS 80 is the sixth generation. Directional tire, optimized for snow and ice; it is a no compromise product that remains predictable when pushed to the limit. Improved braking on ice and better dry road performance. Better traction in slush. Very good overall performance. Large distribution network.
Michelin X-Ice Xi3
Michelin always hits the spot with ride comfort and superior performance on wet and dry roads. A pricier but appreciated product for the consumer. Optimized for ice and snow, maybe a bit of a concern with traction in slush and deep snow. Excellent and quiet performance on pavement. Long wearing. Mileage warranty extended down to 2/32nd, while industry admits under 4 is a safer limit in winter.
Continental WinterContact SI
This tire replaced the ExtremeWinterContact in 2014 and offered superior grip in cornering and braking. It runs a bit more quietly than the previous generation. The tread design is now directional, which limits tire rotation options if they are wearing unevenly. The tread pattern sticks more to ice and bites more in snow. Tire life may be bit lower, as tread depth is 10/32″ when new. Offered in 33 tire sizes to fit most passenger cars and SUVs. Widely available.
Toyo Observe GSi5 / Garit KX
Tire optimized for deep snow and ice. A long-time consumer choice even though it is not a top performer on cleared or wet roads and can be a bit noisier than average in some applications. Available in more than 105 sizes, it is the one-product-fits-all-vehicle tire. Superior durability due to the deep tread and long-wearing walnut and rubber compound. Also suited for heavier vehicles. Although showing a few wrinkles, the Observe Garit K/X still does pretty well on performance cars.
Pirelli Ice Zero FR
Launched in 2015, the Pirelli Ice Zero FR (friction) provided excellent snow traction and good steering control. Directional tread design features tread blocks that improve ice traction; this is the best general purpose winter product for passenger vehicles from Pirelli in years. The Ice Zero factory-studded is a completely different tire. Made in Russia, and that means quality now, and fairly priced. Pirelli is now part of a Chinese conglomerate. Widely available.
Gislaved Nord*Frost 100
Gislaved is a division of Continental Tire; this tire replaced the old Nord*Frost 5 and the newer NordFrost 200 will be available shortly on the market. Very good in snow, good on ice. The tread design is similar to the General Altimax Arctic but performance on dry pavement is more responsive than the General. A bit noisier as it wears. Available with European-style diamond-shaped factory studs. A well priced niche product.
Yokohama Ice Guard IG51c / W Drive 905
Yokohama offers brilliant winter products, like the IG52c for cars and the IG52v for SUVs. Return customers with previous-generation products rely on them. Launched 4 years ago, this directional tread offers superior traction on ice and in slush. Soft and quiet riding. It handled as well as the Bridgestone WS 80 on pavement, due to the solid, circumferential grooves in the tread. Good tread life. For performance cars, the W Drive 905 really delivered in all exercises, showing that a well-born product remains a milestone after all these years.
Nokian Nordman 5
The Nordman is Nokian’s budget tire brand. Superior performance on uncleared roads in the Nokian tradition. Acceptable on ice. Predictable cornering and braking, with less grip than the top-rated tires. Long wearing. A factory road hazard warranty is included. Also available with factory studs. Limited distribution network. Will phase out next year since the Nordman 7 will come to Canada.
Hercules Avalanche R-G2
Hercules is an independent tire brand who’s R&D and tires are sourced from manufacturers located in China, United States and Europe. Usually competes in the lower entry-level market but the Avalanche R-G2 was a pleasant surprise when launched in 2014; it is a product manufactured in Russia under license from a top European tire maker. Unidirectional tread provides good snow traction. Superior rubber compound for an independent label tire provides decent ice traction, though one generation old compared to the outsourcing original brand. Predictable handling and tire life, better than the average budget tire. Very good value for the price.
Vredestein SnowTrac 5
Tire developed in conjunction with Giugiaro, the Italian design house. The SnowTrac 5 is a Euro-style winter tire, optimised for driving on highways, with good ice braking and predictable cornering. Vredestein is originally a Dutch company but is now part of Apollo Tire, the Indian conglomerate. The SnowTrac 5 is still made in Holland. Very limited distribution; marketed for owners of European prestige automobiles.
Cooper Weather Master WSC / SA-2 / (ST-2)
While the SA-2 line is phasing out, the performance WSC tire, made in UK by Cooper’s European branch Avon, provides interesting results. New products under development are expected in a near future. Obviously good traction in deep snow when you look at the tread but performance on other surfaces is average. Reasonably priced and durable. Retailer installed studs will definitely add more traction and probably one or two more winters in tread life. The ST-2, made in an old-style mould, is a classic knobby studdable winter product that will do great in heavy snow but is rather limited when cornering and on ice.
Goodyear Ultra Grip Winter / WRT
The Ultra Grip Winter WRT is a lot better then its counterpart Ultra Grip Winter. A price comparison is in order but the WRT will deliver better traction and tread life while the other is an entry-level tire, a cut above the private label Asian imports. Aggressive tread for good snow traction. Could really improve on ice. Noisier than average. The basic version will accept studs, not the WRT.
General Altimax Arctic
Originally an American company, General Tire is part of the Continental conglomerate. Very good in deep snow, and competent overall performance at a competitive price. A bit less traction on ice. Long wearing, but tire noise can become noticeable if rotations are not made. Will accept retailer installed studs. Reasonably priced. Also available at CTC.
Pirelli Carving Edge
Pirelli’s main-line Nordic sow tire, it’s now a few years old. Predictable all-rounder that doesn’t stand out for its performance on bad roads. Studdable. Relatively expensive — better performance is available for the price.
Dunlop Winter Maxx
Asymmetric tread design, this tire is manufactured by Japanese tire giant Sumitomo. The tread compound reflects a proven technology and is not as soft as the more advanced winter tires. Good performance on snow and ice traction. Long wearing. Offered in a large range of sizes. Distributed in Canada by Goodyear, which guaranties good availability. Competitive price for a product made in Japan that features excellent manufacturing quality.
Hankook Winter i*Pike RS / i-Cept Evo 2
Like many other companies, winter tires are not the Korean manufacturer’s forte. This product has been on the market for a few years and performances are quite acceptable. Good deep snow traction, average results in many aspects and exercises. Prices are not always according to the product performances. The asymmetrical i-Cept Evo 2 is more performance cars oriented and the results were relatively identical.
Toyo Observe G3 ICE
New purposely made entry-level offering from Toyo at a lower price. Acceleration and braking were nothing special but cornering was quite predictable. Available with factory-installed studs that will improve significantly the performances. Widely available. Toyo tires are always high-quality but spending a few bucks more to get a GSi5 is good advice.
Firestone is a former American tire company also acquired in the Eighties by Bridgestone, world number one and largest Japanese tire maker. Good deep snow traction; ice traction and handling on dry pavement are inferior to the similar General Arctic Altimax. Could benefit from a new generation with a stickier compound and a new tread design. It becomes noisy as it wears and rotations are a must. Pricing not really an advantage. Can accept studs installed by the retailer.
BF Goodrich Winter Slalom KSI
BF Goodrich is a former American company that has become Michelin’s second tier brand in the Eighties, A fair improvement over the previous Winter Slalom. Predictable and fairly responsive in everyday driving, but cornering and braking show their limits. Average ice traction and reasonably durable; tire rotation is important to ensure even wear. Pricing sometimes an issue for a product in this category.
Goodyear Nordic Winter
An entry-level snow tire offered exclusively at Canadian Tire. Its hard compound tread is relatively long wearing, but grip in cornering is mediocre and the tire can be unpredictable when it starts to slip. Will accept studs but will become much noisier. Reminds the Kelly brand. CTC customers could invest a few loonies to get a better offering.
GT Radial Champiro IcePro
The GT Radial brand belongs to GiTi Tire of Indonesia. The 10th-ranked tire maker in the world recently opened a plant in the USA. Made in China, the IcePro is a sibling to many tread design on the market. Predictable tire, easy to control on snow and ice. Under average handling on dry roads and noisier. The rubber compound is hard and long wearing. Large range of tire sizes and well-priced. Will accept studs. GT is the Chinese manufacturer that is the most convincing presently. Large distribution network.
Eskay Winter X
The Eskay Winter X was somewhat of a surprise when tested last year. Appealing tread pattern with square shoulders. Snow traction was good and braking worth of mention. Durability, availability and long-term quality are always a question, as Chinese manufacturers will change tire construction and tread compounds without notice. Limited distribution.
Starfire RS W 5.0
Starfire is the new entry-level line-up from Cooper and manufactured in their Chinese plants. The directional tread pattern is a nice evolution but the end-results are in the same range as the other products in this category. Round shoulders make cornering longer. Low-priced.
Sailun Ice Blazer WST1
Again, the tire tread looks contemporary, but performances don’t meet expectations. Some customers may appreciate the drive because they will not push the product to its limits. Fairly priced. Sailun seems to be here to stay. Will accept studs installed by the retailer.
Uniroyal Tiger Paw Ice & Snow II
Michelin decided along the way to make Uniroyal its entry-level offering, low-priced brand with tires now made in China. So, a basic tire under a well-known brand. However, this was perhaps a disappointment with poor performances from a product distributed by a major tire maker. Cornering and braking on snow and ice were not noteworthy. In Canada, this tire is sometimes featured at GM dealers and usually better priced when sold as part of a winter package. Tread is now directional compared to the previous generation. Tire uniformity as it wears is a concern.
MaxTrek Trek M7
A manufacturer that is slowly making its way in the market. The typical formula: nice looking tread but the compound is not at par with major manufacturers. Will do good in deep snow but braking distances on ice will increase a lot. Can become noisy. Available in a large range of sizes. Made in China by Zhaoqing Junhong Tire.
Laufenn I FIT Ice
Another new brand heading to Canada in 2016, Laufenn (drive fast in German) is the Chinese arm from Hankook, while the name Aurora is put on the back burner. A complete line-up with the I FIT Ice as the winter offering, Laufenn is a commitment to a long-term presence from the Korean manufacturer with products that should improve in time. This first generation remains a price attractive entry-level product. Already tested, the all season model did better.
Close to a four seasons
This is the entry-level product from Hercules, made in China. It has the looks but little grip. A bit better then the following products in this test but strictly for consumers who are budget-limited or for the last hurrah of an aging vehicle. Under average in all exercises. Limited distribution.
WestLake F606 / FW606
Adequate performance in little snow on uncleared roads. Poor on ice and noisy on highway. Could develop fairly rapid wear. Will accept studs installed by the retailer. Made in China by Hangzhou Zhongce. Strictly for consumers looking for a homologated winter tire and not caring about performances.
Nexen WinGuard 231
Disappointing performance, due in part to a hard rubber compound that performed poorly on acceleration and in braking. The tire was unpredictable, and provided little warning before slipping. Nexen is a Korean tire maker and like Hankook does not put a lot of R&D in winter products. Plus the fact that the WinGuard 231 is made in China.
Legal but not recommended
Imperial Snowdragon 2
We randomly picked a winter product in the exhaustive list of brands available and finally the Imperial Snowdragon 2, a brand we had only seen in Europe so far, was selected. The tread is basically an all-season design with more siping. Results were poor in all exercises and we wonder why this kind of product should come to a Nordic country like Canada, be offered by a retailer and driven by a consumer that is only price concerned.
Weathermate is a private label import from SuTong China Tire, exclusively sold through the Walmart network. The tire design looks promising, but performance was awful in testing. Walmart always promises a bang for the buck, but we found products that were much better in the test with even better prices. At least they offer other brands.
Jinyu YW51 S
This Jinyu, manufactured by Shandong Tire in China, is offered in few high-volume sizes (10) and was the perfect example of a legal entry-level winter tire with no intention of providing performances and satisfaction to any customer. Performance was substandard from the beginning, accelerating, cornering and braking. Very low price.
All Weather Tires
Year-round use of an all-weather tire is fast growing in Canada for those who want to avoid the spring and autumn changeover. From a single offer a decade ago, there are now five products available and we tested what we think are the best four. In the above ranking, some would be quite acceptable in winter but also deliver good grip in the summer. For a consumer that drives less than 10 000 km every year, they represent an interesting choice and will provide from 3 to 6 years of honest work.
It is the best of the All-Weather or All-Conditions tires. Popular on the West Coast, GTA and regions where winters are milder. A possible solution for the last two years of a lease. Winter and summer performance above average. Tire life is good. Performance on snow is superior to many dedicated winter tires. A compromise on ice and in slush. Good handling on cleared roads, comparable to the best winter tires. Interesting choice for an all-wheel-drive vehicle. Durability in extended summer driving unpredictable. Remember, under 10 000 Km.
We found the brand new Toyo Celsius to be a real competitor for the WRG3, with a convincing sticker price. We are used to see reliable products from this Japanese manufacturer and the Celsius is no exception. Most of the Canadian drivers would drive this tire and think it is winter-only dedicated. The round-shape shoulders take some grip and road handling away in the summer, but provide a better life-span and wear uniformity to the tread.
Vredestein Quatrac 5
Essentially made for European cold weather and highway driving, the Quatrac 5 illustrates UTQG and mountain snowflake logo, similar to the Celsius. We found it to perform better in the dry and warmer weather that under severe Canadian winter conditions. When pushed to its limits, the Quatrac 5 should be driven with more care but remains predictable. Braking on ice will be longer and driving in deep snow will require attention. The asymmetrical tread pattern is standard for an all-weather product and regular rotations will be required.
Hankook Optimo 4S
Ranked acceptable, this tire is distributed exclusively by Canadian Tire and suitable for milder winter areas or for consumers that drive little in winter. The asymmetrical tread pattern will require rotations. An interesting summer product with limited winter capacities.