The Top 10 Dedicated Snow Tires for 2013

Jeez, football has started already? It must be time for a look at this year's crop of winter tires. I always advise starting to think about winter tires during pre-season to avoid the price increases later on when snow is imminent and everyone else starts to think about snow tires. It's been an interesting year for snow tires, especially with Nokian launching three new tires to the North American market. We're also still riding out the shockwave of two ongoing revolutions in tire technology, both in compounding and in siping patterns, that have thrown out some of the traditional rules and led to some rapid innovation.

Snow tires as a class still come in a couple of different flavors. All winter tires have to balance the sometimes mutually exclusive goals of cold weather grip, road ​performance and long treadwear. How the designers prioritize those goals is the difference between a “Performance Winter” tire designed to handle really well on cold dry pavement and deal with occasional light snow and ice, and a “Winter Performance” tire designed to take on blizzard conditions and win.

Of course, if you prioritize treadwear over both, that's called an “All-Season.” Bazinga!

10
of 10
Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D

The Tire Rack, Inc.

The Winter Sport 3D is a high-performance winter tire made primarily for sports cars and low-profile applications. It gets good marks for overall performance but is seriously biased towards dry and wet performance. The 3D fits its niche well; it earned a Mountain Snowflake symbol and has done some very interesting things with siping patterns, but the H and V speed ratings say it's still more about road than snow.

09
of 10
Bridgestone Blizzak WS70

Bridgestone Blizzak WS-70
Bridgestone Blizzak WS-70. Tire Rack, Inc.

The WS70 gets great empirical results with its specialized Tube Multicell Compound, particularly on ice. My problem with the WS70 is that the compound has to be sprayed onto the green tire as a foam and only comprises 60% of the tire's tread depth. I've driven on a worn WS70, and it was not pretty.

08
of 10
General Altimax Arctic

The Tire Rack, Inc.

General makes tires that are not very flashy but do work for a living. The Altimax Arctic is a workhorse even without the optional studs and is nearly always spoken of with well-earned respect among snow-tire aficionados.

07
of 10
Goodyear Eagle Ultra Grip Ice WRT

The Tire Rack, Inc.

The Eagle WRT is another of the middle-of-the-pack workhorses that often goes unnoticed. It's not at all superlative, but it tends to get the job done. It does tend to have a very hard ride.

06
of 10
Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4

The Tire Rack, Inc.

From my review: “Ultra High-Performance Snow tires occupy a rather interesting space. Created for high-performance cars, they are an attempt to optimize for two forms of performance... This leaves UHP snow tires in kind of a restricted niche – if you don't need extremely high road performance from a snow tire, there are better snow tires out there, and if you don't need snow grip there are far better performance tires out there. Michelin's Pilot Alpin series has occupied this niche with some authority for many years now...”

05
of 10
Nokian WRG3

Nokian's WRG3 is hard to classify. Technically, it's an All-Season tire, but its winter performance is so far above that of other AS tires that Consumer Reports tested it as a Performance Winter. This year, the WRG3 took the category.

While I do think that the WRG3 is one of the two best All-Season tires ever made, I also thought, based on a few hours of driving, that the WRG3 had given up some pure snow and ice grip from the G2 for better highway performance. Nokian disagrees, maintaining that the G3's winter grip is empirically better than the G2.

So I'll be doing more head-to-head testing when the snow starts to fly, but​, for now, I do know this – the WRG3 is a year-round tire that just went up against a higher weight class and still won.

04
of 10
Continental ExtremeWinterContact

Continental ExtremeWinterContact
Continental ExtremeWinterContact. Tire Rack, Inc.

Continental makes some very good winter-biased all-season tires, but the ExtremeWinterContact is their big winter-only gun. A fascinating system of tread grooves both gives the tires snow bite and evacuates water from the footprint.

03
of 10
Nokian Hakkapeliitta R

From my review: "Back in the 17th century the tiny nation of Finland fielded a group of light cavalry called the Hakkapeliitta. Fighting for the King of Sweden, they were justly feared for their spectacular horsemanship, their utter ferocity and the blood-chilling battle cry; “Hakka Paale!” (“Hack them all down!”) from which they took their name. Nokian's Hakkapeliitta snow tires? Yeah, pretty much like that."

Even if somewhat dated, the Hakka R is still one of the baddest tires on the snowy block, and the prices should be pretty good this year.

02
of 10
Michelin X-Ice Xi3

The Tire Rack, Inc.

From my review: “Put simply, the Xi3's showed authoritative grip and response in all conditions that I was able to test. Linear acceleration is smoothly confident under controlled power and surprisingly powerful even when dropping the hammer from a standing start on sheer ice. The lateral grip is... extremely impressive. The tires break loose almost reluctantly and recover almost joyfully. They are tactile, responsive, aggressive and a genuine blast to drive.”

01
of 10
Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2

Responding to the challenge, this year Nokian introduced a new grit-enhanced rubber compound and some brand-new innovations in siping technology in their Hakka R2. The company that invented snow tires is still the Winter King.