All the independent testing organizations and publications that wanted to announce the results of comparative tests of spiked winter tires did that well before the first frosts set in. And this means that we can make the first conclusions and single out the most successful models.
In this article, we will name the best spiked winter tires 2019/2020 according to the results of the independent tests. In view of the specifics of the climatic conditions, in which spiked tires are most likely to be used, the number of publications conducting such tests is very limited, these publications mostly coming from the Central Europe.
In the season 2019/2020, five tests of spiked winter tires were conducted:
- Teknikens Värld
- Test World
- Vi Bilägare (225/50 R17)
- Auto Review (225/50 R17)
- Za Rulem
Totally, these tests involved 17 models from 16 brands. The limited number of spiked tires made detecting the best ones a lot easier.
Getting ahead of our story, we will note here that none of these seasonal tests involved Pirelli Ice Zero 2, presented in the beginning of 2019 and already available retail — these tires got 190 spikes in the size of 205/55 R16 (as opposed to 130 in the previous-generation tires). Had this model participated in the tests, this might bring about a very interesting battle with just as «toothy» Michelin X–Ice North 4 and the new model Continental IceContact 3 with its rubber-coated studs.
A similar situation formed last year around the already-mentioned French model Michelin XIN4. The French tire maker mostly placed its bets on the aggressive advertising and marketing, opting out of providing its tires to Auto Review and Za Rulem magazines for their tests, which ultimately did a bad turn to X–Ice North 4 that stood every chance of becoming the best model by the results of the independent tests.
This became main intrigue of the season — will Michelin X–Ice North 4, which hitherto was held up by the manufacturer, become the best spiked tires of the season 2019/2020?
The answer is negative, even though this model did fall one breath short of victory. The record-breaking 250 spikes, of course, do make a difference on winter roads but it turned out that they alone were not enough for an absolute victory.
The tire’s performance on asphalt also makes a difference, and this is why the title of «Best spiked winter tire of the season 2019/2020 by the results of comparative tests» goes to the newcomer of the season, Continental IceContact 3.
The victory is apparent: IceContact 3 was spotted in all the five tests of the season, each time scoring the top lines, and winning gold three times, all in size 225/50 R17. This is an extremely successful start of a tire’s career in the tests. All the more so, because Continental’s new model was able to dethrone the last year’s test winner — Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9.
The Leading Positions
The «toothy» Michelin X–Ice North 4 falls just a tad short of Continental IceContact 3 in the final standings, but in size 205/55 it definitely prevails, boasting the leadership in Auto Review and Test World, where it outdid 21 rivals.
However, the experts of Test World noted that, had they opted for a larger size, quite possibly it would have tipped the balance in the final standings (as far as the leader was concerned), clearly hinting at the third-generation product of the IceContact family.
The thing is that the rubber-coated studs, hyped up by the manufacturer, are used in Continental tires starting from the 17-inch fitting diameter and higher, while the Test World test involved tires of a smaller size fitted with the standard Tikka aluminum studs.
One way or another, Michelin X–Ice North 4, which missed in the 2018/2019 season the zenith of its fame, is still a great option for the harshest of winter conditions.
Here is the thing — Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9, which still last year proudly wore the champion title, has not quite been able to stand its ground under the onslaught of the new models coming this season. Perhaps, by 2020 somebody will again teach Nokian how to make the best spiked tires in the world, but for now it has to settle for only three prize-winning places in five tests, and zero gold medals (against three in 2018).
But then again, the experts are pretty unanimous in their opinions on Hakkapeliitta 9: this model demonstrated an extremely confident behavior on ice and snow, but its properties on wet and dry pavement «need upgraded» and be a whole lot better, which stands to reason, considering the obliging price. The experts differ on the noise issue.
The next two models, Goodyear UltraGrip Ice Arctic and Gislaved Nord*Frost 200, were able to win two silver medals in the tests 2019, even though they tried their hardest to keep up with the stronger rivals.
This may come as a surprise but the Goodyear spiked winter tires were not covered by the Russian magazines in any way, while the Gislaved product was featured by both Za Rulem and Auto Review. In the latter, the Nord*Frost 200 model shared the second line of the final ranking with the ex-champion, Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9.
Seeing the points that both silver prize winners scored in the Auto Review test disciplines, one gets the impression that there is not much difference between them, but is it really the case? We’ll leave this question open for the time being.
The spiked tires Goodyear UltraGrip Ice Arctic have been taking part in comparative tests since 2015. At the «outset», virtually in every test, these tires would score bronze, but now they are gradually quitting the scene, leaving room for new developments. However, it’s a natural process, and there’s nothing you can do about it. What is important is the fact that this tire is still something that its manufacturer can be proud about, especially considering the fact that this model only has 130 spikes. Which is pathetic by today’s standards.
As for Hankook Winter i*Pike RS2 W429, which made a stunning debut in 2018, collecting a collection of medals of various values, this year it sort of slowed down and settled for a modest third place in the Test World competition. However, considering the sheer number of tires involved in this test, this third place is also quite a result.
According to experts, the main downside of Hankook tires in general is their behavior on asphalt; there are no questions to their grip on winter surfaces.
«Neither here nor there»
Yokohama IceGuard iG65 is a newcomer from the bottom part of the list of models that claim the name of the best winter tire of the year. In spite of its rather serious drawback — poor handling response on slippery winter surfaces — it was still able to score the fifth line of the final tournament bracket of «Za Rulem» magazine, and score the sixth place in the Test World test, stepping on the heels of Goodyear UG Ice Arctic.
Which, it must be said, quite a decent result, but one gets a feeling that, for spiked tires, the ice and snow performance is more important than fuel efficiency, praised by the «Za Rulem» expert team as the main strong side of this model.
Nokian Nordman 7 is probably the only model out of last year’s ranking that demonstrated a well-balanced performance. What is remarkable is that this time around it was caught in the spotlight of attention of the experts from Finland’s Test World and Sweden’sTeknikens Värld magazine, whose opinion ultimately coincided with the feedback from the Russian publications: this model is nothing special compared to the season’s best tires, but it does ensure a high level of safety both on snow and ice.
And this is something that you don’t get dubious about: tires of the Nordman line use the technology of the all-but-forgotten Hakkapeliitta tires of the seventh generation.
Following a surge in its results in the tests of 2018, Bridgestone Noranza 001 again backslid to the level of 2017. And this is strange, particularly in view of the fact that in size 225/50 R17 it has 196 spikes, meaning, it has all the tools for improving its performance. But alas! Thus, it turns out that even Noranza 001 will not be able in any way to shake the consumers’ historically formed opinion about the high quality of Bridgestone product, which in fact occupies the middle lines of the tournament brackets, but mostly, stays at the bottom of the bill.
The spiked outsiders of the tests
Our story of the best spiked winter tires would be incomplete without mentioning those models whose performance in the 2019 winter tests was unsuccessful:
- Cordiant Snow Cross (13th place out of 22 in TW test);
- Roadstone WinGuard WinSpike, aka Nexen WinGuard WinSpike (10th place out of 12 in Za Rulem test);
- Toyo Ovserve Ice-Freezer (8th place out of 12 in Za Rulem test);
- Vredestein Wintrac Ice (10th place out of 22 in TW test).
At the same time, let’s keep in mind that the market selection is much wider, and not every tire maker can boast taking part in any tests at all. And even if your product does take part in the tests, this does not mean that this will stay this way forever, just the way it was with the spiked tires GT Radial IcePro 3 or Firestone Ice Cruiser 7. Including these models in their winter tests at one time, the experts of the Russian publications soon realized that these models were actually not worth all the hype that was created around them.
What is the bottom line?
1. The generation change in the Continental line of spiked tires has been quite successful. The successor of Continental IceContact 2 with its rubber-coated studs was able to gain a half-wheel lead over the Michelin tires that still last year seemed to be the most apparent claimants for the title of the best winter tires 2019–2020.
2. All in good time. If Michelin had not been stingy about its tires and traditionally submitted them for the tests conducted by the Russian magazines, then Nokian Tire would have hardly ended up celebrating Hakkapeliitta 9’s triumph. But anyway… One can hardly entertain any hopes now that X–Ice North 4 may become the world’s best spiked tire any time soon.
3. Pirelli simply skipped winter tire tests 2019. Over the last couple of years, its winter tires Pirelli Ice Zero began to look so unconvincing against the background of their rivals that the necessity of replacing this model was only a question of time. Pirelli Ice Zero 2 is already available retail, but, just as in the case of the spiked Michelins, the «Italian brand in Chinese ownership» decided to play fast and loose with motorists, obviously thinking that this season the sales figures can be achieved by virtue of an aggressive promo campaign alone. Well, let’s look forward to the test of 2020/2021.
4. The dark horse Hankook W429 Winter i*Pike RS2, which galloped to nearly every the winner’s pedestal of 2018, now seems to be slowing down. How was it able to pull something like that, anyway?
5. We will refrain from making any comments here about the «new kid in town» in the spiked winter tire competition, Yokohama IceGuard iG65. This model delivered quite a decent performance in the 2019 tests, but what will its future look like? Time will tell. We hope that this Yokohama spiked model is not going to share the destiny of GT Radial IcePro 3 and Firestone Ice Cruiser 7, which turned to be nothing but a hyped up marketing bubble.
6. Nokian Tyres may know a thing or two about developing spiked winter tires but it still has a lot to learn when it comes to studless models. The new Finnish model Nokian WR Snowproof became the main disappointment of the season. The competition is wide awake, and already now one must work their hardest in order to make sure that one of these days the motorists don’t start reminiscing about the quality of the «good old spiked Nokian tires» with a fair bit of nostalgia, like about something that is no longer there.
7. As for the products of such brands as Goodyear, Gislaved, Nordman, and Bridgestone, we seriously cannot say much about them. Their tires do their best to keep up with the competition and be up to the notch. Although it must be said that Bridgestone, one of the world’s biggest tire makers, is not even quite successful in that.