The September issue of the Finnish automobile magazine Moottori published the results of the next comparative test of studded winter tires, which enjoy particular popularity in the Scandinavian countries. For the test, which was performed on a business-class sedan Škoda Superb, the experts selected eight tire models in size 225/50 R17:
- Bridgestone Noranza 001;
- Continental IceContact 3;
- Gislaved Nord*Frost 200;
- Goodyear UltraGrip Ice Arctic;
- Hankook Winter i*Pike RS2;
- Michelin X–Ice North 4;
- Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9;
- Pirelli Ice Zero 2.
Out of all the studded tires tested by Moottori this time, the only new model of the season is Pirelli Ice Zero 2. All of the tested tires belong to the so-called «premium» brands. We will also note here that this year the publication’s experts decided to break away from tradition, and tested not the habitual 16-inch tires, generally preferred by the Finnish motorists, but 17-inch ones.
Due to the fact that the number of different models and fitments of various cars constantly grows, one and the same tire model can also be produced in dozens of sizes. At the same time, one must keep in mind that not all of the tire sizes can be tested (when still in the design stage) as thoroughly as tires of the best-selling sizes. Of course, today a lot of things can be done by computer simulation, but in the final stage the real-life tests of the innovative tires of the future will still be focused on the most popular sizes.
One of the possible consequences of such practice is the following: while a winter tire produced by this or that manufacturer may indeed become number one in terms of its performance in a specific size range, it may be easily surpassed by some of its competitors once you step up its fitting diameter an inch or two. All the more so because the leading car makers have always had an opportunity to order for this or that car a set of OEM tires with a certain specific performance. Especially in view of the fact that supplying original equipment for the assembly lines of automotive plants is an important segment of tire makers’ business, particularly if we are talking about winter tires.
For example, German car makers still have a lot of rear wheel drive cars in their collections, and it stands to reason that one of their requirements for the OEM tires is cornering stability, which is something that the Continental tires (both studded and friction ones) are indeed focused upon.
To continue collaboration with this or that car brand, tire manufacturers try to listen as closely as possible to the wishes of their client companies. This, of course, is something that the end consumer eventually benefits from: even the owner of a used car, who is looking to buy a new set of tires, is more likely than not to get a product of a rather high quality.
Anyway, this year the experts of the Finnish magazine Moottori decided to replace the habitual 16-inch tires with tires in size 225/50 R17, including the Continental IceContact 3 version that features the ContiFlexStud rubber studs. And in this respect everything went wrong — the number of studs that got dislodged from the new Continental tires during the asphalt test was so great that the experts had to exclude this new model from the final protocol.
Alas, the rapid loss of ContiFlexStuds by the Continental IceContact 3 was not an isolated case. At the beginning of April, Continental had to call its rubber stud tires off the market because the studs got rapidly dislodged, which, according to the tire maker, was something that had to do with the manufacturing process, and the company claimed to have solved that issue. Thus, the tires featuring rubber studs have not yet been irrevocably taken out of production, and Continental is as determined as ever to produce in the future passenger-car tires featuring the FlexStud technology. Until that moment, or at least until the start of the new season, Continental will keep on manufacturing the IceContact 3 tires featuring aluminum studs.
The Ice Test
The differences between studded tires are usually much more prominent on an ice-covered surface rather than on a snowy road. The main rule of thumb is the more studs the better, even though exceptions do happen.
In the ice braking and ice acceleration test, the best results were demonstrated by the Nokian, Continental, and Michelin tires. They performed equally well in both tests. At the same time, the Hankook and Goodyear models showed a less-than-perfect balance between ice traction when braking and when accelerating. The Hankook tires were good at accelerating on ice, but their ice braking performance fell slightly short. With the Goodyear studded tires, it was the other way around. Showing the worst acceleration result, in the ice braking test these tires scored fourth place, only losing mere 20 cm to the Michelin tires. The Pirelli, Bridgestone, and Gislaved demonstrated very poor results in both tests. The experts were particularly surprised at Bridgestone and Pirelli, because in the previous tests both brands were quite convincing, especially on ice-covered roads.
On the winding test track, special attention was paid to the lateral grip, as well as to the handling response of the tires during cornering. The quickest in the group were the Michelin and Nokian tires. Both have great traction of the front axle, thanks to which you can easily spin the steering wheel, not being afraid of understeer. There are differences as well, though: the Nokian tire accelerates better when exiting a corner and when driving on a straight line, while the Michelin tire is more stable on the rear axle, preventing it from skidding at the end of a long arc. Both models make timely warnings about oversteer, and provide excellent handling response even at sharp slippery corners. And, most importantly, these two tires make it possible to change your direction during a skid — a feature that is not yet provided by any of their rivals.
The Gislaved model made an unpleasant surprise by demonstrating poor longitudinal traction, but the strong side of these Swedish tires is outstanding lateral grip. These tires are very easy to control on the brink of their grip at smooth corners, while their basic behavior is even more stable than that of Michelin and Hakkapeliitta. With the Continental tires, the rear axle also remains under good control, provided you stay within the speed limit, yet if you push that limit (something that, for example the Nokian tires can afford), the rear axle immediately goes into a skid.
In terms of grip, the Hankook tires come close to the two best models on test, but as the car enters a corner, the rear axle describes a wider radius, and takes a longer while to get back on track afterwards. In addition, the front wheels cannot tackle the cornering angles and speeds, as Michelin and Nokian can, without showing some understeer.
In the ice handling test, the Pirelli, Goodyear, and Bridgestone tires definitely fall short of their competitors, and have to drive down the winding track at a slow and relaxed pace because it is the level of grip that ultimately determines the speed. The Pirelli and Bridgestone models provided rather good handling response at a moderate rate, while the handling performance of the Goodyear model varied depending on the specific point of the track. These tires easily tackle sharp corners, yet at fast and wide arcs the rear wheels can sometimes suddenly go into a skid, which results in a very wide and very long drift.
The Snow Test
On snow-covered roads, the differences between spiked tires are leveled out. What matters for snow, however, are not the spikes, but the tread design of the central and shoulder areas, coupled with the manufacturer’s innovative technologies.
The differences between acceleration and braking on snow demonstrated by different tires are noticeably smaller than on ice, the leader in both areas of performance being the Continental model. The outsiders here are Bridgestone and Hankook, yet their lag from the leaders, expressed in percentage, is relatively small.
The Continental tire model also came out the winner on a winding snow track, demonstrating exemplary acceleration and braking performance in any situation. In addition, the Continental tires provided accurate steering response during high-speed cornering, the rear part of the car consistently following the expected trajectory. A small downside pops up at sharp and slow turns. If you spin the steering wheel too much, the tires’ handling response falls short of that of the Nokian model’s. However, on the other hand, once you take your foot off the gas pedal, the grip on the road restores surprisingly fast. The Gislaved tires behave very similarly to their «older sisters» from Continental, at the same time falling slightly shorter by all the parameters.
The Michelin and Nokian models are the most interesting in this group of tested tires in terms of handling, although they did not become leaders in terms of the time of passage of the «snow snake». Specifically, both tire models ensure smooth turns in accordance with the movement of the steering wheel. If necessary, the turn can be made more effective if the driver uses the dynamics, inherent in the basic character of both tires. On the whole, the Michelin tires are less prone to either oversteer or understeer, and are less prone to skidding than Nokian, but during the braking they behave in a slightly temperamental way, shifting the car off the straight line.
The Hankook model’s performance on snow is even more unpredictable than that of the above-mentioned tires. Weaker traction requires more of the driver’s attention when working with the gas pedal. Pressing the gas pedal too hard can lead to flying off the track, yet with more accurate gas dosage, the car’s cornering behavior becomes quite dynamic. The Goodyear tires have the same issue, but in spite of the longer lap time on the winding track, are more stable on the rear axle, and, hence, are more predictable.
The new Pirelli model controls the rear axle better than it did before. At the same time, its maneuverability faded into the background. On tight curves, one needs to work expertly with the steering wheel in order to make the car turn in the right direction. In addition, one must be careful with the gas dosage because if you fool around with the speed too much, this may easily lead to widening of your traffic lane. As for the traction during acceleration, it is rather decent, while oversteer, generally characteristic for Pirelli tires, manifests itself during high-speed cornering.
Driving on the Bridgestone tires, one must also fine-tune to the optimum speed. There is no point in trying to press the gas pedal too much because this will soon result in insufficient handling response. Even during moderate acceleration, the tires lose the trajectory. Luckily, the skids of the rear axle are easily predictable, but they are quite long, and the tires are slow to regain the grip.
The Wet and Dry Pavement Tests
In late autumn and early spring, studded winter tires are often used in the cold and wet weather. In these conditions one must be particularly careful even when driving at a normal speed because the level of traction that studded tires ensure on bare pavement falls short of that delivered by specialized summer tires.
Wet pavement is usually a rather challenging surface for studded tires that provide good winter performance. However, Continental and Gislaved disprove the old dogmas. They demonstrate just as effective performance in the wet as they do in the dry. On the other hand, judging by the test results, the Michelin and Nokian tires are still «old school».
Studded tires are incapable of maintaining their maneuverability on the level of summer tires, but the Goodyear model in this respect was the most advanced one out of all the tested tires. This winter tire model provides a rather sensitive, and at the same time accurate, steering response. The Goodyear tires rapidly respond to the driver’s actions, while the other tires’ reaction to the turns of the steering wheel is more or less delayed.
The Gislaved, Hankook and Pirelli tire models are the best to maintain their trajectory during quiet lateral shifts that simulate highway lane changes, and on a long, evenly curved track, all the eight tested tires follow the set trajectory with reasonable accuracy.
The tires that ensure the least adequate response during emergency lane changes are the Bridgestone and Hankook models. After a sharp turn of the wheel, the rear part of the car takes a long time to find the right trajectory, requiring two more turns of the steering wheel in order to return the rear axle to a stable condition. The other tires are also not guaranteed against oversteer, but they recover grip after one extra steering adjustment. On the whole, the differences between the tires are insignificant.
On the wet track, the Gislaved tires were the best to keep the pace; they were more stable during cornering and yielded generally better-balanced performance. The Bridgestone and Michelin models turned out to be the slowest, yet for different reasons. The Bridgestone tires could not handle high speeds and sharp turns, and were prone to understeer more than the other tires. As for the Michelin tires, they suddenly started slipping due to lack of traction on wet pavement.
During the handling test on wet pavement, the experts were evaluating subjective impressions from the steering, as well as the accuracy and quickness of the steering response. In addition, they tested how accurately the tires kept their direction at different cornering angles, as well as during smooth lateral shifts across several lanes when moving in a straight line. And, finally, the tires’ performance in emergency modes and grip recovery after excessive drift were tested by multiple lane-switching.
Moottori specifies that during the last wet handling test the Continental IceContact 3 model lost a lot of studs, which ultimately affected the test results in a negative way.
Based on the overall results, the Continental model was seemingly entitled to the victory in the test. Alas, the excellent performance was tainted by a sudden fail. During laps on a hard wet track, the Continental tires lost several dozen studs, while the other brands retained their studs firmly in place.
Due to the exclusion of Continental IceContact 3, the first place was by default scored by the Michelin X–Ice North 4, which repeated last year’s achievement of this French brand, when Moottori tested studded tires in size 205/55 R16. The second place was scored by the Finnish Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9. The Swedish Gislaved Nord*Frost 200 finished in the top three, beating the Korean Hankook Winter i*Pike RS2 thanks to its good grip on snow and asphalt. As for the Bridgestone, Goodyear, and Pirelli tires, their manufacturers must think about improving their ice traction if they want to see their models on the winner pedestal in the coming years.
1st place: Michelin X–Ice North 4
Performance on ice and snow: Easy handling in any conditions. Excellent traction on ice. Cornering stability, confident behavior during acceleration. Performance on asphalt: Long stopping distance on wet pavement. Poor lateral grip on wet pavement. The quietest tires out of the top three.
2nd place: Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9
Performance on ice and snow: Excellent bite of the front wheels on ice. Fast acceleration on ice-covered surface. Effective braking on snow and ice. Performance on asphalt: Logic behavior on wet and dry pavement. Average braking performance. Noisy.
3rd place: Gislaved Nord*Frost 200
Performance on ice and snow: Neutral behavior on snow and ice. High grip on snow. Weak longitudinal traction on ice. Performance on asphalt: Good braking performance in the wet and in the dry. Well-balanced performance in wet conditions. Great traction in the dry, safety during emergency maneuvers.
4th place: Hankook Winter i*Pike RS2
Performance on ice and snow: Great traction on ice. Average braking on ice. Unstable behavior on snow; prone to oversteer and understeer. Performance on asphalt: Good handling and steering response. Extreme behavior during acceleration. Average grip when braking.
5th place: Goodyear UltraGrip Ice Arctic
Performance on ice and snow: Significant oversteer and understeer. Poor grip on ice. Insufficient traction on snow. Performance on asphalt: Good grip on wet pavement. Good braking performance on dry pavement. Accurate and crisp steering response.
6th place: Pirelli Ice Zero 2
Performance on ice and snow: Poor traction on ice. Quick to lose and slow to recover lateral traction on ice. The best snow traction on test; better handling response than that of the previous model. Performance on asphalt: Braking performance above average. Logic behavior in the dry. The quietest tire on test.
7th place: Bridgestone Noranza 001
Performance on ice and snow: Poor traction on ice. Longitudinal traction on snow improved significantly. Poor acceleration on snow. Performance on asphalt: Long stopping distance on wet and dry pavement. Poor lateral traction in the wet. Extreme behavior during acceleration.
Excluded: Continental IceContact 3
Performance on ice and snow: Stable behavior on snow. Comfortable handling response even on snow. High level of traction in any conditions. Performance on asphalt: Short stopping distance. Comfortable handling response in the wet. Average performance during emergency maneuvers.