The Finns have tested 16 models of studded and friction winter tires.
List of models tested:
- Bridgestone Noranza 001
- Continental IceContact 3
- Continental VikingContact 7
- CST Medallion Winter WCP1
- Goodride IceMaster Spike Z-506
- Goodyear UltraGrip Arctic 2
- Goodyear UltraGrip Ice 2
- Hankook Winter i*cept iZ2 W616
- Hankook Winter i*Pike RS2 W429
- Kumho WinterCraft ice Wi32
- Kumho WinterCraft ice Wi51
- Michelin X–Ice North 4
- Michelin X–Ice Snow
- Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10
- Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3
- Pirelli Ice Zero 2
Over the recent years, the market of studded winter tires has witnessed a race for the largest number of studs in a tire, and this has to do with the fact that Scandinavian legislation has allowed the manufacturers to fit their tires with as many studs as they want, as long as the tire meets the road wear prevention requirements.
«Tire companies are facing a tough challenge today — says Jukka Anttila, the technical director at Test World in Finland — on the one hand, you need to improve ice grip, on the other hand, you need to make sure you’re not damaging the road surface. In addition, increasing your number of studs will not necessarily lead to grip improvement. If you keep on increasing your number of studs, at some point a situation can be created when the force, with which an individual spike pierces the ice, becomes too weak, and a reverse process takes place, i.e. the grip level drops. A tire that rolls „on studs alone“ will also become unstable, and, in addition, the studs themselves are rather costly, and if there are too many of them, this increases your source material and production costs.»
The trend for increasing the number of spikes was first set by Nokian when it launched the Hakkapeliitta 8, which in size 205/55 R16 had 190 spikes. At the time, its rivals had 130 studs in a tire at the most, and some tires had as little as half of that amount.
«Hakkapeliitta started winning in the tests, and other tire makers set new tasks to their R&D departments — Anttila shares — What it led to was a steady growth of the number of spikes in the tires. While at some point the 190 studs was a world record, during this year’s test we were for the first time confronted with a situation when the average number of studs was well over 200.»
The record-breaking tire (not if you count such exotic cases as the Kontio IcePaw, which has neither more nor less than 270 studs) is still the Michelin X–Ice North 4, bristling with 250 spikes. «Armed with a record-breaking number of spikes, this Michelin tire has been present on the market for a few years already, so far unbeaten by the competition — notes the TW representative — Possibly, this means that the balance between the pros and cons has been achieved.»
This year, the test involved 16 tire models (nine studded and seven friction ones), including two important studded newcomers — Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10, and the Goodyear UltraGrip Arctic 2, which ultimately tied with Michelin for the position of an absolute leader.
The title of the best studded tire and the first place in the final standings was scored by the new Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10, which, according to the test experts, demonstrated «fantastic grip and handling performance on ice». On snow, the car also obediently followed the pilot’s commands; at worst, the rear axle could go into a slight skid. On wet pavement, the reactions to the movements of the steering wheel were somewhat delayed, but the pilot always stayed in control. On dry pavement, the grip could disappear abruptly on front or on rear wheels, but that also was not too much of a problem.
The second place with a minimum gap was scored by the new Goodyear UltraGrip Arctic 2, which had a good overall ice traction but was prone to understeer during abrupt maneuvers. At the same time, this tire will not bring you any unpleasant surprises — the TW experts noted. On snow, the lateral grip could have been better, but the straight traction was one of the best on test, and the tires demonstrated excellent handling performance. On wet pavement, the Goodyear tires were a bit slow to react to the pilot’s actions, but they never lost grip on the rear axle, while on dry pavement the tires ensured a high level of safety in any situation.
The Michelin X–Ice North 4 came only third this time around because, despite its excellent ice grip, the newcomers performed even better in this area. According to the experts, the competitive advantage of this Michelin model is that it ensures a very consistent performance on snow and ice alike, and even abrupt maneuvers are unlikely to create any problems. On wet pavement, Michelin had a relatively long stopping distance, and it may break into a drift when urgently avoiding an obstacle.
Then comes the Pirelli Ice Zero 2, which ensures a generally decent control on ice but can easily lose grip once the load is increased. On snow, its handling response is better, as it is generally on tarmac, but in the latter case the Pirelli model turned out to be prone to oversteer, which means that the grip on the rear wheels may easily disappear. On the plus side, this tire is pretty stable on uneven surfaces.
As for the Bridgestone Noranza 001 (curiously, manufactured at the Nokian production facility in Ivalo, Finland), the TW experts said that it had good longitudinal traction on ice, but during maneuvering the rear wheels may go into a skid too easily, especially if the steering angle is too large. On snow, Noranza ensures decent handling response, including during emergency maneuvers. On wet pavement, however, the grip is weaker, the steering response becomes fuzzy, and bypassing an obstacle becomes a challenge. On dry pavement, the tire becomes unstable, losing grip now and then; in addition, it is noisy.
The Continental IceContact 3 came only sixth, and the experts noted that in a normal mode its handling response on ice is quite good but the tire may lose grip at a large steering angle. On snow, the tire is stable in any situation; on wet pavement it demonstrates efficient handling and braking performance. The tire also has a good road holding ability on uneven surfaces.
The Hankook Winter i*Pike RS2 received as many points as the Continental model, but, according to the TW experts, it maintains excellent ice grip in any situation, and never loses it abruptly. On snow, the Hankook model also demonstrated good braking performance but not as reliable lateral grip, while on wet pavement the grip may suddenly disappear if the speed exceeds a certain limit. In the dry, the tire’s performance is also far from perfect: the Hankook tire becomes unstable and has a long stopping distance.
The Kumho WinterCraft Ice Wi32 scored the place underneath Hankook, and the experts said that this tire is safe on ice as long as you don’t indulge into large steering angles because then the grip «simply disappears». On snow, the Kumho model showed a short stopping distance and good handling response, but, again, the grip may suddenly go during the maneuvering. On wet pavement, the situation was still worse — the Kumho tires could not ensure reliable traction on the front wheels, and were slow to respond to the pilot’s actions. And, finally, on dry pavement the Kumho tires demonstrated a decent handling response, but it was combined with long braking distances, and, to make things still worse, the tires were noisy and had an increased rolling resistance.
The last place in the final standings of studded tires was scored by the Goodride IceMaster Spike Z-506 (also retailed as Westlake IceMaster Spike Z-506) from China’s ZC Rubber. The tire demonstrated poor ice braking, and it needs time to regain grip after breaking into a skid, even though, according to the experts, its overall performance was rather stable. On snow, the car also handled surprisingly well, but the lateral grip was too weak, and the stopping distance too long. A similar situation was to be seen on tarmac — the overall handling response was good, but the tires easily lost grip during an emergency maneuver, and had poor road holding ability on uneven pavement.
The title of the best studless tire was won by the Continental VikingContact 7, which ensures excellent ice grip, straight and lateral alike. The TW experts noted that «the problem of all studless tires on ice is that they are dangerously close to breaking into a skid, which is not the case with Conti." On snow, this tire model was also commended for good handling response and feedback through the steering wheel, but on tarmac a few issues were revealed, which often happens with Scandinavian tires characterized by a large number of sipes. On tarmac, Continental was slow to respond to the pilot’s actions, yet at the same time not prone to abrupt loss of grip; it also demonstrated a good road holding ability on uneven surfaces.
The Goodyear UltraGrip Ice 2, which scored silver in its class, also ensures strong grip on ice (by studless tire standards), at the same time informing the driver when the grip threshold is about to be achieved. But then again, during an emergency maneuver, a slight drift may occur. On snow, the handling response is good, with no unpleasant surprises; on wet and dry pavement, this Goodyear model was one of the best friction tires because it had a short stopping distance, and demonstrated stable behavior during emergency maneuvers.
The third line of the tournament bracket was occupied by the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3, which received high points on snow and ice alike. On the ice track, the tire demonstrated a logic and reliable behavior without any skids of the rear axle, while on snow it also had a good handling response and a high level of traction. On wet pavement, the Nokian model demonstrated efficient braking, high lateral stability, and excellent control during the elk test, while on a dry surface the tire’s response to the driver’s actions was fuzzy and inaccurate. Again, on the plus side, the Nokian model had the lowest rolling resistance on test.
The Michelin X–Ice Snow model was one of the best in its segment in the ice tests. As the TW experts noted, the lateral stability could have been better, and the tire’s response to the turning of the steering wheel was somewhat inaccurate, but the tire was not prone to skids on the rear axle. On snow, this Michelin model also demonstrated good grip and delayed steering response; on wet pavement the tire had only average braking performance and was prone to lateral drift, but at the same its overall behavior was still pretty stable, which makes the car easy to control. The Michelin model also quickly lost grip during the emergency maneuvers on dry pavement, and it had average road holding ability on uneven surfaces.
In terms of ice grip, the Hankook Winter i*cept IZ2 scored only the middle place in the tournament bracket of the studless tire test, because the front grip could easily disappear at a large steering angle. On snow, the situation is similar, and on wet pavement the tire had a fuzzy response to the pilot’s actions, but could still handle emergency maneuvers.
The Kumho Wintercraft ice Wi51 could generally ensure a good handling response on ice, but at large steering angles the grip on the front wheels is easily lost. On snow, the test experts managed to make a few laps with excellent time, but then the grip of the front tires faded away; however, the handling response remained pretty decent. On wet pavement, the Kumho tires behaved like typical Scandinavian tires, i.e. slowly reacting to the turning of the wheel, and on dry pavement they could lose grip during an emergency maneuver.
The worst, both in its class and in the final standings, became the CST Medallion Winter tire, which is downright dangerous to drive on ice because of weak grip (straight and lateral alike), as well as poor handling response. On snow, the tires also kept losing grip on both axes. On wet and dry pavement, they performed much better, and the experts said that the CST almost behaved like summer tires. Generally, the Medallion Winter is marketed as a tire for Nordic winter, but in reality its performance is closer to the European type.