The experts of Vi Bilagare, one of Sweden’s largest automobile magazines, conducted yet another annual series of comparative tests of spot-on winter tires. The 2020 test, whose results were published in the September issue, involved eight studded winter tires in size 205/60 R16, which fits many family cars, as well as a few popular compact car models.
This year, the victory on snow and ice of the new Pirelli Sottozero Center test facility, located south of the Arctic Circle in the Swedish town of Älvsbyn; on wet and dry tracks of the Gislaved test facility in the Swedish town of Småland, and on the circular track in Finland’s Tampere, was disputed by:
- Michelin X–Ice North 4;
- Continental IceContact 3;
- Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9;
- Hankook Winter i*pike RS2 (W429);
- Pirelli Ice Zero 2;
- Nokian Nordman 7;
- Toyo Observe Ice-Freezer;
- GT Radial IcePro 3.
Tire handling response evaluation, asphalt braking and acceleration tests (down to 5 km/h and starting from 5 km/h respectively), and fuel consumption tests (conducted at a constant speed of 80 km/h) were performed on a Ford Focus, while the tires’ braking efficiency and acceleration on ice and snow were tested using a VW Golf.
Just as last year, the struggle for the first prize unfolded among spiked tire models from three major manufacturers — Continental, Nokian, and Michelin. And, although the difference in points among the three leaders was all but negligible, the prize winners’ paths to victory were completely different.
Ice / Snow surface
The prize winners1st place: Michelin X–Ice North 4 (87 points).
In the tested size, Michelin armed its baby with no less than 255 spikes. These studs are smaller in size than the competitors’, and this is why the Michelin tire has the lowest road noise level out of all the tested tires. In addition, the French studded tire got maximum scores in all ice tests, also demonstrating good results on snow, falling just a little short of scoring the maximum points in lateral grip tests due to obvious understeer. The Michelin X–Ice North 4 also surpassed all the other models on dry pavement, impressing the testers from the Swedish magazine by its great road holding ability, crisp steering response, and the lowest fuel consumption on test. The minor issues with this tire consist in the fact that it performs slightly worse on wet pavement and its hydroplaning resistance is slightly weaker than that of its competitors. By and large, as the Vi Bilagare experts concluded, the Michelin X–Ice North 4 is currently arguably considered to be the best tire on the European market.
2nd place: Continental IceContact 3 (84 points).
The new version of this model is vastly different from last year’s. It’s not just the spikes that got changed — instead of rubber-coated ones, traditional aluminum studs are used — but also the rubber compound. Last year, it was incredibly soft, and this year it became considerably harder. In addition, the Continental IceContact 3 now delivers a more balanced performance on different types of surfaces. Specifically, the new version of IC3 does not ensure as much traction on snow and ice as Nokian or Michelin, but this tire’s grip on winter roads is nonetheless quite up to the level. On the other hand, this time around Conti demonstrates results on asphalt that are much better than they were last year, and shares with Pirelli the title of the best premium-class tire on wet pavement. The winter grip, which grew slightly worse this year, spelled for Continental the loss of the first prize, yet equally good performance on all types of surfaces, coupled with dependable and safe handling response, ensured the final «silver».
3rd place: Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9 (82 points).
Produced by the company that specializes in manufacturing winter tires, the Hakkapeliitta 9 model predictably scored the maximum possible points in the ice test, beating all of its competitors on snow as well, where it surpassed other top-class tires with the crispness of steering response combined with excellent stability and control while cornering. Despite its winter bias, the Hakkapeliitta 9 behaves quite confidently on wet pavement as well. The issues with this tire are some certain problems with steering response in the dry, which negatively affect the road holding ability. In addition, this was one of the noisiest studded tires on test, which nonetheless did not stop it from scoring third place.
In the middle
4th place: Hankook Winter i*pike RS2 (W429) (73 points).
Last year, the Hankook Winter i*pike RS2 model got updated. The results of the recent tests show that Hankook Tire generally improved its tires’ braking performance on dry and wet pavement, now getting fairly decent scores. First of all, however, Hankook tires perform at their absolute best on winter roads. True, it was not the top tire on test, yet it demonstrated quite decent handling performance on snow and ice alike. This is quite a responsive tire that easily changes the direction of movement, yet still less comfortable handling-wise than Nokian. Although the level of road noise that it produces is pretty low, it is nonetheless full of frequencies that are unpleasant for the human ear. On the whole, this Hankook model ensures a well-balanced performance in various road conditions, which makes the Hankook Winter i*pike RS2 an affordable option for mild European winters.
5th place: Pirelli Ice Zero 2 (67 points).
This tire became the main newcomer of the season in this segment, and it was the first time that it took part in the test performed by Vi Bilagare, whose experts noted that, regrettably, the first impression that it produced was far from positive. Its ice traction was one of the worst on test. Measurements showed that the studs of the new Pirelli model were the lowest, but this circumstance alone is not enough to explain the difference between its performance and that of the other premium-class tires. In the ice tests, the rear wheels of the test car were always the first to lose grip, which may become a serious problem for an average motorist. In addition, despite the manufacturer’s reclamations that the Ice Zero 2 dramatically improved its snow performance, it still falls a little short of the top tire models in this respect. As for the strong sides, the new Pirelli model demonstrates them in full effect on asphalt, ensuring a short stopping distance, excellent handling response, and high hydroplaning resistance.
6th place: Nokian Nordman 7 (62 points).
This spiked tire of the budget brand belonging to Nokian Tyres is essentially the old Hakkapeliitta 7 model, now sold under a new name. The fact that this is a previous-generation model is evidenced by the number of spikes — there are only 128 of them, while most of the competitors feature at least 190. If we are to compare the Nordman 7 and the Hakkapeliitta 9, it becomes evident how far the premium-class tire makers have advanced over the recent years in terms of making winter tires that can tackle all kinds of surfaces equally well, and not just ice and snow. While the Nokian Nordman 7 is still competitive in winter, demonstrating reliable performance on snow and ice-covered roads, it has a much harder time standing its ground on asphalt. This Finnish tire was rated as the worst performer on dry and wet pavement alike. In addition, it scored the lowest points for noise and fuel efficiency.
7th place: Toyo Observe Ice-Freezer (60 points).
This tire was barely able to hold its place in the middle group. It has the second-stiffest tread compound on test, and this tire does not seem to be able to keep up with the stud amount race. However, more importantly, this tire has lower ground adhesion than that of its competitors, which is to some extent made up by decent handling performance, because the tire «forewarns» the driver about poor traction. This makes the Toyo model relatively easy to handle, in spite of low grip on the road. Sadly, in the asphalt tests, the Ice-Freezer achieved little success. The subjective feel of control and road holding ability is quite good but it becomes average during emergency maneuvers. And, finally, at some speeds, the studs start producing uncomfortable noise.
The 8th last place: GT Radial IcePro 3 (50 points).
In Scandinavia, the GT Radial brand is not very well known, but its owner, GitiTire from Singapore, is one of the ten largest tire manufacturers in the world. This «lack of knowledge» turned out to be mutual. Seems like the GT Radial designers do not know much about Scandinavian winters. The tread compound of the winter model IcePro 3 was almost as hard as that of the summer tires exposed to freezing temperatures. In the snow and ice tests, it fell hopelessly short of its competitors. What’s worse, it deceives the driver with a false feeling of safety before losing grip without a warning. And, despite the fact that the GT Radial model showed the shortest stopping distance on asphalt, it still could not avoid the harsh verdict from the Swedish experts, expressed in one merciless word «Undvik!» («Avoid!»)
We will note here that last year’s test of studded winter tires conducted by Vi Bilagare also included the Michelin X–Ice North 4 and the Continental IceContact 3. During that test, the German tire, which featured rubber-coated studs ContiFlexStud, raising the bar of ice and snow performance by winter tires to a whole new level, was able to surpass the French model. However, in April of this year, Continental suspended the production of tires with rubber studs due to their poor retention, switching back to producing winter tires solely with aluminum studs, on which Michelin products performed better.