After conducting a series of comparative tests of studded winter tires, where the victory was disputed by eight models in size 205/60 R16, the Michelin model coming out the strongest, the experts of one of Sweden’s largest automobile magazines Vi Bilagare decided to run a test of eight tires of Nordic (a.k.a «Scandinavian») type in the same size, which fits most of family cars and popular models of compact CUVs.
This year, the right to be called the best friction tire according to Vi Bilagare was disputed by three new models of the season: Bridgestone Blizzak Ice, Michelin X–Ice Snow, and Nexen Winguard Ice Plus WH43. Against the debutants, the Swedish journalists put forth «the big four» of the models with a solid reputation: Continental VikingContact 7, Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice2, Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3, and Pirelli IceZero FR. The eighth tire in the test 2020 was the budget Firemax FM805+, which is sold at some markets as the Nereus NS805+. This Chinese friction tire has already become pretty famous thanks to a YouTube video showing the electric CUV Tesla Model X, fitted with these tires, towing on snow a tractor with a trailer weighing about 43 tons, and is enjoying a fair bit of popularity in the Scandinavian countries, particularly in Norway.
Snow and ice tests were carried out at the end of February 2020 at the Arctic Falls test facility in Älvsbyn, Sweden. Interestingly, the handling performance of the rivaling tires was tested using a Ford Focus, while acceleration and braking on snow and ice were tested using a VW Golf. All of the dry and wet tests, for the exception of hydroplaning and fuel consumption, were carried out using a Ford Focus on the Gislaved test track in Smaland, Sweden, in the end of April, while the tires’ fuel efficiency and hydroplaning resistance were measured on an oval track in a suburb of Finland’s Tampere.
According to the test results, the best balance of safety, ride comfort and grip on all types of surfaces was demonstrated by the Continental Viking Contact 7. Curiously, however, as the Vi Bilagare experts warn us, you cannot be 100% sure that the winner of the test will be the best choice for you. For example, for somebody who often drives down mud-ridden city streets, and rarely on ice and snow, the Goodyear tires will probably be a better option. Therefore, we recommend investing some time into studying the test results in order to find the safest tires for your specific driving conditions.
We will also note that this year Nexen was able to offer an affordable alternative for those who drive more often on public roads in winter, and very rarely in off-road conditions. In addition, the Chinese Firemax/Nereus tires pleasantly surprised the test experts, keeping up with the premium tire makers in a number of parameters. At the same time, there were a few tests that the Chinese models bluntly failed, for example the emergency maneuver on dry pavement, where the grip delivered by this friction model left much to be desired.
Ice / Snow surfaces
Wet / Dry surfaces
1st place: Continental VikingContact 7 (88 points).
This model has already been the winner of the comparative tests conducted by Vi Bilagare in 2018 and 2019, and the rivals so far have been unable to surpass the German friction tire packed with a full set of excellent winter features. Both on snow and on ice, it clearly signals to the driver that he is pushing the grip limit. The tire demonstrates logical behavior; the handling response is well-balanced. Despite the fact that the Continental VikingContact 7 is made first of all to be used on winter surfaces, it handles bare pavement equally well, keeping up the lightness of handling in emergency situations, as well as braking efficiency, and a crisp steering response. However, just as with many other tires of the Nordic type, the one big issue with this model is its hydroplaning resistance. Otherwise, the tire is great, and the fact that this flagship model from Continental turned out to be quieter than all of its competitors solidified its victory in the test 2020.
The prize winners
2nd place: Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 (80 points).
The Finnish friction tire ensures great winter traction, particularly on ice. The HKPL R3 also provides good cornering stability and crisp steering response. And, what’s more, it does it equally well on snow, ice, and bare pavement. However, compared to the Continental model, the Nokian demonstrates a weaker road holding ability in the dry, and, what’s worse, generates excessive low-frequency noise at certain speeds. At the same time, Hakkapeliitta R3 delivers plenty of precise handling response, ensuring safety on the brink of grip during emergency maneuvers on wet and dry pavement. Along with Pirelli, the Nokian Tyres’ product is the optimal solution for active driving enthusiasts, ensuring safe handling and excellent traction regardless of the type of the road surface. Therefore, the Finnish are getting the well-deserved «silver».
What makes the UG Ice 2 different is the fact that, being a Scandinavian-type friction tire, it delivers great performance on wet pavement. This is a reasonable alternative for those who mostly ride on mud-ridden city streets but still want adequate levels of traction on ice — higher than that of an average non-studded winter tire of the European type. The Goodyear model certainly has the best hydroplaning resistance and a good handling response on dry pavement, which makes it the perfect tire for any vagaries of the weather. On snow and ice, the UG Ice 2 ensures good longitudinal traction during acceleration and braking, but things get much worse during the cornering. These tires are pretty hard to ride on the edge of road grip due to alternation between understeer and oversteer. Nevertheless, the great performance on asphalt, coupled with low noise level and low fuel consumption allowed the Goodyear model to score third place.
Two years ago, the Pirelli IceZero FR tire was dramatically upgraded, including in terms of its ice performance. According to the Vi Bilagare experts, the new winter model from Pirelli is all about great handling response and lots of driving pleasure. The Italian-made friction tire provides neutral balance, and, featuring high lateral grip, easily tackles sharp turns, both on winter surfaces and on bare asphalt. On dry pavement, this winter tire demonstrates good handling response and stability even at rather warm temperatures. In addition, the IceZero FR is one of the best tires in its segment on wet pavement with a short stopping distance and excellent maneuverability under high loads. As a result of the winter test, this model takes one of the top places in terms of grip and braking distance. Thus, thanks to its excellent performance on all types of road surfaces, the Pirelli model climbed up to the third line of the tournament bracket, falling just one point short of the Nokian model that came second.
In the middle
5th place: Nexen Winguard Ice Plus WH43 (71 points).
The new friction model from Nexen vividly demonstrates that this Korean brand is rapidly developing. The new tire from the Land of the Morning Calm surprised everyone with excellent performance when starting off and braking, both on snow and ice, where it also demonstrated the shortest stopping distance. The lateral grip is worse, with prominent understeer. Nonetheless, in terms of the points scored in the winter disciplines, the Nexen model only fell short of the leaders, Nokian and Continental. Sadly, the outstanding winter characteristics were achieved at the expense of sacrificing the tire’s dry performance. In the dry, the tire provides fuzzy steering response, and demonstrates a low road holding ability coupled with a long braking distance. On wet pavement, the WIP WH43 suddenly turns out to be prone to skidding, the rear wheels being the first to lose grip. Ultimately, scoring fifth place, the Nexen friction model becomes the best newcomer 2020.
6th place: Michelin X–Ice Snow (70 points).
The new X–Ice Snow model is not very much different from its predecessor, the X–Ice 3. Essentially, it is a hard winter tire, designed to tackle speeds over 200 km/h, with a good road holding ability on clear pavement. It has the lowest rolling resistance on test, but a long stopping distance on wet pavement. On snow and ice, the Michelin model ensures good longitudinal traction during acceleration and braking, but its lateral grip is much worse than that of the leaders. In addition, when driving on these Michelin tires, one will have a harder time feeling the brink of the grip, which disappears more abruptly than on other, softer winter models. Such a behavior repeats when cornering on wet pavement. In spite of its good road holding ability on clear pavement, low fuel consumption, and short braking distances on winter surfaces, the Michelin X–Ice Snow cornering performance did not allow it to rise higher than the sixth place.
7th place: Bridgestone Blizzak Ice (64 points).
This tire came to replace the Blizzak WS80 model. Just as for its predecessor, Bridgestone chose for the new friction tire one of the softest rubber compounds (52 points by the Shore Hardness Scale), due to which it was highly rated on snow-covered roads. The ice traction falls slightly short of the best tires, but both on snow and ice the tire provides excellent handling response, making early warnings to the driver about the grip loss. The new Bridgestone model got an asymmetric tread pattern, which ensures stronger lateral grip, but at the same time does a poorer job of evacuating water from the contact area. So it comes as no surprise that the Blizzak Ice showed the worst results in the wet tests. On dry pavement, the tire is excessively soft, with poor lateral grip and fuzzy handling response. The low scores on bare pavement put the Japanese studless tire only in seventh place in the tournament bracket.
8th place: Firemax FM805+ / Nereus NS805+ (54 points). The budget Chinese tire was still able to surprise the test experts by surpassing the more expensive model from reputed brands in a number of disciplines. However, it still lacks the high-quality braking characteristics on ice and snow, even though it does not fall short that much of the decent friction models of recent years. On ice, it demonstrates good cornering grip, yet, compared to the premium-class tires, it poorly informs the driver about the level of traction, which muddles the handling response. What is still worse, the Firemax tire cannot stand lateral loads, due to which the car becomes absolutely uncontrollable during emergency maneuvers. Hence, the last place.
We will remind you here that in the last year’s Vi Bilägare test of non-studded Scandinavian tires in size 225/50 R17 the top three looked as follows: Continental VikingContact 7 (89 points), Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 (84), Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice2 (80). As you can see, the pattern has not changed, and only the Pirelli model (which did not take part in last year’s test) was able to stand up to the leaders and become their serious rival.