If you want to be in maximum control of your vehicle this winter, then you’re going to have to get winter tyres. Winter tyres outperform summer tyres in colder temperatures because they are made from a higher percentage of natural rubber – natural rubber retains its elasticity better in colder temperatures. In addition, winter tyres have a tread pattern that is designed to improve snow and ice grip considerably. Among other characteristics, the tread on a winter tyre has loads of little channels that bite into icy and snowy roads.
The benefit to winter tyres is shorter breaking distances and improved handling. Now, at this stage it’s important for us to point out that while all winter tyres offer good snow and ice performance, they do not always match this up with good wet and dry performance. This is why many people choose not to go above certain speeds with winter tyres. But over the last five years there has been some fantastic improvements made and these improvements have put winter tyres closer to summer tyres for wet and dry handling than ever before.
In this article, we’ll reveal the best winter tyres – the winter tyres that offer excellent snow and ice grip, while retaining good wet and dry grip. So let’s begin.
New for 2015, the Nokian WR D4 replaces the WR D3. It is the first winter tyre to offer wet grip in the EU’s best category – A class. The tyres have been designed to provide industry-leading snow and ice grip with industry-leading wet and dry grip for a winter tyre. There are few reviews for this tyre right now, but Nokian’s tests put them way ahead of the already brilliant WR D3s. So, this could very well be the best winter tyre in the world right now.
To achieve this, WR D4 tyres have Nokian Block Optimized Siping and the Nokian Twin Trac Silica technology. These combined grip into the snow like no other Nokian tyre and do so at extremely low temperatures. Nokian says that these tyres “grip like never before on wet, dry and snow-covered roads alike”. WR D4 tyres are available in sizes from 14 to 20 inches, with speed ratings from Q (99mph) to W (160mph).
Winner of the Auto Express winter tyres test for 2014, the Continental ContiWinterContact TS 850 are still one of the best winter tyres around. Last year, these tyres topped a group consisting of many great winter tyres for wet braking and rolling resistance. And they made the top 3 for snow traction, straight aquaplaning, wet handling dry braking and cabin noise.
Auto Express really liked this tyre, and so did Auto Bild, who ranked the Continental ContiWinterContact TS 850 a respectable 3rd in their 2014 winter tyre test. The TS 850 is for smaller cars, while the 850P is more mid-sized vehicles and SUVs. The P version enjoys the same characteristics as the 850, but the P is also run-flat. The TS 850 and 850 P are available in T/H/V/W speed ratings. The 850 is available in 14”-17” with the P available in 16”-20”.
Goodyear Ultragrip 9 tyres are the successors to the Goodyear Ultragrip 8 winter tyres. The 9s’ were launched in time for the 2014 winter season and they have been widely commended for their rolling resistance and dry braking and wet braking performance. What makes them different to the 8s is their compound, which has more natural rubber and improved plasticisers that keep the tyre even softer at lower temperatures. The result is better snow and ice performance than the Ultragrip 8 offers.
When compared to the Michelin Alpin 5 at launch, the Ultragrip 9 tyres stopped 2.5 metres sooner than the Michelins on an epoxy low grip surface, which shows just how good the braking performance of these tyres are. Where they fall short compared to the Nokians and Continentals mentioned above is in snow acceleration and handling, but the Ultragrips’s are no joke – they are an excellent all-round winter tyre. Ultragrip 9 tyres are available in speed ratings R, T and H in wheel diameters 14”, 15” and 16”. If you need bigger tyres because you have a Range Rover or Cayenne-sized car, check out the Ultragrip+ SUV tyres.
The Pirelli Sottozero 3 is a high performance winter tyre. This tyre was released in 2013, which is some time ago, but make no mistake these are really good winter tyres for high performance cars like your Audi S4s and BMW M135is. The tyres were tested in extreme winter conditions in Italy, Austria, Sweden, Finland and New Zealand and they were designed to provide maximum snow and ice grip combined with a long tyre life. They do in fact boast one of the best wear rates of any winter tyre on the market.
These tyres excel with dry grip and wet grip and progressiveness, according to user reviews, and the only downside is comfort. Some users complain about a harsh ride and tyre noise seeping into the cabin. But if you aren’t bothered about that, these tyres are great. They are available in speed ratings H (136mph), V (149mph), W (168mph) and sizes 16”-20”.
Other winter tyres
We rate the above tyres – Nokian WR D4, Continental 850/850P and Goodyear Ultragrip 9 and Pirelli Sottozero 3 – the best winter tyres you can buy for the 2015/16 season. But there are other good winter tyres out there, which we will list below:
Where to buy winter tyres
We recommend that you shop for winter tyres online. Black Circles is a great place to start as you can search by registration number or by rim size, and you can mail order them or order them fitted at a local tyre garage. Just as good as (and sometimes better) than Black Circles for prices are Oponeo, and if you want to order winter tyres and rims, check out Mr Winter Wheels – all of these businesses are highly recommended by us.
Before you buy winter tyres
Remember, the winter tyres available to you depend on your rim size. There are a lot more winter tyres available for rim sizes below 18” than there are above 18”. Also consider that as a general rule, the narrower your winter tyres the better the snow performance will be because the tyre will cut through the snow, rather than drive on it. But for British weather, you can get away with winter tyres on 18”+ rims. That’s why we rate the Nokian WR D4 tyres so highly, because they are available in small and large sizes.
Also remember that you pay for what you get – don’t let your local garage or anyone else persuade you into buying non-branded or cheap winter tyres. These will be on your car from October until April and that’s half a year. So don’t make any compromises.
Have you any experience with winter tyres? What would you recommend other people try out? Be sure to share your own tyre choices with us by commenting below as well as your own advice on buying winter tyres.