It's never too late to think about winter tires

Your all-seasons aren't good enough.


By Christopher McGraw, Autoblog

Contrary to popular belief, all-season tires do not perform well in all seasons. They are spring, summer and fall tires. That's why I'm here in Copper Mountain, Colo. We have some snow and ice. We're testing out Nokian's all-weather and winter tire portfolio.

All right, we're about to do an acceleration and braking test. We have Hakkapeliitta R3s on this Audi Q5. We're just going to go straight until the end of the cones and then slam on the brakes, so here we go.

We were at 45 miles an hour, slammed on the brakes, ABS kicked in, and we stopped with a ton of room left over with these tires, so, once again, we have the Hakkapeliitta R3s in the Audi Q5. I'm in sport mode. Traction control still on, we're doing the acceleration and braking test. All right, three, two, one, all right, I'm floored. Okay, here we go, 54. That's the fastest we've gotten up to.

I'm in an Audi Q3. It's got Quattro, which is obviously their all-wheel drive system. It also has OE tires on it, which are Pirelli Scorpions. The brand doesn't much matter. What does matter is the fact that these tires are all-seasons, which means they're good for spring, summer, and fall, not for winter. We're going to test these tires out on a slalom course right now and see how they compare to an all-weather tire, which is the four-season tire, Nokian WRG4s, so this is the OE tire, the all-season, and off we go.

Accelerating, you don't get much grip because it's too cold for these tires and you're not able to keep tight turns around the slalom course, not as tight at least as the WRG4. I'm sliding around quite a bit, and now I'm getting to the turn, and I'm just sliding, just sliding. The traction control is on, but it is not a tight turn. I'm getting back up to speed here. Oh, man, I'm sliding all over the place. I might hit one of these cones here. I'm trying not to, but you don't really have as much control in the all-seasons as you would in an all-weather. They're just not made for winter driving.

Once again, we're in an Audi Q3. This time, instead of these wheels being wrapped in the OE all-season tires, we are in all-weather tires. These are the Nokian WRG4s, so we're talking winter, spring, summer, fall. This can handle it all. They're not going to be as good in the winter as winter tires and they're not going to be as good in summer as like summer performance tires, but they are much better than all-season tires, which is really just good for three seasons, so off we go.

Even just gripping the snow with the acceleration, you're able to get a lot more grip, because all-seasons are not made for winter despite their name, and, now, as I'm going around, I'm able to make much tighter turns in the WRG4s just because they're more suited for winter weather and there's barely any slip at the end when I'm doing this U-turn here in this slalom course. I am keeping a much tighter line just because I can on the slalom course. The turning is a lot better.

I'm actually able to go a little bit faster as well, and that is just the difference between having an all-weather tire and an all-season tire, and so if you have all-season and you like your all-seasons, you can keep your all-season. Just get a winter tire if you're going to be driving anywhere where there's a lot of snow and ice and cold temperatures or, if you just want to have one tire year-round, you can run something like the WRG4 and you'd be fine.

All right, so, right now, I am in an Audi Q5. It has all-wheel drive, and wrapped on these wheels are Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9s, which is their flagship winter tire. These are studded tires. They actually have two different types of studs. The center studs are more lateral, and the studs on the shoulder of the tire are actually more triangular so, that way, you can grab more as you're turning, so it's like a little bit more performance in winter. I'm in a lateral track right now, which is basically just like a big circle. We'll be driving around and seeing how these tires perform when just constantly cornering, so off we go.

I'm doing pretty tight circles right now, and I'm sliding a little bit, but really not a ton. If I take it to a bit wider circle, I'm able to really grip on those studs on the shoulders a lot more so than if I was, say, on a studless tire or especially like an all-season tire. It's going to be no comparison. Now, I can get it to do a little bit of sliding if I really floor it, but it's a lot harder to do some sliding with these tires on just because of the studs, the two different types of studs, and the overall performance.

Now, these studs, unlike normal studs, which are just made out of steel, are made out of stainless steel, so they won't corrode as quickly, which obviously is good. The lighter the stud, the less damage on a road, so these studs were made to be a bit lighter as well.

I'm turned all the way right now and I'm able to keep this tight radius due to the studs on these tires, and it goes to show, if you're going to be doing a lot of driving in these kind of conditions where you're driving around in ice and snow, we had a lot of snowpack on this lot yesterday that melted in the afternoon, it's actually getting quite warm already this morning, and then, overnight, it froze, so there this layer of ice on top, and these studs let you really grip.

Another thing with winter tires in general is their ability to handle through black ice, and what black ice is is it's a layer of virtually invisible ice, but on top of that is a tiny layer of water, and so winter tires actually have quite a bit of traction on bare ice itself. That's what they're made for, and they an incredible amount of traction, more than you would expect, but, when you add that extra layer of water, that's where things get hairy, and so winter tires are built to filter that water away from the car into the grooves of the tires so that the tire is touching the ice itself.

Last but certainly not least, we're here with the Ram 1500. We have the Hakkapeliitta LT3 tires. We're going to test them out on this snow track. Unsurprisingly, they're good in the snow. Obviously, the Hakkapeliitta LT3s are replacing the LT2 which have been around since 2012, which is quite a bit of time, so they've upgraded and almost everything is better about these tires. Actually, not almost everything, everything is better about these tires. You get more grip in snow, more grip on the ice, more grip in wet conditions, which could be tough with a winter tire, and it's handling this snow track like a champ.

As you can see, it's pretty, pretty rough, this course, and these tires are handling it very easily better than my GoPro is handling it, that's for sure, because I know a lot of people out there like to run all-terrains year-round on their tracks, so we're talking General Grabber AT2s or even BF KO2s, and, in situations like this, that's where you're going to have a harder time than if you had a dedicated winter tire like the LT3. I'm pushing the truck pretty hard and, likewise, the tires, and I'm still maintaining control around this entire course.

Looking to grab some Nokian tires for yourself?
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Automotive Magazine: It's never too late to think about winter tires
It's never too late to think about winter tires
Your all-seasons aren't good enough.
Automotive Magazine
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