The importance of having the right tires for the right season can’t be stressed enough. It doesn’t matter how much R&D and engineering went into your car’s chassis and handling if you have low-quality rubber or rubber designed for another season; you won’t get the performance you paid for. Summer tires give you grip in hot and dry conditions; winter tires find traction where all other tires will slip and slide. But neither of those would be worth a damn if you took them off-road. So be sure you’re prepared year-round.
Where a summer tire’s near-slick surface would just aquaplane, the tread on a winter tire shovels and pumps water out of the way while gripping the snow to keep you going in the right direction.
Every pro driver will tell you a car is only as good as its tires. You can go out of your way to get a car with the best handling and the most intelligent AWD system on the market, but if you can’t put the power down or get traction, all those millions of dollars in R&D are worth nil. Which is why winter weather is the ultimate test of a tire.
Water, slush, snow and salt need to be controlled and pumped out from underneath the tire through intricate channels while the softer rubber can mold and grip the road surface, despite low temperatures. It’s why winter tires look so much more extreme in design than summer or all-season tires. Where a summer tire’s near-slick surface would just aquaplane, the tread on a winter tire shovels and pumps water out of the way while gripping the snow to keep you going in the right direction. It’s all about having the right tools for the job, and getting from A to B during the winter is no different. Think of winter tires as an investment in traction and peace of mind.
Standard Casual: Cold Weather Control
Best Bargain Tire: Drivers’ biggest deterrent from buying a second set of tires is the additional cost. This is where the Yokohamas make a case for themselves. An intricate tread pattern and smaller zigzag grooves help effectively siphon away water while gripping slippery surfaces, and the continuous center tread keeps traction in the dry — all at an affordable price point.
Yokohama iceGUARD iG51v – buy now
Best Versatile Line of Winter Tires: The allure of Goodyear Ultra Grip tires is not just the affordability, but the winter tire technology offered across an entire spectrum of tire sizes, and is compatible with a range of cars, trucks and SUVs.
Goodyear Ultra Grip – buy now
Best Shoulder-Season Tire: Michelin’s FleX-Ice silica-based winter tread rubber compound gives the X-Ice Xi3 a larger temperature window to work in. The compound remains stiff at higher temperatures for better traction in dry or wet conditions but is still soft enough at low temperatures to give you traction on snow and ice.
Michelin X-Ice Xi3 – buy now
Best New Comer: Where names like “Blizzak” and “Ultra Grip” have seen their fair share of winters, WinterContact SI is fairly new to the game but holds up well against the competition.
Continental WinterContact SI – buy now
Industry Standard: When it comes to balancing price and performance, Blizzaks are legendary. The unique NanoPro-Tech Multicell hydrophilic compound wicks water off the road while microscopic bite particles, blended into the rubber dig into icy surfaces.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 – buy now
Studdable for Extreme Cold: When the Going Gets Seriously Icy
Best Optional Studded Tire: The Firestone Winterforce tread pattern has an already aggressively blocked siped design perfectly capable of handling standard winter weather. But for when that “Polar Vortex” rolls into town, you have the option to upgrade with studs.
Firestone Winterforce – buy now
Best Studded Performance Tire: Aggressive siping and tread block design give the Pirelli Winter Ice Zero a great foundation for gripping snow and ice, right out of the gate. Now add the double row of flat-walled studs closer to the shoulder of the tire, and you’ll forget the roads haven’t even been plowed.
Pirelli Winter Ice Zero – buy now
Trucks and SUVs: The Heavy Hitters
Best All-Around Truck and SUV Tire: Dollar for dollar, it’s tough to find a better tire for a truck or SUV. The Latitude X-Ice Xi2 has a fairly large operating temperature, meaning it can handle the shoulder months as well as a mild winter.
Michelin Latitude X-Ice Xi2 – buy now
Best Studded Truck and SUV Tire: The base block and tread design of the Discover M-S easily claws away at hard-packed snow around town all winter long. Add studs into the mix, and hidden sheet ice on the highway doesn’t stand a chance.
Cooper Discoverer M-S – buy now
Best Off-Road Tire: BFGoodrich All-Terrain A/T KO2 tires tackle races like the Baja 1000 and forge paths around the Arctic circle all year long. When BFGoodrich say “all-terrain,” they mean it.
BFGoodrich All-Terrain A/T KO2 – buy now
Best for Performance SUVs: SVR, M Division, AMG — almost every manufacturer has a performance division that tinkers with their cars and even some of their SUVs. But those track-tuned SUVs need a tire that can handle all the weight and torque when the weather takes a turn for the worse. The Pirelli Scorpion is the tire that makes sure you put all those extra ponies you paid for on the ground.
Pirelli Scorpion Winter – buy now