Winter tyres test: reviews and prices for 2014-2015

Winter tyre test
6 Nov, 2014 1:00pm Kim Adams

Our experts pick from eight of the best winter tyres for 2014-2015, plus prices and cheap tyres

If everyone could compare winter tyres and conventional ‘summer’ tyres on snow, the UK would have a seasonal market, like those in mainland Europe. The difference is dramatic and the extra grip of the winter tyres hard to credit. In our comparison, a summer tyre failed to even get to half the test tracks on snow.

Trouble is, as the temperatures drop, for most drivers in this country there’s a big debate over whether to invest in winter tyres. On safety grounds there’s no argument, while the costs aren’t as steep as they appear – as your summer tyres aren’t wearing out while they’re off the car. Stocks in the UK improve every year and with ‘hotels’ to store your spare set, the case for switching with the seasons is ever more convincing.

So which should you buy to see you safely through this winter? We travelled to Nokian’s Ivalo ‘White Hell’ proving ground, in the frozen north of Finland, and a very cold Continental Contidrom near Hanover, Germany, to find out.

We tested the big-selling 205/55R16 size. Our reigning summer tyre champ in this size provided a useful comparison, plus we included an all-season pattern to see how it fared.

What we tested

All our tyres had H speed ratings (up to 130mph), apart from the Michelin (T-rated; up to 118mph) and our summer tyre (V-rated; up to 150mph). All had a 91 weight rating. The list below also includes compulsory EU tyre label ratings for fuel economy (FE), wet grip (WG) and pass-by noise (N). The first two are ranked from A to G, with A the best. The noise rating is in decibels – the lower the figure, the quieter the tyre.

Continental ContiWinterContact TS 850 91 H Ratings FE: C WG: C N: 72

Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D 91 H Ratings FE: E WG: C N: 68

Goodyear UltraGrip 9 91 H Ratings FE: C WG: C N: 69

Hankook Winter I Cept RS 91 T Ratings FE: E WG: C N: 70

Michelin Alpin A4 91 T Ratings FE: E WG: C N: 70

Nokian WR D3 91 H Ratings FE: C WG: C N: 72

Pirelli Snowcontrol Serie 3 91 H Ratings FE: E WG: B N: 72

Uniroyal MS plus 77 91 H Ratings FE: E WG: C N: 71

All-weather tyre: Vredestein Quatrac Lite 91 H Ratings FE: C WG: C N: 68

Summer tyre: Goodyear EfficientGrip Performance 91 V Ratings FE: B WG: A N: 70

The cold standard: Here’s how our experts decide which winter tyres are best for you

We put each tyre through 13 challenging tests, and the winner in each assessment was awarded a score of 100 per cent, with the rest ranked relative to that. These scores were then added up.

The only weighting we applied was to ensure that the differences in performance are fairly reflected in the overall score. So, for example, a test where there’s a large gap between the best and worst tyres – like aquaplaning – counts the same towards the final ranking as one where the difference is small, such as dry handling or cabin noise.

Driving in snow - top tips

Snow braking

All the electronic wizardry in the world can’t overcome a lack of grip. This test measures just how much there is when braking. On fresh snow at Finland’s Ivalo proving ground, we repeatedly braked from 25mph, measuring the stopping distance down to 3mph, removing the big differences in the last few metres of coming to a halt.

Snow traction

Key for making it up a snow-covered slope, this test rates which tyre will get you furthest. We accelerated from walking pace with the traction control switched on and measured the distance to hit 25mph. We did 12 runs and repeated the test to ensure a valid result.

Snow circle

As with the wet circle assessment in our summer tyre test, this measures lateral grip free from braking and acceleration forces. On freshly graded snow, we increased the speed until the nose pushed wide. The result is based on an average of several laps with extreme results removed.

Snow handling

Intimidating is the only was to describe Ivala’s rollercoaster handling track, with its blind brows, big elevation changes and worrying drops into trees if you get it wrong. We turned off stability control but kept the ABS on to time a series of laps.

Wet handling

The flooded handling track at the Contidrom in Germany provides just about every test for tyres, from hairpins to high-speed sweepers, as it winds its way through trees and rocks. An early start ensured we began testing at around freezing point, and we took an average of lap times to get a result.

Wet braking

Again, careful timing meant we started testing at just above freezing in typical UK winter temperatures. Using the Contidrom’s rail system to ensure the same tarmac was covered every time, we measured the distance taken to stop from 50mph. An average of several stops was taken to get a final ranking.

Straight aquaplaning

Although this isn’t temperature critical, the ability to shift water from under the tread is key to winter driving. This test measures the speed when those small sipes and channels in a tyre fail to shift the water. With one wheel in 7mm deep water, we accelerated and measured wheelspin compared to the other wheel on dry tarmac.

Curved aquaplaning

This is just the same as the straight aquaplaning test, as it measures the speed at which the tread can no longer shift the water underneath and loses grip. This time, though, the water-shifting channels are distorted through cornering forces. The car is driven through a flooded section on a tarmac circle at ever higher speeds until grip is lost.

Dry braking

Thinking of leaving winter tyres on your car all year round? This test shows just how much of a compromise that would be in the dry. We took an average of several emergency stops triggering the anti-lock braking system and measured the distance taken to bring the car to a halt from 62mph.

Dry handling

As with our dry braking test, this reveals how much of a compromise winter tyres are if used all year round. The handling track’s long sweeps and fast direction changes put the flexible tread blocks and soft rubber to the test. Lap times were used to get a result.

Noise

While the pass-by noise rating quoted in EU tyre labels is key for the environment, drivers are more concerned about cabin noise. So we coasted over a range of surfaces – including rough tarmac and concrete – starting at the same speed each time, and took an average of sound readings.

Rolling resistance

This is all about efficiency – as the more easily a tyre rolls, the less fuel is needed to make it turn. Our test is carried out to industry standards at a range of speeds. As a rough guide, a five per cent difference in rolling resistance equates to a one per cent change in fuel economy.

Price

In our view, cost is no way to choose a safety critical product like tyres, so price has a relatively small role to play in the overall result. But the figures we quote were supplied by Black Circles – Best Site in our test of online tyre retailers – and include fitting.

Winter Special 2014/15

Disqus - noscript

"Despite two relatively mild winters"
what planet have you been living on? it may of been mild in the south but not everybody lives there.

I dont doubt that winter tires offer higher levels of traction and safety, but for me, they are a financial extravagence too far.

Where is the comparison with the summer tyres ?

This is a review from about 3 years ago. Thank goodness for copy and paste :)

I never understand why they don't consider all season tyres in these reviews. In our temperate climate with variations from -2 to plus 10 in the same day, mild wet winter days and sub zero early spring mornings, they are the obvious choice.

What about mid range and budget brands like Falken and Nankang? Many motorists will be buying these cheaper brands it would be interesting to see how they stand against the premium tyres featured by AE.

and bridgestone?

They have included Hankook for the mid range brand and Zeta as a budget brand.

Why were the Michelin PA4 high performance tyres not included?.
They have been tested by "Yourselves" and YOU said they were the "Best high performance winters tested" Ha Ha you guys need a longer memory.

I suggest you leave your car @ home for obvious reasons in that case...

Three Winters ago I bought a set of four, used 4.5mm tread remaining Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D from a German Tyre importer and put them on our Galaxy. We had plenty of snow and they were quite simply superb - stop, start, hills, cambers, turns all with ease and better than my Range Rover especially once the snow was compacted. Paid £120 inc delivery and fitting and got 2 winters out of them. Have just bought four Vredestein Wintrac 4 Extremes for the same money. I can get about if the weather is bad and its cheaper than fixing at best a broken bumper - a headlight costs £120 these days...

Cant afford winter tyres?
Ask yourself :-
Would you play football or rugby in your brogues? How much do you pay for a pair of Adipures?
How much is your car / job/ family worth?
Still can't afford Winter tyres?

There is no comparison. Summers will not work at all in the winter. Period.

You're joking , right?

Put on a set of Matador's last week for £320 fitted. This is Continental's budget range and already they are proving themselves in the wet and cold at night. Even if they only last two years that's only £160 a year, which is peanuts. The alternative is not to be able to use the car in icy weather, and to have terrible grip in the rain. Modern low profile summer tyres are just awful in winter, so winter tyres have become a must.

Why can't we have a summary table for these sorts of test that shows the individual results for each tyre? We can then see the comparisons you have made in rating them. If we want it we have to do a lot of cutting and pasting into Excel.

Shown in the paid for publication, can't give it all away for free!

eh...exactly which 'big-selling' hatchbacks use a 225/45R17 size tyre then ? That size represents the minority of cars, hence the reason more credible tyre tests go with 205/55R16 tyres. I've never seen Nokian top the reviews before - seems rather suspicious considering the fact you carried out the tests at their own test-centre.
As others have said, only listing a top 3 is daft and pointless.
Message for people who don't think it's a good idea have winter wheels - if you get a set and use them for 6 months each year, you'll then only use your summer tyres half as much. So after say, 10 years you finally need to replace both sets of tyres, you won't have actually spent more money overall on tyres compared to replacing in single set every 5 years. You can get plain black steel wheels new for about £40 each, or even less 2nd hand. I spent £700 on TS 850s and new alloys (a German make, can't remember the name), all fitted and delivered. Believe me, it's worth the investment, even if it does take up space in the garage and mean faffing with a jack and spanners twice a year.

Cant read the results for the Michelin tyres says dont have permission. Please FIX

Period?! Full Stop you mean surely. Yanks posting on Autoexpress - whatever next?

Nope, totally serious. Never had a problem yet getting stuck with normal/summer tyres with plentiful tread on FWD car. There is also the small point of being a good driver in poor weather conditions. Winter tyres will not stop you having a crash in winter weather!!

See above reply to 'coladin'

Interesting Nokian won on it's own test track. . . .
For the record I have an Octavia 4x4 fitted with Goodyear Vector 4Season M+S 205/60/15 (Same as standard Tyre size) We drove from Guernsey up to see the relatives in Finland for Christmas, drove over to Norway for the New Year before driving back across Scandinavia and Europe. As a true all rounder they are A-MA-ZING! Dry roads in France, rain in Belgium, freezing slush in Germany, Powder Snow in Sweden, -18C Ice Roads in Finland, and the whole lot in Norway! In a race around a track the Conti 850 would win, but the Vectors are great on predictability. Very easy to feel grip and in nearly 4000 miles of winter driving we didn't have a single 'moment'! If I was to get full winters it would be the Utragrips or the Conti, with the highest profile Tyre & wheel combination I could get over the brake calliper.

The first time I drove on my M+S tyres was from Guernsey to Austria. As I was going through Verdun it started to snow very lightly and the roads were not treated. I didn't feel any difference, but the bloke following behind me span out, collected the car next to him and slammed them both in to the side of the cutting. Winter tyres stopped me crashing on winter weather. He didn't have as good tyres as me and paid the price. As I have a small child I put a priority on keeping the car correctly serviced for the conditions. It's a basic as antifreeze.

Interesting! I think new tyres are absolutely a great investment over the winter period.

That said, we all put off these extra safety measures until winter officially arrives, but you never know when that is in the UK - it could be July!

Better to be safe...

Winter tyres will absolutely prevent you having accidents in cold weather. I drive an Allroad Quattro, pretty capable in slippery conditions, but with M&S tyres it is totally transformed, stops better, grips better and is far more capable than when on its P Zero's below 7 degrees, and in the snow there is no comparison.
If you think winter tyres are extravagant then you have not used them. If you can't tell the difference you are not as good a driver as you think you are.
On top of that, deeper, narrower rubber provides better rim protection from potholes.

The summer and winter tires are SO much better...summers are better all year except on ice and snow...and winter tires so much better on ice and snow without giving up wet performance...I would not go back to all-seasons

I drove my motorcycle all year with summer tires in British Columbia with Brit weather... and Ontario and only once was I caught out on an ice covered bridge where cars with all-seasons were also losing control

My Skoda Octavia vRS, has Continental TS 850 225/45 17 94XL because of the large brake discs & calipers..

With ATS Radial rims and some shopping around the whole lot came in at the £950 mark, the ride is smooth & quiet and better than the stock summer tyres, so I can see in the spring the stock summer tyres being traded in for some better Conti's.

I had Nokian WRG2 winter tyres and they were ok but nowhere near as good as Vredestein Wintracs which never won any tests so to see Nokians beating the Conti which has cleaned up elsewhere is a tad suspicious

And don't forget while you're using your winter tyres, you're not wearing out your summers.

M+S,marks and spencer?

Only listing a top 3...?
I see a top 8, you don't?

Winter tyres and M & S tyres are two distinct things

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