Best winter tyres 2019: tyre brands reviewed and UK prices compared
Our exhaustive tests reveal the best winter tyre that can cope with snow and freezing conditions
There’s no doubt all-season designs are the SUVs of the tyre world. But while they provide a good compromise, if you want the ultimate all-year-round performance, you need to swap tyres to suit the seasons.
A summer tyre, the type most UK drivers fit and use, works considerably better than any alternative in dry and warm conditions, while a winter design has a substantial advantage in the cold and on snow.
But not all tyres are made equal – so which winter option should you fit when the temperatures start to drop? To find out, we headed for Finland and Germany with the help of Finnish tyre maker Nokian. We did the snow tests in Finland at the state-of-the-art White Hell proving ground. The cabin noise and aquaplaning tests were also done in Finland, at Nokian’s Nokia facility.
In a first for our tyre-testing programme, the remainder of the assessments took place at motor industry proving ground ATP Papenburg in Germany. The majority of the tests were done by Auto Express drivers.
Our test size was the popular 225/45R17, and we added all-season and summer tyres to the 10 winter rivals to see how they compared in the different conditions.
What we tested
We had three new tyres – the Goodyear UltraGrip Performance+, Nokian Snowproof and Michelin Alpin 6. As usual we asked makers to nominate tyres which we then bought to ensure we test what you can buy. The Goodyear and Nokian were so new the makers supplied tyres. We ensured these were the same as a set we bought later by comparing wet braking; both were within acceptable tolerances.
Unlike our last test of this size in 2017, Falken, Vredestein and Toyo featured this year. However, Bridgestone has a new design coming and did not take part. The summer and all-season comparisons were the winning tyres in each category in this size.
Here, we list the tyres’ speed and weight ratings, plus the label ratings for fuel economy (FE), wet grip (WF) and pass-by noise (N). The first two are rated A-G, with the former the best. Noise is in decibels; the lower the number the better. All our winter tyres were rated H (up to 130mph) or V (up to 150mph).
Continental WinterContact TS 860 - Ratings: 91 H (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 72Dunlop Winter Sport 5 - Ratings: 91 H (FE) C; (WG) B; (N) 70Falken Eurowinter HS01 - Ratings: 94 V (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 72Goodyear UltraGrip Performance+ - Ratings: 91 H (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 72Hankook i*cept RS2 - Ratings: 91 H (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 72Michelin Alpin 6 - Ratings: 94 H (FE) C; (WG) B; (N) 69Nokian WR Snowproof - Ratings: 91 H (FE) C; (WG) B; (N) 69Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 - Ratings: 91 H (FE) C; (WG) B; (N) 72Toyo Snowprox S954 - Ratings: 94 V (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 71Vredestein Wintrac Pro - Ratings: 94 V (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 72
Continental PremiumContact 6 - Ratings: 91 V (FE) C; (WG) A; (N) 71
Continental AllSeasonContact - Ratings: 94 V (FE) C; (WG) B; (N) 72
How our tests work
Most drivers decide to buy winter tyres because the grip they provide on snow is up to three times greater than with a summer alternative – the type on most UK cars.
The biggest difference is in traction and braking in a straight line. We test both at the same time, accelerating from walking pace to just over 35kmh (22mph) and then braking to a stop. The time taken to go from 5-35kph is measured, along with the distance taken to slow between the same speeds. As always, an average is taken to produce the overall result.
Cornering levels are closer, but the winter tyre still has around twice the grip of the summer version. Snow handling is based on lap times around the track through the Ivalo forest. Lap times also decide the final test, which is done on the 80-metre circle where pure lateral grip can be assessed.
When it comes to braking and handling, tyre grip in the wet is dependent on the temperature. Our aim is to test in the cold but, at the time of our test, temperatures were just above the 7˚C crossover point where summer tyres outperform winters. This gave the former an advantage.
We measure stopping distances from 80-20kph (50-12mph) using an average of results from several stops. Like the dry version, wet handling is based on an average of lap times around the ATP wet handling track, which combines a range of turns with different surfaces. The wet circle measures lateral grip, and this result is also decided on an average lap time.
We use deeper water to perform the aquaplaning tests, which are measured both in a straight line and on a curve at the Nokia proving ground in Finland.
The dry handling track at ATP is a smaller version of the Hockenheim grand prix circuit in Germany. As always, we use lap times to find a winner. We also measure stopping distances from 100kph (62mph).
We test cabin noise, not pass-by noise as on the EU label ratings. This is done with microphones on the passenger headrest, using Nokia’s method to calculate noise at 50mph – the same speed as the label test.
How easily a tyre rolls is measured to calculate fuel economy. An average of two tyres in this industry-standard test is used and, as a rule of thumb, a five per cent change in rolling resistance equates to a one per cent shift in fuel consumption.
Prices come from our test-winning online retailer Black Circles. They include fitting and are what it charges, or expects it would, if the tyre is not part of its range. The cost plays a small part in our overall ranking.
Choosing a winner
We have refined our methods, so a tyre’s snow performance accounts for 20 per cent of its overall result, with wet taking 45, and the rest split between the other tests. For every tyre, we add up the percentage scores from each test and weight them to ensure each one contributes the same amount towards the overall result. Where we had to choose, we put the emphasis on braking and handling. In our overall results the winner of each test is rated at 100 per cent, while the rest are ranked relative to that performance.
- 1Introduction - currently readingOur exhaustive tests reveal the best winter tyre that can cope with snow and freezing conditions
- 21. Goodyear UltraGrip Performance+The Performance+ is part of a refresh of Goodyear’s winter tyre offering for cars, with the UltraGrip 9+ joining it ready for this winter.
- 32. Continental WinterContact TS 860The WinterContact TS 860 has been something of a phenomenon in our winter tests, having won the last two.
- 43. Michelin Alpin 6Never one to follow the pack, Michelin has looked a bit further down the road with this design, which aims to remain effective right down to the legal tread-depth minimum.
- 54. Dunlop Winter Sport 5It has been around since 2015, but the Winter Sport 5 has always finished at the upper end of our results.
- 6=5. Vredestein Wintrac ProFormer summer champ Vredestein has been absent from our tests since 2016
- 7=5. Falken Eurowinter HS01The change in tyre size suited Falken in its second winter test appearance; it finishes a couple of places higher and a few percentage points closer to the winner.
- 87. Nokian WR SnowproofBrand new for 2019, the Snowproof just made it into our test in time for the snow assessments.
- 98. Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3The Sottozero 3 is something of a veteran of our winter tests.
- 109. Hankook i*cept RS2This tyre was runner-up in our last two winter tests, so it’s a mystery why it drops to one place off the bottom this year.
- 1110. Toyo Snowprox S954Japanese producer Toyo makes its winter test debut, although the Snowprox S954 has been around for a couple of years now.
- 12All-Season tyre: Continental AllSeasonContactMichelin compares its pioneering CrossClimate all-season tyre to a triathlete who is not the best in any discipline but performs well in all of them
- 13Summer tyre: Continental PremiumContact 6You only have to look at the two braking test results to see why some people say motorists should change tyres with the seasons
- 14Results by category & overall verdictWhich winter tyre performed well in which area? Our tables reveal all