It may not look like it, but there's a lot of technology baked into car tires. You just don't get to see it. In particular, there are critical differences between the science of winter tires and their all season counterparts.
A winter tire is designed to get more traction the colder it is outside. Whereas an all-season tire can withstand colder temperatures versus a summer tire, but once it goes below a specific temperature (usually below 42 degrees), it begins to harden and grip significantly drops off.
This post is designed for someone who hasn't bought winter tires yet or doesn't see the value in shifting over from all-seasons.
10 Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 (Best)
For the people that buy the latest gizmos and gadgets, like mobile phones, laptops, earbuds, there's the latest in tire technology from Bridgestone. The Blizzak WS80 is made using Bridgestone's adaptive NanoPro-Tech Multicell compound, which has a hydrophilic coating and microscopic bite particles.
During a test by TireRack.com on a skating rink, the Blizzak's were best all-around, performing the best on ice, snow, and wet surfaces. The only pitfall is some road noise, which is inevitable with winter tires since they have optimized tread for traction, and the composition of the tire flexes to create more grip. At a price starting at $75 per tire, they're a bargain; that sells out quick every year.
9 Continental Contiwintercontact TS810 S Tire (Worst)
Continental is known for making high-quality tires. They're trusted by brands like Porsche, Volvo, BMW, Jaguar, and Ford.
The Contiwintercontact TS810 S is one of a series of winter passenger tires under the same naming convention. Most are known for being an all-around quality tire and the TS810 S is no different. However, it has one significant trade-off. They work well for areas that are cold, dry, and wet but don't have a lot of snow. So unfortunately they don't particularly shine as winter tires. Starting at $278.58, that's a lot to ask for a semi-winter friendly tire.
8 Michelin X-ICE Xi3 (Best)
Michelin is the second largest tire manufacturer in the world and one of the most recognizable companies, likely in part due to their adorable mascot and race sponsorship. The X-ICE Xi3 model has been around since 2012 and is a premium winter tire that performs best in snow and wet weather conditions.
The X-ICE Xi3 tire is found on almost every top winter tire list. The only notable area of weakness is performance on dry roads, where the steering response rate becomes compromised. Where the X-ICE Xi3 truly shines is in terrible winter weather. Prices start at $111.11 per tire and are suitable for cars, small crossovers, and minivans.
7 Pirelli Winter 210 Sottozero Series II Tire (Worst)
Pirelli is known for its high-performance tires for high-performance cars. It's impossible to watch an F1 race without seeing the Pirelli namesake on billboards and in the paddock.
When you purchase an expensive tire, there's an expectation that it'll be the highest quality. In the case of the Sottozero Series II, it's not the case and reviews complain that the tire isn't great for driving on snow at all. Starting at $178.49 per tire, they're also not the most cost-effective.
There's a saying that the worst winter tire is still better than an all-season tire. In this case, since the Sottozero II is marketed as a winter tire, it may create a false sense of security while driving in the snow.
6 Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 (Best)
Pirelli is the 5th largest tire manufacturer in the world and is synonymous with the world of cars and racing, both in providing tires and as a sponsor.
Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 tires are designed specifically for drivers of premium, high-performance vehicles. Sottozero translates to below zero in Italian.
Unlike other tires that optimize for heavy snowfall and ice, Sottozero 3 is made to meet all-around winter weather, including snow, ice, slush, and dry roads. Pirelli uses high-density 3D side technology, which uses a special polymer to improve the tire tread rubber compound, making it less sensitive to road and air temperature changes. Prices start at $179.34 per tire.
5 Dunlop Winter Sport 4D Tire (Worst)
In the case of the Dunlop Winter Sport 4D, it's not immediately obvious when looking online if they're good or bad. They may very well be the most mixed rated winter tires of all time. Although you'll find pretty decent reviews online, it seems that a large number of people only bought them because there was a significant rebate available.
Even with the goods reviews, you'll see points also made in the negative reviews that they just aren't great for driving on ice and snow and they wear out incredibly quick. One or both will matter depending on what you're looking for.
4 Firestone Winterforce 2 (Best)
The Firestone Tire and Rubber company has been in the tire business since the buggy and wagon days of the early 1900s. So they know a lot about safety, performance, and innovation.
Firestone Winterforce 2 tires are great for coupes, sedans, and minivans that plan to conquer dry, wet and snow-covered roads. If you live in the coastal regions, on the mountainsides, you should consider studdable tires like the Winterforce 2. For anyone who has had the displeasure of hydroplaning, the Winterforce 2 have deep circumferential grooves designed explicitly for hydroplaning resistance.
Considered a mid-priced tire at $85 per tire, they're known for longevity more so than the Bridgestone Blikzzak but aren't as comfortable as the Michelin X-ICE i3 tires.
3 Never Heard of Name Tire (Worst)
If you buy winter tires too late, there's a chance you'll be stuck with a decision that includes the most expensive tires on the market and a brand you've never heard of.
Usually, when you're buying something new, you can rely on online reviews and word of mouth. The biggest issue with a never-heard-of tire is that there won't be enough info online to help guide your purchase. The last place you want to be in is at the whim of a tire salesperson who makes a commission from the purchase. It's not always the case, but you're both likely looking for different things. Even if there's a warranty, there's still a risk. So sleep on the decision for 24 hours and gather more information.
2 Sumitomo Ice Edge (Best)
The second harshest thing about the winter is the price of winter tires. There's often a compromise from price and quality. In the case of Sumitomo Ice Edge, there's a good balance. Starting at $100 per tire, the Ice Edge is designed for snow and ice and is also adept in wet surfaces. For the harshest winter conditions, they're also studdable.
While they're weak in the area of dry conditions, which often leads to quicker wear, the Ice Edge tires are known as one of the best all-around tires and on a majority of tire shop websites rate between a 4 and 4.5 out of 5.
1 NoName Tires (Worst)
There's a growing trend to buy cheap products online from China, using services like Aliexpress. In many cases, you get what you pay for; cheap price equals terrible quality.
In the case of tires, many sellers tout that they're selling real OEM tires that are overstock. In some cases, these claims are true and you can get a heck of a deal. The caveat being there is no sure way to really know. Unless you're buying from the OEM directly, you should never trust any certificates or claims being made.
With tires literally being a matter of life or death while driving, you should make a decision with that in mind.