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Best winter tyres 2019: tyre brands reviewed and UK prices compared

27 Sep, 2019 8:45am Kim Adams

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.

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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 KinyuKinr 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, 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).

Winter tyres

Continental WinterContact TS 860  - Ratings: 91 H (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 72
Dunlop Winter Sport 5 - Ratings: 91 H (FE) C; (WG) B; (N) 70
Falken Eurowinter HS01 - Ratings: 94 V (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 72
Goodyear UltraGrip Performance+ - Ratings: 91 H (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 72
Hankook i*cept RS2 - Ratings: 91 H (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 72
Michelin Alpin 6 - Ratings: 94 H (FE) C; (WG) B; (N) 69
Nokian WR Snowproof - Ratings: 91 H (FE) C; (WG) B; (N) 69
Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 - Ratings: 91 H (FE) C; (WG) B; (N) 72
Toyo Snowprox S954 - Ratings: 94 V (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 71
Vredestein Wintrac Pro - Ratings: 94 V (FE) E; (WG) B; (N) 72

Summer tyre

Continental PremiumContact 6 - Ratings: 91 V (FE) C; (WG) A; (N) 71

All-Season tyre

Continental AllSeasonContact - Ratings: 94 V (FE) C; (WG) B; (N) 72

How our tests work

Snow

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.

Wet

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.

Dry

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).

Noise

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.

Fuel economy

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.

Price

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.