Vi Bilägare 2021: Test of Studless Winter Tires in Size 205/55 R16

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The Swedish magazine tested Scandinavian friction tires from seven brands, taking for comparison one tire model designed for milder European winters.

List of models tested:

Unlike the studded tire test that Vi Bilägare conducted earlier this year, its test of friction tires did not include any «sudden» newcomers, and the competition pool consisted of models from acclaimed market leaders, such as Continental, Goodyear, Nokian, Michelin, and Pirelli. In addition, the magazine tested the Nexen WinGuard Ice Plus WH43 tire, about which VB shared that after this model was criticized for long dry braking distances and poor lateral stability on dry pavement, the Korean tire maker quickly addressed these issues and upgraded the tire.

The ice and snow tests are carried out in Swedish Älvsbyn.
The ice and snow tests were carried out in Swedish Älvsbyn.

The budget segment was presented by the Nordexx tires (a private brand owned by Denmark’s NDI), which were meant to demonstrate the dangers of saving up on tires; the experts also tested one European-type model — the Continental WinterContact TS870. Tires of this category are created with a focus on different parameters than the Scandinavian tires, and their participation in the test would help to better establish their pros and cons.

Test results

Ice

The ice grip test was won by the Nokian and Continental models, followed by Michelin and Goodyear. The Nexen tires demonstrated better traction during the braking than during acceleration, while the European model predictably came last.

Two cars in motion on ice, bird's-eye view.
Two cars in motion on ice, bird's-eye view.

The Continental tire turned out to be the best in terms of braking on sheer black ice, while the Pirelli and Nordexx models fell a little bit short of the leaders. The braking distance of the «Europeans» when braking from 25 km/h was a whole five meters longer.

In the slalom test, the best lateral stability was demonstrated by Continental, although Pirelli also showed quite an impressive result. The performance of Goodyear and Nokian on sheer ice starts to deteriorate as the temperature drops, while with the Nexen model the situation is the opposite — the colder the temperature, the more effective the tire. The cheap Nordexx tires may bring you an unpleasant surprise, abruptly losing grip — even the European tires provided a better handling performance.

Snow

On snow, the strongest traction was demonstrated by the Pirelli model, while Nokian’s acceleration was a bit slower. However, all the Scandinavian tires showed almost identical results. The European tires also showed good traction, and, although they came last, the gap was minimal.

The snow and ice tests were tested using Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The snow and ice tests were tested using Volkswagen Golf GTI.

In the braking test, the situation was the same: the Pirelli model again came first, and the result demonstrated by the Continental TS870 was a little bit worse than the others’.

The best results on a snow-covered track were shown by the Continental, Pirelli, and Nokian models, which all demonstrated a well-balanced performance in this area. The Nordexx tires can easily go into a skid, Nexen lacked feedback through the steering wheel when entering a corner, and Goodyear was behaving a bit nervous on the verge of losing grip. In reference to the European tires, the experts noted that their grip was weaker than that of the other tires, but, thanks to good feedback through the steering wheel, they provided a consistent handling response, which helped them earn a high score.

Asphalt

Hydroplaning resistance is something that is not traditionally considered to be the strong side of Nordic tires, and in this discipline they all fell behind the Continental TS870 with a large gap. The worst performance in this area was demonstrated by the Michelin, Continental VC7, and Nokian models.

The tests on dry and wet asphalt (not aquaplaning and consumption) were carried out in Gislaved, Sweden.
The tests on dry and wet asphalt (not aquaplaning and consumption) were carried out in Gislaved, Sweden.

In the braking test, the European tires also had a clear lead over the competition, but Goodyear’s stopping distance was significantly shorter than that of the other Scandinavian tires. After the upgrade, the Nexen model significantly improved its results, while the Michelin model, just as before, was not particularly good on wet surfaces.

On dry pavement, all the tires showed good results, the differences in their performance being all but minimal. The best Scandinavian tires were Goodyear and Pirelli, while the Nordexx braking distance was almost 1.5 meters longer.

205/55 R16 winter tire test summary Vi Bilägare, 2021. Places 1–8. Click to enlarge.
205/55 R16 winter tire test summary Vi Bilägare, 2021. Places 1–8. Click to enlarge.

Summing up

The first place in the final standings was scored by the Continental VikingContact 7, which ensures excellent grip and well-balanced performance on snow and ice. The grip is lost gradually, and the tires inform the driver about that; on tarmac, the tires also behave quite predictably, and, in spite of the soft tread compound, demonstrate a good road holding ability. The dry and wet stopping distances were longer than those of some other tires, yet it still did not create a threat to the travellers’ safety; the tread pattern with dense sipes, although it compromises hydroplaning resistance, ensures a very low noise level.

Quick Take
91 60

Continental VikingContact 7

Comfort Dry Performance Wet Performance Snow/Ice Performance
  • Year Released: 2018
  • Regions for sale: USA+, Canada, Europe, Russia+, East Asia
Continental VikingContact 7

The second line of the tournament bracket was scored by the Goodyear UltraGrip Ice 2 that became the best on wet pavement, and showed very good results on dry pavement as well. The Goodyear tire was also quick to stop the car on snow and ice, but it had issues with handling response during the maneuvering in winter conditions — the grip may be lost relatively abruptly, besides, the tire is prone to both understeer and oversteer, which also compromises handling performance. On the whole, this Goodyear model will be a good option for those who mostly drive in winter on cleared roads.

Quick Take
85 42

Goodyear UltraGrip Ice 2

Comfort Dry Performance Wet Performance Snow/Ice Performance Handling
  • Year Released: 2014
  • Regions for sale: Europe, Russia+
Goodyear UltraGrip Ice 2

This time around, the Pirelli Ice Zero FR demonstrated a surprisingly good balance between snow and ice grip versus tarmac performance. The Pirelli model was also among the leaders in the entire test regardless of the type of surface, and it had relatively short stopping dry and wet braking distances. At the same time, although the Pirelli tires do ensure high lateral stability and good control on ice and snow alike, their stopping distance on an ice-covered surface was longer than that of the leaders. As for the noise, with the Pirelli model its loudness varies depending on the type of road surface more than with the other tires.

Quick Take
83 43

Pirelli Ice Zero FR

Handling Dry Performance Wet Performance Snow/Ice Performance Comfort
  • Year Released: 2015
  • Regions for sale: USA+, Canada, Europe, Russia+, China
Pirelli Ice Zero FR

The Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3, which scored the fourth place, earned a large number of points in the «winter» disciplines, but this year its ice and snow traction was a little weaker than that of the best tires in this performance area. The Nokian model also demonstrated good grip and braking capabilities on wet pavement, but, just like any other Scandinavian tire, it had issues with hydroplaning resistance. On dry pavement, the Nokian model was commended for stable handling performance during the emergency maneuvers, and it also had very low rolling resistance. On the downside, at some speeds an annoying noise occurs.

Quick Take
86 59

Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3

Price/Quality Snow/Ice Performance Comfort Wet Performance Dry Performance Handling Treadwear
  • Year Released: 2018
  • Regions for sale: USA+, Canada, Europe, Russia+
Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3

Then comes the Michelin X–Ice Snow, which has a certain lack of balance between the straight and lateral grip. On snow and ice, the Michelin model demonstrated excellent traction and braking capabilities, but at the same time it was prone to understeer, and could not handle sharp steering angles. On dry pavement, the Michelin was one of the most stable tires on test, but, sadly, on wet pavement the situation was much worse, and the Michelin model lost a few points because of a long stopping distance and poor lateral grip. In addition, the Michelin had issues with hydroplaning resistance, and was also pretty noisy.

Quick Take
79 54

Michelin X-Ice Snow

Handling Snow/Ice Performance
  • Year Released: 2020
  • Regions for sale: USA+, Canada, Japan, China
Michelin X-Ice Snow

In last year’s VB test, the Nexen WinGuard Ice Plus WH43 tire impressed the testers with short braking distances on ice and snow, but was heavily criticized for lack of balance between its grip on «winter» surfaces and on clear tarmac. The Korean tire maker addressed the criticism and quickly upgraded the tire, thanks to which its performance indeed became more balanced. The dry braking is now efficient enough, and the handling response was also improved, yet just for relatively low speeds — as the experts noted, at a speed of over 100 km/h, the tires leave their «comfort zone», and their lateral stability deteriorates.

Quick Take
70 41

Nexen Winguard Ice Plus

Comfort Snow/Ice Performance
  • Year Released: 2018
  • Regions for sale: USA+, Canada, Russia+
Nexen Winguard Ice Plus

Just as expected, the European-type Continental WinterContact TS870 demonstrated excellent performance on dry and wet pavement, as well as excellent hydroplaning resistance — according to the experts, even better than that of some specialized summer tires. The TS870 also ensures good handling response on snow, yet it was clear that the tire was not adapted to ice, and, when a wet road freezes over, the stopping distance will become dangerously long. The VB experts also noted that the Continental tire behaved very consistently on the verge of losing grip and was essentially a better option than an average Nordic tire.

Quick Take
N/A 52

Continental WinterContact TS 870

  • Year Released: 2020
  • Regions for sale: Europe, Russia+
Continental WinterContact TS 870

The last to cross the finish line was the Nordexx Wintersafe Ice model, a tire of a privately owned Danish brand, manufactured in China and coming at an attractive price. In spite of the fact that the tire is marketed as a Nordic one, on snow and ice it demonstrated poor lateral stability, and, what was worse, it could abruptly lose grip, which really compromises driving safety. Regrettably, the tires were just as unstable in corners on wet pavement and during emergency maneuvers in the dry. In addition, it made so much noise that the VB experts rated it as the noisiest tire of this type in the entire history of this test.

Price

Vi Bilägare 2021 Winter Tire Test R16, price comparison

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