Bad weather increases the risk of fatal accidents by more than a third, and that risk is highest in winter weather. That's no surprise. Snowy conditions not only affect visibility but also dramatically reduce the amount of grip available at the best of times. While all-season tires offer a good compromise if you really need to run just one set of tires all year 'round, dedicated winter tires will of making sure your next wintery commute involves more dashing through the snow and less crashing through a snowbank, whether your car has all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, or just two-wheel drive.
Why? The aggressive tread pattern of snow tires, even studless snow tires, does a far better job of maximizing grip when the temperatures are low and weather conditions are poor. They frequently feature grooves called sipes and a soft rubber compound, which helps on loose snow and ice. However, it's worth noting that those features can make for louder road noise and higher rolling resistance than all-season tires, so your fuel economy may see a slight reduction depending on which model you choose.
At Roadshow, we've spent plenty of miles driving and sliding around in all sorts of conditions, and along the way have learned a lot about which tires are best for which conditions. Here is a short list of our favorite winter tires.
If anybody knows winter driving, it's the Scandinavians. With performance winter driving seemingly in their blood, the Flying Finns know their way around icy roads, and their tires certainly do as well. Nokian's Hakkapeliitta series has long been among the best studded winter tires in the world, and I can personally attest to their quality in the slippiest of conditions. Studded tires aren't for everyone -- they're loud on dry roads and they're actually illegal in many areas -- and the ultra-soft sidewalls on the Hakkas mean your handling will be compromised to say the least. They also have a directional tread, which makes rotating them a bit limited, but if you absolutely, positively need to get there in the worst of conditions, this is the tire for you.
-- Tim Stevens
I have been a long-time fan of Bridgestone's Blizzak lineup. While the manufacturer does offer more street-friendly winter tires like the LM series, I prefer the WS. Specifically, the WS80, which is rated for more than an average amount of both ice and snow. I've pulled cars out of snow that would make any other tire blush, no matter which wheels are driven, and the WS80s offer a serious amount of grip when the road gets properly icy, too.
-- Andrew Krok
Generally, smaller, narrower tires are better for winter-weather grip. They cut through the snow and find the grippy stuff down below better. But, what happens if you're rolling on the big wheels that are increasingly common? Or, what if you need some exotic, Italian tires to go with your exotic, Italian ride? The latest Pirelli Sottozero is the tire for you. Available in sizes up to 355/25R21, this is the right choice if you're running a four-season Lambo, McLaren or other bit of exotica. And you certainly should, as I found out when sliding around in a Lamborghini Aventador.
-- Tim Stevens
Bridgestone's Blizzak line might be the most recognizable winter tire name currently available, but there's stiff competition from Michelin's X-Ice rubbers. Available in a range of sizes and for a variety of vehicles, I've trusted X-Ice tires to get my personal cars -- as well as Roadshow's long-term testers -- through the harshest midwest winters. For snow, ice, or general cold weather, X-Ice tires are a solid option.
-- Steven Ewing
My winter tire choice has long been a Bridgestone Blizzak tire, but unlike the popular WS series, I've opted for the LM line. What's the difference? The LM line of Blizzaks provide better dry-pavement performance. That suited the cars I've run in the winter and drove hundreds of miles in the city and on the highway. While any Blizzak is a good bet, Blizzak LM tires will give you the best of both worlds during the coldest and snowiest times of the year.
-- Sean Szymkowski