The Snow Tire FAQ


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Real World Snow Tire Tests – 2004


Bridgestone Blizzak WS-50

Green Diamond Inari

Kuhmo KW11 I*Zen Stud
Nokian Hakkapeliita-2 & WR


Toyo Observe G0-2 Plus




Table of Contents

Table of Contents 2

Introduction 4

Good Snow, Good Fun, Bad Car 4

The Tires 5

The Studdable Tires 5

Kuhmo KW11 I*Zen Stud (195/60 R 15) 6

What Kumho Says 6

Nokian Hakkapeliita-2 (195/60 R 15) 6

What Nokian Says 6

The Non-studded (or Friction) Tires 7

Bridgestone Blizzak WS-50 (185/65 R 15) 7

What Bridgestone Says 7

Green Diamond Inari (185/65 R 15) 8

What Green Diamond Says 8

Nokian WR (195/60 R 15) 8

What Nokian Says 8

Toyo Observe (185/65 R 15) 9

What Toyo Says 9

The Cars 10

The AWD Clan 10

The RWD Family 10

A Night at the Race Track Test Parking Lot 11

The Tests 11

Acceleration and Braking Tests 11

Closed Course Tests 12

The RAW Data 12

Data Analysis 14

Results 14

The Studdable Tires 15

Kuhmo KW11 I*Zen Stud (195/60 R 15) 15

Nokian Hakkapeliita-2 (195/60 R 15) 16

The Non-studded (or Friction) Tires 16

Bridgestone Blizzak WS-50 (185/5 R 15) 16

Green Diamond Inari (185/65 R 15) 17

Nokian WR (195/60 R 15) 18

Toyo Observe G0-2 Plus (185/65 R 15) 18

Conclusions 19

Looking Back 19

The Ideals Behind the Test 19

Recommended by the Snow Tire FAQ 20

Summary Of Results 21

Future Plans 22

Another Shoot-Out 22

A Driving School? 22

How Much Do Studs Help? 22

Snow Tires Needed! 22

Show Your Support 23

Thanks to... 23

Introduction

As editor of The Snow Tire FAQ, I have received many questions about snow tires. 95% of the questions ask the same thing, "What snow tires should I buy for my car?" In December of 2000, I realized that the variety of vehicles was growing, but my experience wasn't. So started the annual Real World Snow Tire Tests.

In 2001, tires from three manufactures were tested, Nokian, Dunlop, and Vredestein. In our second year, we tested the Nokian WRT, a light truck version of the Nokian WR, and the first light truck tire we ever reviewed.

This year, after taking 2003 off, we had a regular plethora of tires – 6 different tires from 5 different vendors. Much to my surprise and delight, Nokian contributed two sets of passenger car tires: Nokian WR and the new to the US market Hakkapeliita-2; Bridgestone countered with a tire from their venerable Blizzak line, the Blizzak WS-50; Green Diamond, the Icelandic newcomer to the US market provided a set of their Inari tires; Toyo added their Observe; and Kuhmo came in sporting their KW11 I*Zen Stud snow tire.

Good Snow, Good Fun, Bad Car

Unlike previous years, the Rochester, NY area was blessed with several bountiful snowfalls. This gave us some great conditions to test in. There was everything from bone chilling cold (which for us is below 0˚ Fahrenheit) to 40 degree days. There was deep fresh snow, hard packed snow, ice, and even some mud. In all, just about every condition one would want to try a set of winter tires in.

In March of 2004, we finally made good on our threat to do a snow tire shoot-out. While it was not what I originally had expected, it was an interesting experiment that we plan to repeat. On the serious side, it really let us feel out some of the differences between the tires. On the fun side, to our dedicated testers there is nothing better than being set loose to push a car and its tires to the limits in an abandoned, snow filled parking lot; unless it is competing against each other to see who's the fastest.

The six tires presented the small problem of finding people and cars to test them on. As you might guess, the Real World Snow Tire Tests are run on the same budget as The Snow Tire FAQ (http://www.snowtire.info), which is to say, nothing.

The original plan had been to use the studdable snow tires on the RWD Volvos, and the non-studded tires on AWD Mitsubish Galant VR4s (the “Evo” of the early 1990's). Having owned, rallied, and raced both types of cars, I thought it would be good to both compare the tires and how the cars handled. Unfortunately, as everything was coming together, my own VR4's engine decided to come apart, thus leaving us one test car short. Eventually I did replace it, and we ended up with three RWD Volvos and three AWD VR4s.

The Tires

When your ship comes in, just make sure you are ready to unload it.

A Row of Snow Tires

When I started canvasing for tires to test, my goal was simple. Two or Three vendors and two or three sets of tires. Little did I know that I would get five vendors supplying a total of six different tires!

Nokian was the first tire company to agree to supply tires, and set the tone for this years tests by providing both a set of studdable and a set of non-studddable (studless, or friction) tires. With two groups of tires picked out: studdable and studless, it looked like we were going to be able to break the test up very nicely between the two types of cars.

The Studdable Tires

These tires are designed so that they may have metal studs put in them. The studs help to increase traction on ice and hard packed snow by cutting into the ice or snow surface. While it is possible to stud these tires, we did not stud them for this year's test. It should be noted that once a tire has been driven without studs, it can no longer have studs put in.

K

Photo of KW11 Tread
Illustration 1- Kuhmo KW11

uhmo KW11 I*Zen Stud (195/60 R 15)

To most of the testers, Kuhmo stands as one of the brands to buy if you want the best Autocross or Road Race tire for “stock” class racing. (This is not stock-car racing, in which the cars are anything but stock, but instead it is a class where the cars are essentially as they came from the dealer..)

The concept of a Kuhmo tire as something to run in the winter is a bit foreign to most of us, but the looks of this tire say that it might be a strong contender.

What Kumho Says

The I'ZEN Stud Snow Tire was specifically developed for use in “severe winter applications.” Having surpassed the Severe Snow Service requirements, this pattern’s design excels in snow & ice, and provides confident handling on cold wet roads. For greater ice traction, the I'ZEN Stud severe snow tire can be fitted with #11 size studs to increase effectiveness on severe ice conditions.

Special Features:

N

Photo of Hakka-2 Tread
Illustration 2- Nokian Hakkapeliita-2

okian Hakkapeliita-2 (195/60 R 15)

For years, Nokian snow tires have been the choice of most of the local winter rallyists in the Rochester area. The Hakka-2 is the latest US, studded snow tire offering.

What Nokian Says

The Nokian Hakkapeliitta 2 is a winter tyre for demanding and varying conditions. It combines the best properties of studded and friction tyres.

A completely new studding technique improves the tyre’s safety in all weather conditions. The innovative friction rubber compound and the large number of sipes guarantee good grip on snow.

The tyre’s tread wear indicator shows the remaining tread depth in millimetres. The tyre’s safety is at its best with a tread depth of 4 millimetres or above.

The Non-studded (or Friction) Tires

These tires have no provision for using studs. They rely on their tread design and compounds to achieve ice traction. Two of these tires depend purely on the make up of the rubber they use. The other two rely on hard additives to do the work of biting in.

B

Photo of Blizzzk Tread
Illustration 3- Bridgestone Blizzak WS-50

ridgestone Blizzak WS-50 (185/65 R 15)

My first encounter with the Blizzak was over ten years ago. I decided to run the original Blizzak on my Galant VR-4, and see how well it worked in the local Winter Rally Challenge series. I was impressed. This is a new generation of Blizzzak, and our hopes are definitely high.

What Bridgestone Says

The BLIZZAK WS-50 winter tire features an exclusive TUBE MULTICELL® compound developed by Bridgestone to deliver snow and ice performance without studs! And with the addition of UNI-T technology, the BLIZZAK WS-50 helps drivers of imported and domestic sedans, coupes, and sports cars meet the challenge of adverse winter conditions.

G

Photo of Inardi Tread
Illustration 4- Green Diamond Inari

reen Diamond Inari (185/65 R 15)

Green Diamond sprang into the US market several years ago, and quickly became the tire I received the most questions about. This year, we were finally able to obtain a set to test, and we had very high expectations.

What Green Diamond Says

What is a Green Diamond Tire? – Green Diamond Tires are tires in which hard granules are distributed evenly on all the wear-surfaces of the tire. These granules provide better traction in slippery conditions. Hard granules (silicium carbide and aluminum oxide) are used as a substitute for industrial diamonds, fixed to grinding wheels and sprockets, e.g. in the metals industry. In the manufacture of Green Diamond Tires, the granules are spread evenly throughout the rubber. This even distribution of the granules throughout the tire’s wear surface ensures that as the tire wears down and granules are worn away, new ones are uncovered. Green Diamond Tires are particularly suitable for use with ABS braking systems, and perform best against other tires in the most difficult of slippery conditions, around 0°C. Green Diamond Tires are an Icelandic invention. The patent for the production method is held by New Industries Ltd, Reykjavík, Iceland. Green Diamond Tires are environmentally friendly.

The Inari Tire – A Swedish designed snow tire, providing excellent snow traction in all conditions and designed by the people who know about winter driving. The Inari, with a Swedish rubber compounding designed for cold temperatures, is a terrific dedicated snow tire choice. Available in limited sizes for imported cars.

N


Illustration 5- Nokian WR

okian WR (195/60 R 15)

We have come to expect a lot from Nokian. Based in Finland, they really know about snow. The WR is the latest incarnation of their All Weather Tire. This is one of the few tires that can be used year round, but still meet the Severe Winter Service standard.

What Nokian Says

The world´s fastest friction tyre which is designed especially for the changing winter conditions of Central Europe. Nokian WR is suitable for year-round use, because its grip and driving comfort are excellent on a wet, dry or snowy road.

T


Illustration 6- Toyo Observe

oyo Observe (185/65 R 15)

Like Kuhmo, Toyo has been quietly earning a reputation in the motorsports world for very good stock class racing tires. With the reputation they have established, we expect this should be a good tire.

What Toyo Says

The Observe studless winter radial is designed for driving in severe winter conditions. It features reduced noise as compared to studded tires. Embedded with countless environmentally friendly walnut shell microbits for improved traction. That's innovation.

Toyo's Microbit Technology, combined with tread design and special winter rubber compounds, offer improved winter traction compared to Toyo standard all-season tires.

The Toyo Observe is officially qualified for"severe snow conditions". A new industry standard and testing procedures have been established for tires designed for severe snow conditions. The Toyo Observe has met that standard with room to spare and will sport the new Mountain/Snowflake sidewall icon for such tires.

The Cars

Six sets of tires require six cars to test on. That sounds simple enough, but it was very surprising how many people I approached who were not willing (or able) to offer their time and cars for the use of a set of snow tires. In the end, after mechanical breakdowns had their toll, we ended up with three RWD vehicles and three AWD vehicles.

The AWD Clan

Originally, I had planned to test with four Mitsubishi Galant VR4s. The VR4 was the “Evo” of the late 1980's and early 1990's. It was the car Mitsubishi took to the World Rally Championship several times between 1989 to 1991.

Power for this car comes from the same 2 liter, 16 valve, turbocharged motor found in the Eagle Talons and Mitsubishi Eclipses. The drive line is also nearly identical, differing only in the first gear and final drive ratios. The engine's 200 bhp and 200 ft-lbs is channeled to all four wheels through a 5- speed manual transmission. The car is – for all intents and purposes – a 4 door version of the Mitsubishi Eclipse. With a total of only 3000 imported to the US during the 1991 and 1992 model years, it is a rare car.

The choice for using this particular car was quite simple. I had one, I had rallied one, I had racing friends who had them, and the VR4 took the same size tires as the Volvos.

The RWD Family

One of the hats I wear – outside of my full time job as a software programmer – is that of a contributing editor to the Volvo Club of America's Rolling magazine (http://www.vcoa.org). That position was born from my love of these hardy pieces of Swedish iron, one of which saved my life as a teenage driver. You see, in 1987 I flipped my then 22 year old Volvo and walked away from it with only a mild concussion. I still have that car today, and at almost 40 years old, it still is a blast as an AutoX racer.

As in past years, I decided to use the last generations of Volvo's RWD cars, the 700 and 900 series cars. Since these are very similar, I felt they made a good match. After some looking, I ended up with a plan to use my '87 740 GLE Sedan, and an AutoX'ing friend's 1994 940 Wagon. Although there is some slight difference in weight balance, the principle is the same, a 2.3 liter inline 4 cylinder motor driving the rear wheels through a three speed automatic transmission.

The wild card in the RWD group was the replacement for my Galant VR4 (which blew an engine). The replacement was a 1994 Volvo 960 Wagon. The 960 Wagon and 940 Wagon are very similar in many ways. They both share the same rear-end design – a solid axle with forward links, but the 960 adds a computer controlled locking differential. The computer locks the differential in slippery conditions when the speed is less then 25mph. The engine and transmission are also different. The 960 has a 200 bhp, 200 ft-lb 32 valve in-line 6 cylinder motor with a computer controlled four speed automatic transmission. The transmission has 3 operating modes: economy, sport, and winter. In terms of raw acceleration, the 960 wagon is closer to the Galant VR4 then the 940. In terms of handling, it is still a RWD car.

A Night at the Race Track Test Parking Lot

While the primary purpose of the Real World Snow Tire Tests is to give subjective feedback on how different tires behave in the real world, we have been wanting to provide some objective data for some time. For several years, we have planned to do a head-to-head tire testing shoot-out. Every year events have conspired to make sure we couldn't do it. This year we finally were able to make it happen.

The original plan was simple: Take all of the cars with all of the snow tires to a friends rally cross course and see which was the fastest. Between runs, we would trade cars and switch tires on the cars. The idea was to remove any differences that the cars contributed, and to give everyone a feel for the tires.

In the end, we did our testing in an unused parking lot, and we only traded cars. The tires were not traded between the cars. Still, we learned a lot.

The parking lot was covered with 3 to 4 inches of snow. The top layer of snow was almost, but not quite light enough to be powder. The very bottom was almost, but not quite hard enough to be ice.

The Tests

We did two different tests on the tires. The first test was an acceleration and braking test. This was designed to test the tire's ability in going and stopping, not turning. The second test was 5 laps around a test course we set up in the parking lot. The purpose of this test was to see how the tires behaved while cornering.

Acceleration and Braking Tests

We conducted two different types of acceleration tests. In both of these tests, the object was to accelerate and brake as hard as possible without spinning or locking up a tire.

In the first tests, two cars would accelerate as fast as they could until a fixed point was reached. At that point, the drivers would note their speed, then they would both stop as quickly as they could.

After doing this, we realized that it was getting kind of hard to look at the speedo and the fixed point, so we started a second test. Both cars would come up to speed side by side, and then we would see which stopped the quickest.

We eventually realized that we did not have the right tools to take meaningful data, so we moved on to the Closed Course Test.


Illustration 7- The Closed Course

Closed Course Tests

This was the event we were all looking forward to. We laid out the 5 turn course around the parking lot. The course, as shown in “Illustration 7- The Closed Course,” gave us a good long straight to get the cars up to speed, a couple of wide open corners to drift through, and a tight corner to finish off.

From the picture, you can see that the final turn before the start / finish line is very tight, and there are some very unfriendly trees close to it. To keep the speeds down, we required that the car come to a complete stop at the beginning of each lap. As we tested, we also discovered that each person had a slightly different interpretation of “complete stop,” but we finally worked through it.

The RAW Data

The following table shows the lap times for the Closed Course Test. The data shows some variation in times between drivers and cars. While most tire/driver pairs did 5 laps, one pairing only did 1, and one pairing got 7. In one other case, we lost the time for the 2nd lap.

The first column shows the tire and the car. The second gives the driver. The next 7 columns give the recorded lap times. Then next two “average” columns give some interesting statistical data. The “Avg.” column shows the average of the recorded laps. The “Avg. (B/W)” is the average with the best and worst lap times dropped. This helps to cancel out anomalies in the testing and recording of data. The “Place” column shows the overall place the car/tire/driver posted. The “Class Place” shows how the car/tire/driver ranked in the AWD and RWD classes.

In the “Lap” columns, the fastest time for each driver is shown in green, with the fastest overall tire time for a given tire is also bolded. The slowest time for each driver is shown in red, and the slowest overall time for the tire is bolded. The fastest and slowest average times for each tire are similarly shown.

Tire

Car

Driver

Lap 1

Lap 2

Lap 3

Lap 4

Lap 5

Lap 6

Lap 7

Avg.

Avg (B/W)

Place

Class Place

Blizzak WS-50(185/65R15)

VR-4 (mod)

Chris Wirth

32.52

???

29.33

28.94

30.23



30.505

29.780

6

A-6

George Little

27.88

27.57

25.98

26.59

26.88

25.60


26.750

26.755

2

A-2

John Werner

25.85

26.30

26.87

27.47

26.01



26.500

26.400

1

A-1

Green Diamond Inari (185/65R15)

960 Wagon

Frank Bov

28.33

29.13

31.75

31.56

29.56



30.066

30.084

8

R-2

John Werner

31.99

29.72

31.06

29.61

33.30

28.43


30.685

30.595

9

R-3

Kuhmo KW-11 I*Zen Stud (195/60R15)

940 Wagon

Frank Bov

32.40

31.09

32.53

30.82

32.36

28.45


31.275

31.668

11

R-5

John Werner

32.15

30.12

31.90

31.07




31.310

31.485

10

R-4

Nokian Hakka-2 (195/65R15)

740 Sedan

John Werner

29.55

30.09

28.26

31.10

29.80

32.20

28.50

29.930

29.810

7

R-1

Toyo Observe G0-2 Plus (185/65R15)

VR-4 (Stock)

Chris Wirth

32.50

28.33

29.40

27.67

28.58

26.90


28.897

28.138

4

A-4

George Little

27.81

28.59

28.59

29.53

30.06



28.916

28.904

5

A-5

John Werner

27.41







27.410

27.410

3

A-3

Table 1 - Raw Lap Times

We were unable to test the Nokian WR at the shoot-out because of mechanical problems with the test car.

If we examine the raw data, we can see a few interesting tidbits. The first is the definite difference between how the AWD and RWD vehicles performed, but at just around 2 to 3 seconds on a 30 second course, it was not quite as big as some people expected.

The consistency for each driver/car pair can be seen by looking at the difference between the two averages. If a driver is always turning in the same times, then the difference will be zero. If the two averages are very different, then the driver is not being very consistent. The last thing about consistency is looking at a consistent trend. If a driver's time keeps getting faster and faster, then the driver is still approaching the limits of their ability. The more consistent the times, the better the data integrity.

Tire

Tire Size

Avg (b/w)

Place

Place by Car

Blizzak WS-50

185/65R15

27.377

1

A-1

Green Diamond Inari

185/65R15

30.312

4

R-2

Kuhmo KW-11 I*Zen Stud

195/60R15

31.489

5

R-3

Nokian Hakka-2

195/60R15

29.808

3

R-1

Toyo Observe G0-2 Plus

185/65R15

28.597

2

A-2

Table 2 - Average Lap Times by Tire

Data Analysis

As a starting point for analyzing the raw data from the closed course tests, let’s look at the average lap time for each tire. These values were calculated by dropping the fastest and slowest lap time for each tire, and then taking the average of the remaining values. The results are shown in “Table 2 - Average Lap Times by Tire.”

From this table, we can say that the fastest overall average lap times were turned in by the AWD cars, with the fastest tire/car combination being the Blizzak WS-50. The second fastest tire/car combination was with the Toyo Observes. The interesting problem we have with this data is that the cars were not quite as equal as we would have liked. The car equipped with the Blizzak’s also had some “tweaks” under the hood that made it a little bit faster then the “stock” VR4 with the Toyo’s. Had we changed the tires between the two cars, the results might have been different.

The fastest RWD average time was achieved with the Nokian Hakka-2 on a 17 year old Volvo 740 sedan. The second fastest time was with the Green Diamond Inari tires mounted on a 1994 Volvo 960 wagon, and the slowest average time was set with the Kuhmo KW-11 tires mounted on a Volvo 940 wagon.

In this case, although the cars are also slightly different, we can draw a little clearer picture as to which tire really is faster. The 740 sedan, is slightly lighter then the 960 wagon, but it also has less horsepower and no locking differential. One would expect the higher output of the 960 wagon with it’s limited slip differential, and more weight over the driving wheels would be faster in the snow. What we see is the opposite, giving a very strong indication that the Hakka-2 had a bit of an advantage. Again, it would have been nice to have had the time to swap tires between vehicles and see how the times changed.

Having said all that, raw numbers only tell part of the story. In fact, the fastest time was set with a tire that, while very good, was not the choice of most of the testers. The reason? When it was working well in the snow, it did well, but it had a tendency to have a very stark transition from gripping to sliding. In other words, when the tire very suddenly started to slide, instead of slowing it started to lose traction.

To better understand our subjective views of the tires, you may want to look to the next section, “Results.”

Results

In the following reviews, you will read the original thoughts of the primary tester for each tire, along with our combined thoughts. The text of each review is primarily that of the tester, with some additional editorial comments added, particularly with regard to how the tires felt in the shoot-out.

As you compare the “First Impressions” of the tire with the follow-up and shoot out comments, you will see how the tires changed from their virgin condition to how they would behave for most of their life. In general, you will see that the tires got better, particularly on ice, as the tires got broken in.

The Studdable Tires

These tires are designed so that they can have metal studs put in them. The studs help to increase traction on ice and hard packed snow by cutting or digging in. While it is possible to stud these tires, we did not stud them for this year's test. It should be noted that once a tire has been driven without studs, it can no longer have studs put in.

Kuhmo KW11 I*Zen Stud (195/60 R 15)

This tire was fitted on a RWD Volvo 940 Wagon that was driven by Frank Bov.

First Impressions: It's a darn good tire until you need studs.

Detailed Comments: I'd actually rate myself a moderately hard driver and these tires between excellent and good. But they're as good or better than Conti TS-740's, so they get an excellent.

These are in the European style; they give up very little over summer tires when there's no snow on the road. Very good traction and very linear handling response on dry roads and only a little loss on wet roads; you can definitely smoke the brakes. I was very impressed. In return, they're not the most aggressive in snow. Very competent; you don't notice much change crossing between dry and snow-covered patches. But you also won't go blazing through foot deep powder, either.

On ice, I realized why they put "stud" in the name; they would need studs to be better than most. They're competent without studs, but not in the same league as studless ice tires.

Other surprises:

In summary, these are in the European mild-winter mold; they enhance snow and ice performance significantly while remaining very good, enjoyable wet and dry, cold weather tires. That makes them a great choice for any area like Rochester that gets a little snow every day, but not the best for deep snow areas like mountains or poorly maintained roads.

During the shoot-out testing, this tire proved quite predictable and easy to handle, producing the lowest standard deviation in recorded times. While it was not quite as good in the snow as the Hakka 2, it did perform very well. The high tread to void ratio1 of the tire helps give it very nice dry road characteristics, making a very good tire for people who only occasionally see snow. The one caveat to keep in mind with this tire is that if you do expect to encounter ice, you need to have it studded.

Nokian Hakkapeliita-2 (195/60 R 15)

This tire was fitted to a RWD Volvo 740 Sedan, primarily driven by John Werner.

Nokian has always produced very good snow tires and this one is no exception. It is probably the best snow tire I have ever driven. The most notable characteristic has been the self-correcting nature of the tire. Although you can get the rear-end of the car to break loose under power, you have to work to keep the tail out, otherwise it will just self-correct and bring the tail back in.

When pushed hard, the Hakka-2 responds by digging in harder. As you continue to push it, it will slowly start letting go with enough feedback so that you know you are nearing the limit. This even holds true both in linear acceleration (going and stopping) and lateral acceleration (turning). Even after the traction limits are crossed, the Hakka-2 does not give up. Instead, it keeps fighting for traction. This makes the tire a joy to drive very hard in the snow.

When compared to the Green Diamond Inari, this tire seems to find its grip in the snow sooner. It is not quite as good on ice as the Green Diamond, which is most likely because the tire has been optimized for use with studs. Having said that, this tire is still very good on the ice, even without studs installed. Although I did not feel that my driving required me to stud the tire, it would have been very interesting to see what the high stud density of the tire would have done on ice.

During the Closed Course testing, this tire proved to be the most predictable and turned in the fastest average time of the RWD class. When it was possible to get the tire to slide, it did so very predictably and very smoothly. You knew that if you pushed it too far, it was not going to suddenly turn on you. This contrasts with the Blizzak WS-50, which had a tendency to suddenly lose all of its traction while braking and turning as we came into the first turn in the course.

The Non-studded (or Friction) Tires

These tires have no provision for using studs. They rely on their tread design and compounds to achieve ice traction. Two of these tires depend purely on the make up of the rubber they use. The other two rely on hard additives to do the work of biting in.

Bridgestone Blizzak WS-50 (185/5 R 15)

This tire was fitted on an AWD Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 owned and driven by Chris Wirth.

First Impressions: I do need to get at least one good deep snow driving pass on these tires so I can see what they are capable of. One thing I did notice is that the dry road/damp road traction is quite poor compared to anything else I've driven on, and the tread squirm is quite noticeable. The antilock brakes will kick in sooner than expected under moderate braking when slowing down on a downhill expressway exit ramp. The lateral handling is some of the poorest I've ever driven and you can't turn the wheel with an sharp inputs or you will lose control. High speed lane changes would be deadly at 70+ MPH if you were used to a track car like handling, so I have to be very smooth with my driving in order to keep the steering wheel angle and tire angle the same. I've done some black ice traction testing in our work parking lot and the antilock brakes kicked in very quickly, but ice like that is very slippery and it is smooth as glass.

In the closed course testing, this tire performed very well – posting the fastest time overall, but it came at a price. At the end of the first straight, the tire did not want to both slow and turn the car well. Each time, it seemed that you had to completely separate the actions or the car would just continue to go straight. This did not seem to be the case for the other tires we tested. On the second turn of the course, the problem with turning was again noticed, but it was not as pronounced as there was not as much speed to dissipate going into the corner. Once past these two points, the tire worked well and tracked very well, even producing a nice power slide in the third turn.

Although the Blizzak was not as capable of turning while under heavy braking as we hoped, it was not what we would call unpredictable. It just has a very abrupt transition from gripping to sliding.

Green Diamond Inari (185/65 R 15)

This tire was fitted on a RWD Volvo 960 Wagon, driven by Beth Werner.

First Impressions: One of the most interesting things about the Inari snow tire is that it gets better the more you use it. When the virgin tires are first put on, you see only rubber, and no “green diamonds.” It takes a little over 500 miles of driving before the crystals really show through. Once they do, it is amazing how well they work. (And how sharp they are if you rub your hand along the tread face!) While the crystals don't give the pure ice traction of studs, they are one of the better tires out there.

The Inari shows its Finnish design heritage. The tire is quite good as a deep-snow snow tire, and it has good promise on ice. The true ice grip can not yet be evaluated because there is not enough wear on the tires to expose the silica crystals (the green diamonds) completely across the tread. It is expected that the ice traction will get much better as the tire wears.

In the snow, the tire exhibits good grip, but it does not have the same level of self-correcting as the Nokian Hakka-2.

On the closed course test, this tire was a blast to drive. It was quite predictable and did very well. In terms of power-sliding, this tire did the best job of kicking up the snow. The one caveat is that once the tire decided to slide, it wanted to keep sliding, especially if you stayed on the power.

This tire also produced the two most interesting moments of the test. The first was watching Frank Bov get wider and looser around the final turn into start/finish, until on the third time, we really thought he was going to clip the trees. The next time through, he was much more conservative. This brings up an interesting point about the traction of the tire. Since the car had to come to a complete stop before making the turn, the tire must have generated a fair amount of traction when starting from a stop for it to get so loose so quickly.

The second interesting moment was as I came through the third turn during my fourth lap. As I passed the light pole in full drift, I ended up facing the pole with about 2 feet separating the front bumper from the concrete base. The whole time I was praying that the rear tires would not suddenly “hook-up” and launch the car into the pole.

Nokian WR (195/60 R 15)

This tire is fitted on an AWD Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 driven by Sean Caron.

First impressions: Very VERY gripping in snow covered roads. Very predictable in slush and tarmac-snow-tarmac transitions. A little bit of a skid slide on pure ice although ice patches have been far between so I am reserving judgment yet.

Further Notes: The skid-slide is definitely apparent. Although in a snow covered environment the tires are very calm and predictable, in a glare ice situation the tires just don't have as good a grip as I would expect. Part of this may be that the tires are still 'breaking in' as I have noticed an improvement in ice grip as the tires wear, but so far the tires are respectable in ice conditions and really shine in slush and pure snow covered roads.

Dry handling is equivalent to an all-season tire. Medium tire roll with good feedback. Finding the limit of the tire is sketchy endeavor at best. Then again, it's a winter tire, not an autocross tire. Very comfortable in both city driving and freeway driving.

Unfortunately, this tire was not able to be tested in the shoot-out due to mechanical difficulties.

Toyo Observe G0-2 Plus (185/65 R 15)

This tire was fitted on an AWD Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 driven by George Little.

First Impressions: While the Toyo's seem to be pretty good on ice, I must say I'm less than impressed with them in the snow. I think they are just too damn narrow. The 185's are more like 175's because of the angled wall's on the outer tread block pattern. I see what they were trying to do, give it an angle so that it is less likely to roll over (the tread) in the dry, and they stepped it to try to keep a perpendicular edge which is needed for good snow turning. It's almost so that they could build them cheaper by making them with super soft sidewalls as they have a very mushy feeling on dry roads. I suspect this might be a good snow tire on this car in a size more like 205/55 16's.

Further Notes: Last weekend I attended the rallycross. The course was plowed with some nice banks on the sharp corners, but a few spots that were sheer ice. By the end of the day the course quickly turned to chopped, frozen dirt chunks and well, more ice. In these conditions, the Toyos were well mannered. The only exception was once you started sliding (with one end, the other, or both) they just rolled over the loose ruts and required a lot of patience before you slowed enough to get grip. After watching the other 6 stock O4 (AWD Class) cars struggle to take off from the start line at the end of the day, I realized just how good the Toyo Observes are at acceleration/braking in mixed snow and ice.

During the shoot-out, the tire proved to be another good choice. While not posting the fastest time, it did not have the same problem turning while entering the first turn that the Blizzaks experienced. The tire did not seem to have quite the grip of the Blizzaks, but it seemed to transition from gripping to sliding in a smoother fashion.

Conclusions

Since the introduction of the Severe Winter Service2 rating, winter tires have vastly improved. These six snow tires show that very well.

If someone gave me any of these tires, I would gladly accept them. This is echoed by our tire testers who are reluctant to give-up, or even trade, the tires they have for another set.

If I had to pick tires for my own cars and did not have to worry about the cost, I would probably go with a set of studded Nokian Hakka-2's and a set of Nokian WR's, mostly because I have had so much experience with Nokian over the years, and Nokian has always had a good tire.

When factoring cost into the equation, I would lean more toward the Green Diamond Inari and Kuhmo KW11 tires.

The Blizzak was and the Observe are also great tires, and well worth looking at. While they did not do quite as well on dry and wet pavement, they outclassed the unstudded/studable snow tires when it came to ice traction. If you decide you are not going to run studs, but still want good ice traction and the expense of dry and wet traction, then you should consider these.

Looking Back

In the past we have reviewed the Nokian WRT, the Dunlop Graspic DS-1, the Nokian NRW, and the Vredestein SnowTrac. These results can be found on The Snow Tire FAQ website, http://www.snowtire.info. Because of the overabundance of tires to test this year, we did not officially re-test any of the previous tires. I can say that all but the original Nokian NRW tires have been retired after great use, and that the Vredestein SnowTrac's have been passed on to a deserving soul who is still using them. The Dunlop Graspics spent yet another year keeping the top of my tire rack from feeling empty, and the Nokian WRT's are still in full time, year round use.

The Ideals Behind the Test

I have read many tire tests in the past, with the vast majority of them focusing on quantitative measurements done under well controlled conditions. These test leave only a modicum of room for qualitative evaluations. There is a place for quantitative tests, but I wanted to do something more representative of the experiences the people who were asking me questions would encounter. Consider this, how many times do you really drive on bare, perfectly flat "hockey rink" ice? How about 3 inches of virgin snow in a parking lot? This test would focus on real drivers driving on real roads under real conditions.

From this desire grew two guiding principles for the test:

  1. Make the test a real world test. The conditions the tires are tested in should be the same conditions people can expect to find in their real lives. Since the real world doesn't end after one weekend, the tires should be tested with some real mileage. To that end, the tests are only really finished when the tire is disposed of, but for the sake of readers, the results would be published in a timely manner. This also implies that we will continue to evaluate the tires and have periodic updates as the tires wear.

  2. Make the tests fair by making sure everything is as equal as possible. Testing should be done with nearly identical cars which were driven in nearly identical conditions, with nearly identical driving styles. Tires choices should also match. If one tire is studded, they should all be. Likewise, the same size tire should be used on all vehicles.

Rochester, New York formed the center of our test. Rochester is on Lake Ontario, half-way between Buffalo and Syracuse. Every year we get at least one major snow fall that drops up to 10 inches before it is over, and one or two days where the temperature is just right to give everything a slight coating of freezing rain. From November through April (and sometimes May), we have a varied climate that can bring almost every type of winter precipitation you can think of. With all of this weather, the tires we tested were exposed to everything from heavy snow to ice to dry roads to slush to rain, sometimes all in the same trip!

Recommended by the Snow Tire FAQ

This year marks the introduction of the new Snow Tire FAQ Logo. Along with the logo, we are also introducing our “Recommended” mark. The logo at the left indicates that a tire has been tested in one of our Real World Snow Tires Tests and has proven itself as a tire we can recommend. The recommendation is based on a qualitative analysis of the tire. When you are looking for snow tires, look for the “Recommended by the Snow Tire FAQ” logo.

Summary Of Results

The following table summarizes the results of our tire tests. For tires tested in previous years, the Traction results shown are from the first year the tire was tested.



Snow Traction

Ice Traction

Wet Traction

Dry Traction

Degradation of Snow/Ice Performance

Overall

Bridgestone Blizzzak WS-50

Excellent

Excellent

Okay

Okay

N/A

Good

Green Diamond Inari

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Okay

N/A

Excellent

Kuhmo I*Zen Stud KW11

Excellent

Good (1)

Excellent

Excellent

N/A

Excellent

Nokian WR

Excellent

Okay (3)

Excellent

Excellent (2)

N/A

Excellent

Nokian Hakkapeliita-2

Excellent

Good (1)

Good

Good

N/A

Excellent

Toyo Observe

Excellent

Excellent

Okay

Okay

N/A

Good



Previously Reviewed Tires – Winter 2003

Nokian WR Light Truck Tire

Excellent

Good

Good

Good

Good

Excellent



Winter 2001

Nokian NRW

Excellent

Good

Excellent

Good

Excellent

Excellent

Dunlop Graspic DS-1

Good

Good

Excellent

Okay

N/A

Good

Vredestein SnowTrac

Excellent

Good

Excellent

Okay

Excellent

Excellent

Notes:

  1. This tire is designed to be studded, but was tested without studs. If it had been studded, we expect the results would have been much better.

  2. This is for a snow tire, not a summer, almost race tire.

  3. The ice traction was not on par with the snow traction, but it improved as the tire was “broken in.”

Future Plans

In the future, we plan is to to continue to test the tires we tested this past season. We may even work some more new tires into the mix. Although it has been fun to have six tires to test at once, it has also required a fair amount of work.

Another Shoot-Out

This winter, we plan to do another tire shoot-out for two very important reasons: 1) We want to see how the tires mature in their second season, and 2) it is just too much fun flogging cars through a snow covered test course. If we can get add someone to help administer the tests, we will even look for a better venue and better instrumentation for the test.

There were several lessons we learned from this year's tests. Perhaps the biggest is that it gets mighty cold waiting around for the other drivers to get done. A warm place to hang out, or at least something warm to drink are a must.

The second lesson was in data collecting. We did all of our timing by eyeball and stopwatch. If we had borrowed a set of electronic timers, we could have gotten rid of the human factor.

During the debriefing from the tests, we also decided that there was more data we could take. If the cars were fitted with accelerometers, we could measure how the fore and aft accelerations from the Acceleration and Braking tests and the lateral (sideways) acceleration on the Closed Course test. This would give us some more hard data on the tire's performance.

A Driving School?

We have also talked about doing a winter driving school for new, young drivers. Having lost a friend this past year to inexperience in winter driving, it is really something we want to prevent. To us, it seems very strange that people can live in an area that has so much snow and yet never learn how to handle a car in the snow.

How Much Do Studs Help?

One of the questions that we walked away with was: How would the results have changed if we had run the studdable snow tires with studs? In the future we would like to be able to get two sets of the same studdable tires, stud one set, and then see how they compare in a shoot-out .

Snow Tires Needed!

The Snow Tire FAQ would love to test other brands of tires. Unfortunately, The Snow Tire FAQ is run purely out of my own pockets. Since there is no budget to buy tires, all the tires we test are donated. If you would like to donate a set of snow tires for testing, please contact John Werner at john.werner@snowtire.info.

Show Your Support

TMake Tracks in the Snow!he Snow Tire FAQ has a new logo, and we have made static cling window stickers of it. If you have found this review or The Snow Tire FAQ itself useful, please consider showing your support by putting one of these logos in the window of your car, or buying one of our pieces of logo merchandise from Cafe Press.

Snow Tire Logo for Window StickerIf you have an ink jet printer, you can print your own copy of the logo from the high resolution file located on The Snow Tire FAQ web page (http://www.snowtire.info). Clear, static cling “paper” for ink jet printers is available from most office supply stores. Be forewarned, this stuff is not cheap, but it does have some great uses. Alternatively, you may want to print it on magnetic sheets, which are even more expensive, but offer the ability to be put on any metal surface of your car. [Okay, I hear the snickers from you people with fiberglass and aluminum bodied cars.]

For those of you who do not want to take the time to print your own, you can also buy them the logos from our Cafe Press merchandise page (http://www.cafepress.com/snowtire_info).

Thanks to...

1Tread to void ratio is the ratio between where there is rubber and where there is empty spaces.

2The Severe Winter Service rating is a performance based certification of winter tires. Unlike the M+S Rating of the past – which is based on geometric analysis of the tire tread – the Severe Winter Service rating is based solely on the measured performance of the tire in winter conditions.

The Snow Tire FAQ Real World Snow Tire Tests – 2004
http://www.snowtire.info
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