A good set of winter tires is invaluable in colder climates that see heavy ice and snow. These seasonal tires are designed to provide high traction in cold weather and can turn a genuinely dangerous drive into a normal outing. While there are many tires that claim to be among the best winter tires a driver can equip their vehicle with; there are currently four standouts that fit most passenger car wheel sizes.
All four of these options offer a startling amount of grip on snow and slush, thanks to aggressive tread patterns, solid construction, and advanced rubber compounds. While no tire will provide perfect grip on pure ice, all of these tires will give you above-average control and safety to help you get where you need to go in wintertime.
General Tire Altimax Arctic 12
When General Tire built the Altimax Arctic 12, it set out to build a winter tire capable of safe operation in truly extreme conditions. While the other tires on this list are all incredibly capable winter tires, they are designed to be studless, while the Arctic 12 is a studdable winter tire. This means that the Arctic 12 can be configured to dig into ice and grip it the way a normal tire would on wet tarmac, which might be hard to believe for those unfamiliar with studded tires, but a daily reality in the winter for many. That said, driving with studded tires will provide you with less grip on paved roads.
For standard winter driving, the Altimax Arctic 12 has a tread pattern with three primary features smoothly integrated together. The center feature is a fixed rib that provides solid on-center grip, and flanking this are wide angular grooves with notches that serve to propel water and slush away from the tire. Finally, angled tread blocks with sipes are positioned on the contact patch’s perimeter to bite into snow and add more wet road grip.
The Altimax Arctic 12 is built from the ground up as a “severe snow service” tire, able to confidently operate in some of the worst weather conditions one could find. As such, it carries the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol that marks all high-end winter tires. Designed to accept TSMI #12 studs, the Altimax Arctic 12 is an affordable but high capability winter tire that can also work very well on solid ice.
Continental VikingContact 7
Continental has made the best all-season tires for quite some time now, but its VikingContact 7 winter tire shows the company’s full capability in building specialized tires. A studless ice and snow tire, the VikingContact 7 is built from a compound that includes unconventional ingredients for maximum grip and capability. Canola oil keeps the tire pliable to both increase durability and bolster the contact patch area, while active silica aids grip in the wet and increases braking performance.
The tread that this compound is molded into is almost as advanced, with a myriad of features perfectly optimized and balanced to provide maximum grip in the months of the year when grip is hardest to find.
The tread pattern of the VikingContact 7 features what is called an optimized void pattern, which means that the ratio of grooves to solid tread block has been thoroughly tested to ensure it will provide the best possible grip in all winter conditions. Solid linkages and large tread blocks keep this ratio optimized as the vehicle moves and the tires flex.
The outsides of those large tread blocks are armed with what Continental calls Grip Edges, which dig into the snow itself to enhance traction further. The Continental VikingContact 7 takes a deeply scientific approach to winter weather grip, and it has the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol to prove its credentials.
Michelin X-Ice Xi3
At the high end of winter tire performance and price resides the Michelin X-Ice Xi3. An enormous amount of research, development, and testing went into this tire, and as such, it provides a level of driver confidence that almost turns a moderately snowy road into a dry one. Michelin operates at the highest levels of motorsports, and the focus and ingenuity required to win championships are on full display here in its third-generation winter tire.
The tread in the X-Ice Xi3 is directional, funneling grip-robbing snow and slush out of the way of the contact patch. In addition, this tire is made to have as little rolling resistance as possible, giving noticeable improvements to fuel economy and cabin noise levels. The tread pattern itself offers several high tech and rather unconventional methods that have proven to significantly increase grip in winter weather, including cross Z sipes and micro-pumps. The tire’s basic construction is tougher than many of its competitors as well, with twin steel belts strengthened by spirally wound nylon plys. This means that even at speed, the tire will perfectly maintain its tread pattern to maximize grip.
The compound that provides that grip is silica-based and is classified by Michelin as FleX-Ice. This special compound remains pliable as temperatures drop, allowing the X-Ice Xi3 to grip dry pavement like an all-season tire, but grasp snowy asphalt like only a specialized winter tire ever could. The Michelin X-Ice Xi3 is the perfect tire for vehicles that see the harshest snowy conditions but still require excellent performance.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS90
The name Blizzak is legendary, and for good reason. For some time, this Bridgestone brand has adorned arguably the best studless winter tires available in North America. The WS90 is the latest iteration of this winter tire dynasty, and it absolutely lives up to the hype. The WS90’s excellent capabilities start with the tread pattern, which is a stiff directional setup lacking the more road tire-like center tread patterns of other winter tires. The Blizzak instead features two large central channels that allow snow and slush to be scooped into the channels so the tread blocks can grip the road.
This design allows for rapid evacuation of the contact patch, all the while enhancing grip by wringing some purchase even out of the snow being flung out of the way. Finally, this new tread pattern can maintain this excellent material evacuation capability while gaining 15% more edge area when compared to the previous Blizzak design. The compound used in the WS90 is called the Multi-Cell compound. Specifically designed for use in cold climates, the Multi-Cell compound is one of the most advanced and capable rubber compounds ever used on winter tires. It includes special bite particles and silica enhancements, among other techniques.
The WS90 is a studless ice and snow tire that is perfect for those wanting the absolute maximum grip in the harshest of winter weather. Available in a much wider variety of sizes than many other specialized snow tires, the Blizzak WS90 nonetheless still sports the respected three-peak mountain snowflake symbol that showcases its capabilities.
Get Your Vehicle Ready for Winter
Whether you need grip on a frozen lake far from civilization or simply want to keep your passengers as safe as possible for the winter school run, there is an extremely capable winter tire for you. When selecting between them, be sure to check for sizing and price to ensure the tire will fit both the wheels you intend to put it on and your budget. While impressive grip does not need to come at a hefty cost, the advanced technologies and extensive engineering behind the best winter tires do make these four tires more expensive than many other options. However, the best of the best is well worth it when winter hits hard.