Top 10 : Best Winter Tires for Cars and Small SUVs, 2020-2021

We were lucky enough to do our latest winter tire tests in February 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America and put car makers and dealers on lockdown. With compact SUVs being the most popular vehicles on the market, we used a Nissan Rogue and Honda CR-V as test models.

It all took place in the Laurentides region of Quebec, with varying road and weather conditions including ice, deep snow and hard-packed snow, as well as wet and dry pavement, oftentimes with plenty of bumps and potholes along the way. 

Our criteria were grip, braking performance, ride quality and driving dynamics. Part of the ratings reflects the testers’ personal appreciation of each tire.

It feels like we’re seeing the same tire models land in the top 10 year after year. That’s because the tire industry is slow to evolve and products can remain on the market for 4-12 years. Still, there are some newcomers for 2020-2021 including the Bridgestone WS90, Continental VikingContact 7, Goodyear WinterCommand and Toyo Observe GSi-6 LS.

As for the brand new Michelin X-Ice Snow, we couldn’t manage to get our hands on a set in time for our tests. Another tire that’s notably missing is the Gislaved Nord*Frost 200, which finished fourth in our 2018 rankings.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 winter tires for passenger cars and small SUVs for 2020-2021:

10. Goodyear WinterCommand | Score: 79%

Photo: Jean-François Guay

Bridgestone, Michelin, Nokian, Pirelli and Toyo are not the only tire brands offering multiple winter models. Goodyear now has a selection of 12 models. The excellent Ultra Grip Ice WRT scored high in past editions of our tests, but this year we had access to the WinterCommand, which is priced between the Ultra Grip Winter (snow tire) and Ultra Grip WRT (ice tire). Truth be told, the WinterCommand is a compromise between the two, with a tread design similar to ice tires and stud holes befitting of a snow tire.

This Goodyear model stands out with an affordable price, durable construction and vast retail network. It delivers good handling on wet or dry pavement as well as a comfortable ride. It also provides good grip on slippery surfaces and in deep snow. While braking distances on ice were slightly longer than with the Ultra Grip Ice WRT, the WinterCommand did a nice job in wet snow by evacuating water more easily.

  • 38 sizes ranging from 15-20 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 50, 55, 60, 65, 70
  • Width: 185-245 mm
  • Speed rating: T
  • XL (extra load): available
  • Run flat tire: no
  • Tread: directional
  • Studdable: yes (dealer)
  • Manufacturing country: United States

Our Rating

  • Braking on ice: Good
  • Grip in the snow: Good
  • Performance on dry pavement: Good

9. Nordman 7 SUV | Score: 80%

Photo: Jean-François Guay

Most major tire manufacturers have an entry-level brand offering cheaper products that often use older technology. Bridgestone has Firestone, while Michelin has BFGoodrich and Uniroyal. Nokian’s budget brand is called Nordman. In fact, the Nordman 7 is the old Nokian Hakkapeliitta 7 that once dominated our rankings.

The studdable Nordman 7 is a snow tire that can’t match the performance of the Hakkapeliitta 9, but it handles well when braking and cornering on icy surfaces. Plus, it offers exceptional grip in deep snow and hard-packed snow. On paved or concrete highways, the noise level is higher and it only gets worse with studs. For customers who want a Nokian-built tire, the Nordman 7 is more affordable than the Hakkapeliitta 9 and R3.

  • 35 sizes ranging from 13-17 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 80
  • Width: 155-235 mm
  • Speed rating: T
  • XL (extra load): available
  • Run flat tire: no
  • Tread: directional
  • Studdable: yes (factory)
  • Manufacturing country: Russia

Our Rating

  • Braking on ice: Very good
  • Grip in the snow: Very good
  • Performance on dry pavement: Average

8. Pirelli Ice Zero FR | Score: 82%

Photo: Jean-François Guay

Pirelli offers a selection of nine winter tire models. The most popular is the Ice Zero FR (as in FRiction) available in 38 different sizes for passenger cars and small SUVs. The Scorpion Winter, meanwhile, is ideally suited to larger, more luxurious SUVs and those with a focus on performance. As for the Cinturato Winter, it is aimed at small and midsize cars.

We tested the Ice Zero FR and liked the soft compound that contributes to short braking distances on ice and hard-packed snow. This tire also delivers good handling and a quieter ride than average on wet and dry pavement. For extra grip on icy hills, consider the Ice Zero with Double Claw studs. 

  • 38 sizes ranging from 14-19 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65
  • Width: 175-255 mm
  • Speed rating: T, H
  • XL (extra load): available
  • Run flat tire: available
  • Tread: directional
  • Studdable: no (Ice Zero FR), yes-factory (Ice Zero)
  • Manufacturing country: Russia

Our Rating

  • Braking on ice: Very good
  • Grip in the snow: Good
  • Performance on dry pavement: Very good

7. Yokohama iceGuard GO75 | Score: 84%

Photo: Jean-François Guay

Introduced last year, the Yokohama iceGUARD G075 is designed for SUVs and pickups, while the iceGUARD iG53 is designed for passenger cars and smaller SUVs. Compared to the old iceGuard iG51v it replaces, the former boasts tread blocks that are positioned closer together, as well as microgrooves in a diagonal pattern that improve traction on ice and handling on wet or dry pavement. What’s more, the ride is smoother and quieter.

While the not-so-aggressive tread design slightly reduces performance in deep or wet snow, it combines with a durable rubber compound that should theoretically increase the tire’s longevity versus the iG51v. Pricing is reasonable and makes for terrific value overall.

  • 47 sizes ranging from 16-20 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75
  • Width: 215-295 mm
  • Speed rating: S, T
  • XL (extra load): available
  • Run flat tire: no
  • Tread: directional
  • Studdable: no
  • Manufacturing country: Japan

Our Rating

  • Braking on ice: Very good
  • Grip in the snow: Very good
  • Performance on dry pavement: Good

6. Bridgestone Blizzak DM V-2 | Score: 85%

Photo: Jean-François Guay

The Bridgestone DM-V2 finished second last year in our winter tire tests for full-size pickups. In previous years, it repeatedly flirted with the top spot along with the Nokian models. While it now occupies the sixth place in our rankings, this proven Blizzak retains all of its solid attributes on snow and ice, including excellent handling and short braking distances. It also delivers a smooth, controlled ride on wet and dry pavement.

We downgraded the model simply because new tires like the Blizzak WS90 utilize more modern technology. It probably would have landed among the top three had our latest tests involved large SUVs and pickups instead of lighter vehicles with reduced payload capacity.

  • 67 sizes ranging from 15-20 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70
  • Width: 215-285 mm
  • Speed rating: R, S, T
  • XL (extra load): available
  • Run flat tire: no
  • Tread: directional
  • Studdable: no
  • Manufacturing country: Japan

Our Rating

  • Braking on ice: Very good
  • Grip in the snow: Very good
  • Performance on dry pavement: Good

5. Continental VikingContact 7 | Score: 87%

Photo: Jean-François Guay

This year, Continental is introducing three new winter tires including the IceContact XTRM, WinterContact SI Plus and VikingContact 7. The first one is a factory-studded tire, while the second is exclusively sold at Canadian Tire stores (and is identical to the old WinterContact SI). The VikingContact 7 is the main addition to the Continental lineup and it offers as many as 91 different sizes versus the WinterContact SI’s 38.

When comparing the two side by side, we noticed that the VikingContact 7 sports a brand new tread design devoid of the centre groove found on the WinterContact SI. This creates a more unified tread that improves traction in the snow and grip on slippery surfaces. On the other hand, that missing centre groove slightly affects stability at highway speeds. But who cares? Winter driving means reducing your speed anyway. As for noise levels, this Continental tire compares favourably to the Pirelli Ice Zero FR.

With good overall performance, a large number of available sizes and reasonable pricing, the VikingContact 7 is this year’s most pleasant surprise in our book.

  • 91 sizes ranging from 15-20 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70
  • Width: 145-275 mm
  • Speed rating: T, H
  • XL (extra load): available
  • Run flat tire: available
  • Tread: directional
  • Studdable: no
  • Manufacturing country: Slovenia

Our Rating

  • Braking on ice: Very good
  • Grip in the snow: Very good
  • Performance on dry pavement: Very good

4. Toyo Observe GSi-6 LS | Score: 88%

Photo: Jean-François Guay

The new Toyo Observe GSi-6 is available in a whopping 121 sizes, easily besting the Observe GSi-5 and Garit (101). It’s stiffer and has H/V speed ratings versus its predecessor’s S/T/H ratings. To ensure the Observe GSi-6 would fit all types of vehicles, Toyo has developed three different models—GSi-6 (passenger cars), GSi-6 HP (SUVs) and GSi-6 LS (pickups). Their tread is virtually identical; only a few minor modifications have been made depending on the application. 

Pricing is reasonable for a Japanese tire that’s big on quality, although the GSi-6 is a bit more expensive than the Continental, Bridgestone, Pirelli and Yokohama models in this top 10. During our tests, it delivered some of the best performance on ice, snow and wet or dry pavement. Compared to the old GSi-5, we found it quieter and smoother on bumpy roads.

  • 121 sizes ranging from 14-22 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75
  • Width: 175-315 mm
  • Speed rating: H, V
  • XL (extra load): available
  • Run flat tire: no
  • Tread: directional
  • Studdable: no
  • Manufacturing country: Japan

Our Rating

  • Braking on ice: Very good
  • Grip in the snow: Very good
  • Performance on dry pavement: Very good

3. Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9 SUV | Score: 90%

Photo: Jean-François Guay

The Hakkapeliitta 9 SUV could have finished first in a tie with the Hakkapeliitta R3 SUV, but we ultimately put it in third place behind the new Bridgestone WS90, which is cheaper. It still is the best snow tire on the market without a doubt, gripping snow like no other and spitting it out in a hurry. The Hakkapeliitta 9 performs well on slippery surfaces with braking distances similar to those of the best ice tires. The factory-studded variant seemingly increases traction tenfold.

On the flip side, the ride is less comfortable and louder than conventional ice tires due to the rigid construction and more sculpted tread. Keep in mind that all Hakka tire sizes are XL models. Consequently, the Hakkapeliitta R3 SUV and Bridgestone WS90 are a better fit for passenger cars and small SUVs on a daily basis.

  • 48 sizes ranging from 14-20 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65
  • Width: 175-275 mm
  • Speed rating: T
  • XL (extra load): all
  • Run flat tire: available
  • Tread: directional
  • Studdable: yes (factory)
  • Manufacturing country: Russia

Our Rating

  • Braking on ice: Excellent
  • Grip in the snow: Excellent
  • Performance on dry pavement: Good

2. Bridgestone Blizzak WS90 | Score: 91%

Photo: Jean-François Guay

The new WS90 brilliantly replaces the WS80 at the top of the Blizzak range, which is impressive considering the latter is one of the best winter tires of all time. The tread design is similar, but the blocks are slightly more sculpted for better performance in the snow and quicker water evacuation. The compound is a tad stiffer than before, which will increase durability, yet it manages to deliver exceptional grip on ice and wet pavement. This new design also improves handling on dry pavement.

Where the WS90 mostly stands out from the Nokian Hakka R3 and Hakka 9 is pricing. On the other hand, it does not offer a run-flat option, although there is an XL variant. If you want a run-flat winter tire from Bridgestone, you’ll need to turn to the Blizzak LM-25 RFT, which is more expensive and available in limited sizes.

  • 53 sizes ranging from 15-20 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70
  • Width: 175-245 mm
  • Speed rating: T, H
  • XL (extra load): available
  • Run flat tire: no
  • Tread: directional
  • Studdable: no
  • Manufacturing country: Japan

Our Rating

  • Braking on ice: Excellent
  • Grip in the snow: Very good
  • Performance on dry pavement: Very good

1. Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 SUV | Score: 92%

Photo: Jean-François Guay

The Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 SUV is our top-rated winter tire for 2020-2021. While the tread has less bite than the Hakkapeliitta 9 in deep snow, the R3 prevails with shorter braking distances on ice, as well as better handling and more controlled stops on wet or dry pavement. Noise levels match those of the Continental and Pirelli models, which are the leaders in this department.

Overall, the Hakkapeliitta R3 SUV is the best and most pleasant winter tire from Nokian in daily driving conditions. The lineup includes several XL sizes and run-flat models, too.

  • 73 sizes ranging from 14-21 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70
  • Width: 165-285 mm
  • Speed rating: Q, R, T
  • XL (extra load): available
  • Run flat tire: available
  • Tread: directional
  • Studdable: no
  • Manufacturing country: Russia

Our Evaluation

  • Braking on ice: Excellent
  • Grip in the snow: Excellent
  • Performance on dry pavement: Very good

Barely missing our top 10 are the Firestone Winterforce 2, Dunlop WinterMaxx SJ8, GT Radial Ice Pro SUV 3, Uniroyal Tiger Paw Ice & Snow 3 and Hercules Avalanche RT.

Share on Facebook

More on the subject

NewsIs Goodyear’s Self-regenerating Tire Concept Too Good to be True?
Tires have a limited life cycle that varies according to the quality of the compound and the way they are used. Reversing the process of aging and wear seems impossible, right? Wrong, says Goodyear, which has developed a revolutionary new tire concept called “reCharge.” It adapts to the weather, season …
TiresHow to Tell if Your Tires are Still in Good Condition
We all wonder the same thing when the time comes to install winter tires on our cars. We take a look at the tread and try to determine if they’ll be good enough to last through the season. A tire’s longevity is not about the number of kilometres you travel.
TechnologyContinental Develops a Self-Inflating Tire
How’s that for an innovation? Tire manufacturer Continental has developed a tire concept that can inflate itself while driving. Known as C.A.R.E. (Connected. Autonomous. Reliable. Electrified), the tire features built-in sensors that continuously evaluate data regarding tread depth, possible damage, tire temperature and tire pressure. These sensors then transmit information …
NewsStudy Links Car Tires To Microplastic Pollution in Coastal Waters
Automobiles are widely associated with air pollution and it’s pretty obvious why. They’re also responsible for land pollution from waste generated at assembly plants all the way to their end-of-life disposal. But according to a new study, there’s a link between cars—no matter how they’re powered, even EVs—and microplastics found …
NewsSurvey: 72 Percent of Canadian Drivers use Winter Tires
A new Leger survey commissioned as part of the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada’s (TRAC) 2020 Canadian Consumer Winter Tire Study reveals that 72 percent of vehicle owners across the country now opt for winter tires during the cold season. Outside of Quebec, where winter tires are mandated by …
Comments