Just because it’s winter time doesn’t mean your car’s tire performance has to suffer greatly. Performance winter/snow tires are designed for drivers that want enhanced dry road handling from their winter/snow tires by sacrificing a bit of snow and ice traction. Products in this category were originally developed for winter driving on European highways, where higher speed limits are more common than in North America. Typically, these tires are available in a wide range of sizes for sporty coupes and luxury sedans, as well as some fitments for crossovers and SUVs.
Performance winter/snow tires can be H-, V-, or W-speed rated and meet severe snow service standards, meaning they are branded with a special symbol.
When purchasing performance winter/snow tires, you must install them in sets of four. To learn more about performance winter/snow tires, refer to our table of contents.
Updated 01/08/2021 with additional information on the best high-performance winter tires.
Table of contents
- 1. Editor's Pick: Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4
- 2. Pirelli Winter Snowcontrol Serie 3
- 3. Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D
- 4. Bridgestone Blizzak LM-32
- 5. Goodyear Eagle Ultra Grip GW-3
- 6. Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 Run Flat
- 7. Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D DSST
- 8. Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8
- What are Studded and Studless Winter Tires?
- Why Should You Use Studded Tires?
- What is the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF) Symbol?
- Editor's Verdict
1. Editor's Pick: Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4
Michelin is a well-trusted brand when it comes to performance tires, so it’s little surprise the company offers a performance winter/snow tire that has been developed to meet the needs of enthusiasts who may encounter snow on their drive. The Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 is designed for ultra high performance sports cars, sedans, or coupes and offers performance in freezing temperatures, snow, and ice.
These tires offer low rolling resistance to enhance fuel economy and are manufactured using eco-focused methods, wearing Michelin’s Green X branding. They are designed to deliver secure driving year after year in wintry conditions.
Helping the tire remain more flexible in low temperatures is a full silica-based, sunflower oil-enriched Helio Compound+ tread rubber. Enhancing acceleration, braking, and handling is Michelin’s high-density Stabiligrip 3D sipe technology.
Internally, this tire’s structure includes twin steel belts that have been reinforced by the company’s FAZ technology, which places spirally wound filaments of polyester cord under the tread to combine stable feel, confident handling, and high-speed capability with ride comfort.
These radials meet the industry’s severe snow service requirements and are branded with the three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF) symbol.
2. Pirelli Winter Snowcontrol Serie 3
Developed to provide a high level of security on cold, dry, wet, and wintry surfaces is the Pirelli Winter Snowcontrol Serie 3. This is Pirelli’s performance winter/snow tire and carries Pirelli Ecoimport icons on its sidewalls, highlighting the tire’s contribution to the environment with regards to energy efficiency, clean air, and low noise.
These tires feature a silica-enhanced winter tread compound designed to promote rubber flexibility in cold temperatures. The compound is molded into a directional tread design, blending cold weather traction and handling. There are also rounded shoulder blocks and interlocking center blocks that sport Pirelli’s Interactive Brickwork Siping, which creates a brick wall pattern to increase lateral and longitudinal stability. These also aid in providing more biting edges for increased snow traction.
Helping channel water and slush to the sides are two wide circumferential channels and numerous lateral grooves, helping enhance hydroplaning resistance and wet traction. This tire’s internal structure features twin steel belts, reinforced by spirally wrapped polyamide for enhanced thermal stability. As a result, these tires are less sensitive to changes in road and air temperatures.
Another feature on the Pirelli Winter Snowcontrol Serie 3 tire is the Snow Wear Indicators (SWI) found in the tread design. These identify when the remaining tread depth starts to deliver less performance in the snow.
3. Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D
Dunlop’s offering in the performance winter/snow tire category is the SP Winter Sport 4D, developed for sports cars, coupes, and sedans that come straight from the factory with low profile tires mounted on larger diameter wheels. These tires will provide traction on dry, wet, slushy, and snow-covered roads. Sporting a motorsport-derived silica-plus tread compound, these tires deliver high levels of grip especially on wet roads and in low temperatures.
The compound on the SP Winter Sport 4D is molded into a directional tread, sporting long V-shaped grooves that help prevent hydroplaning. The tread also is designed to maintain good traction on wet and slush-covered roads. To help generate better footprint pressure distribution while enhancing snow handling and cornering grip is the tire’s Sipe System, which combines Dunlop’s 3D sipe technology with transverse sipes, creating independent micro-blocks.
Internally, this tire’s structure includes twin steel belts reinforced by Dunlop’s JointLess Band (JLB), optimizing the contact patch shape while minimizing deformation at high speed. These snow radials meet the industry’s severe snow service requirements and feature the 3PMSF symbol.
4. Bridgestone Blizzak LM-32
Bridgestone’s entry in the performance winter/snow tire category is the Blizzak LM-32, designed for sports cars, sporty coupes, and performance sedans. This tire was originally introduced in sizes for the Aston Martin Rapide sports sedan, but has since become available in a wide range of sizes, geared towards owners who want to main their vehicle’s sporty appearance during winter time. These tires provide traction on cold, dry, wet, and snow-covered roads.
Its tread compound features unique polymer technology, designed to enhance cold weather traction. The compound is molded into a directional design, which combines hydroplaning resistance on wet and slush-covered roads with confident grip and braking traction in cold wintry conditions. Helping promote dry and wet road handling are rounded shoulders, while stepped independent tread blocks featuring Lamellen edge effect sipes boost the number of biting edges, improving grip in snow and on ice. As a result, the Bridgestone Blizzak LM-32 is able to combine winter traction with H-, V-, or W-speed rated capability.
Like many tires in this segment, the Blizzak LM-32 is branded with the 3PMSF symbol.
5. Goodyear Eagle Ultra Grip GW-3
Owners of high performance sport coupes and sedans looking for traction on winter’s dry, wet, and snow-covered roads can also consider the Goodyear Eagle Ultra Grip GW-3. These tires are designed to combine good snow and ice traction with European high-speed winter driving performance. They feature a performance winter compound that has been molded into a “V-TRED technology” directional tread pattern, which combines winter traction in snow with hydroplaning resistance on wet and slush-covered roads.
The tire’s rounded shoulder and independent intermediate tread blocks work to improve dry and wet road handling. Its center rib provides constant road contact for highway stability. The company says all elements of this tire’s tread design has strategically placed sipes to provide the biting edges necessary to grip snow for winter traction without having to use traditional metal studs.
The Eagle Ultra Grip GW-3 features the 3PMSF symbol and has wear indicators so owners know when the remaining tread depth is unable to provide beneficial snow performance.
6. Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 Run Flat
This is Pirelli’s third-generation Sottozero performance winter/snow run-flat tire. Designed for premium high performance vehicles, the Sottozero 3 Run Flat use Pirelli’s Self-Supporting Run Flat Technology to enhance safety and convenience, while providing temporary extended mobility in the event of a puncture. This tech lets the tires to run flat for up to 50 miles at 50 mph (80 kilometers at 80 km/h), unless it has been otherwise specified by the vehicle manufacturer for Original Equipment tires.
The Pirelli Sottozero 3 was developed with the understanding that winter/snow tires should perform in a variety of unpredictable weather conditions. As a result, this tire offers traction and handling in cool, cold, dry, wet, and wintry conditions. In other words, they’re not just “snow tires,” but can serve as seasonal tires for use in cold weather and freezing road conditions.
The tire uses a compound equipped with specialized polymers designed to improve the tread rubber compound’s mechanical, thermal, and dynamic properties. It is molded into a directional pattern and sports an enlarged contact patch with arrow-shaped center blocks and more rounded shoulders, helping kick out water and slush. Helping improve braking performance and snow-to-snow traction is high-density 3D sipe technology.
Internally, this tire uses twin steel belts that have been reinforced by spirally wrapped polyamide, which enhances thermal stability and makes the tire less sensitive to changes in road and air temperatures. This tire meets the industry’s severe snow service requirements and feature the 3PMSF symbol.
7. Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D DSST
Another run-flat tire in the performance winter/snow category is the Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D DSST (Dunlop Self-Supporting Technology). This tire is designed for use on sports cars, coupes, and sedans, that normally come equipped from the factory with low profile tires mounted on large diameter wheels. It offers dry, wet, and snow-covered road competence during winter’s cold temperatures.
This tire uses Dunlop’s reactive silica mixing process so the tread compound is able to provide high elasticity at low temperatures, delivering dependable grip in winter driving conditions. The compound has been molded into a directional tread design, reducing the chances of hydroplaning while maintaining good traction on wet and slush-covered roads.
It also uses three different types of high-density sipes to define three distinct traction zones in one tire. There are central tread blocks that feature “pulling” sipes, which provide traction while accelerating and braking, particular on ice and in snow. Then there are intermediate blocks that use high-amplitude sipes that enhance lateral stability and control in wet and slushy conditions. Lastly, the 3D sipes in the shoulder blocks interlock to increase dry road stability and handling, while contributing to the flexibility that is necessary to grip snow and ice.
The internal structure of this tire uses twin steel belts reinforced by Dunlop’s JointLess Band (JLB) of nylon, optimizing the contact patch and minimizing tire growth at high speeds. As a run-flat tire, there are special sidewall reinforcements to support the weight of the vehicle if the tire experiences air pressure loss. This tire can run flat for up to 50 miles at speeds up to 55 mph.
The Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D DSST is also branded with the 3PMSF symbol.
8. Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8
If you’re looking for a studded performance winter tire, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 is one of the most advanced studded tires on the winter tire market. Designed to offer firm grip under all winter conditions, the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 delivers reliable handling in any weather, along with low fuel consumption and a comfortable noise level, despite being studded.
This tire combines the anchor stud, flange design, and the Eco Stud cushion with a revolutionary stud replacement to ensure maximum grip and soft stud contact on all driving surfaces. Helping provide improved grip is an edged saw-tooth pattern on the rear, while added structural reinforcement on the center section contributed to better steering response.
Although these are studded tires, many owners still found them rather quiet and they perform surprisingly well on dry and wet surfaces. That’s because the studs on the Hakkapeliitta 8 recess into the tires when driven on pavement, helping greatly reduce road noise and road damage. Complaints with this tire say the studs wear unevenly in stop-and-go city driving.
If you needed more convincing, Porsche uses these studded tires on 911s and Caymans for its Camp4 performance winter driving course.
What are Studded and Studless Winter Tires?
Photo credit: Blaz Kure / Shutterstock.com
While this article focuses solely on performance winter/snow tires, there are other winter/snow passenger tires available on the market: studdable and studless tires. Studdable tires are products that allow a vehicle owner to add winter tire studs for enhanced traction on ice. Products in this category normally use traditional winter tire compounds and tread designs, providing good traction in snow. They are however, molded to accept metal studs that make it helpful for driving in climates where freezing rain, sleet, and wet ice occur.
Studless ice and snow tires meanwhile, are designed for drivers who need maximum traction in ice and snow, but don’t want to use winter tire studs. These products are designed to offer similar performance to studded tires, but doesn’t use noisy and road-damaging studs. Normally, tires in this category use pliable tread compounds molded into effective tread designs, sacrificing some handling performance in dry and wet conditions, in exchange for better performance in ice and snow.
Why Should You Use Studded Tires?
If overall driving performance isn’t your main concern, then studded tires are more ideal if you’re searching for enhanced traction on ice. These tires have actual metal studs embedded in them, which are designed to dig into ice for increased traction. But these studs can damage the road if you’re not driving on ice, which makes their use very specific. In fact, some states in the U.S. limit the use of studded tires during non-winter months, and some states don’t allow studded tires by law. In addition, these tires tend to be very noisy on the road.
At the end of the day, deciding whether you should use studded tires is largely dependent on your driving conditions. These tires are ideal if you’re often driving on icy road conditions and need maximum traction.
What is the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF) Symbol?
If you’ve been shopping for any sort of winter tire, there’s a good chance you’ve run across products sporting the 3PMSF symbol. Sort for three-peak mountain snowflake, this symbol means a tire meets the required performance criteria in snow testing to be considered severe snow service rated. That means you may also see the symbol on all-season and all-terrain tires that perform in the snow.
According to Tire Rack, testing measures a tire’s acceleration traction on medium-packed snow only. The test doesn’t measure braking, turning on snow, and ice traction. Generally, you can expect 3PMSF-branded tires to provide better snow traction than a standard all-season tire with the M+S (Mud and Snow) branding.
Our Final Verdict
By design, performance winter tires provide better handling and steering response in cold, wet, and wintry conditions, especially when compared to studless ice and snow tires. When compared to all-season tires, performance winter tires will offer better traction in snow, slush, and ice. If you’re looking for snow and ice traction however, then studless tires are the way to go.
One benefit of performance winter tires is that they typically have higher speed ratings and are offered in lower profile sizes, so they’re sportier in appearance and performance. They’re designed to be used on performance vehicles, and you should always be checking for the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol when shopping for a performance winter/snow tire.
So how do you choose the best tire for your vehicle? Start by researching which products are offered in the tire size you need for your car. Then decide if your weather conditions call for more performance in dry, wet, snow, or icy conditions. If you live in an area that experiences heavy snowfall or ice, you may want to pick a tire that focuses on snow/ice performance rather than general cold weather conditions. But if you experience light snowfall during the winter, you may want a tire that performs better in dry conditions.
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