What are the best winter tyres for my car in 2021?
Winter tyres make up a relatively small part of the UK car tyre market. While seasonal tyre changes are the norm in certain European countries, our moderate climate means most drivers rarely need to drive through the harshest winter conditions. The improving performance of this generation of all-season tyres has also given drivers a more convenient year-round fitment option – you can find our list of the best all-season tyres here. Winter tyres’ biggest issue for most UK drivers is the extra cost involved in storing a second set of tyres and the biannual changes in spring and autumn.
All that said, there are great reasons to fit winter tyres between around October and March. In tests they clearly demonstrate significantly better performance than all-season tyres on snow and ice. Specialist winter tyres have slits in the tread blocks called sipes, which help the tyre bite into snow and ice. They are also made with rubber compounds designed to offer better all-round performance than summer tyres from around 7°C down – a figure that coincides nicely with average commuting temperatures for up to half the year in the UK. Fitted and maintained in conjunction with quality summer tyres, drivers can expect the best possible performance and maximum longevity year-round.
Do you need winter tyres if you have 4-wheel drive? Leading motoring magazine Auto Express notes that if there’s no grip for the tyres, a 4WD car “won’t get much further than a 2WD car on the same tyres”. And braking on the slipperiest winter surfaces isn’t aided by 4WD. Braking on snow from only 30mph, a car on summer tyres will take around another two car lengths to come to a halt versus one on quality winter tyres.
Overall, if guaranteed mobility in harsh cold conditions is essential, winter tyres are the best possible option. Below, we present a buyer’s guide to the best winter tyres available in 2021.
How we selected the best winter tyres
For this inaugural edition of the WhatTyre Awards, we used our Tyrescore 1.2 (Aston Martin) algorithm to identify the leading candidates from the huge number of tyres available. The Tyrescore is our custom metascore, developed to boil down our knowledge of the UK tyre market to a single headline mark out of ten. This quick reference is designed to promote the best products. It uses several data sets looking at tyre performance. Our algorithm is designed to emphasise the most important performance attributes of tyres for most UK motorists – including key handling, safety, and cost of ownership performance indicators. Like all algorithms, the Tyrescore is dynamic and will be developed to consider new datapoints, so all scores used in this ranking were correct in March 2021.
The tyre label, a label similar to other energy-consuming products that is required by law for every road car tyre in the UK, helps to generate a portion of the WhatTyre Tyrescore. It gives tyres a rating from A (best) to G (worst) in wet grip and fuel efficiency, and a noise rating between one and three soundwaves, from quieter to louder. Winter effectiveness is not noted on the label, making it inherently less helpful in selecting winter tyres than their summer alternatives. However, this is presented on every true winter tyre’s sidewall in the form of the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol. The new tyre label, to be unveiled later this year, will also contain a winter effectiveness symbol. Our Tyrescore also takes into account winter tyres’ performance in specialist winter tyre tests, regularly conducted in both continental Europe and in the north of the Nordic countries for very low temperatures and snow and ice handling.
The key bit of information visitors need to make the most of WhatTyre’s whole-market product comparison service is the size of their tyres. This can be found on the current tyres’ sidewall – see our guide here for locating your tyre size, as well as an explanation of what it all means. We prefer this to numberplate or car model-based systems both because it is more likely to be accurate and because it is a good way to get in touch with your tyres. Too often, tyres are not recognised for the huge amount of sophisticated engineering know-how they contain. As a safety-critical item, drivers are well-advised to inspect their tyres thoroughly and frequently. They are also a key component in delivering comfort and driving enjoyment.
In this year’s winter tyre category, we looked at the winter tyres with the best scores in the most popular size for 16”, 17” and 18” rims: 205/55 R16, 225/45 R17, and 225/40 R18. These sizes are all commonly seen on our roads, used in the ranges of most of the UK’s bestselling cars. While the tyre size you fit to your car may not be covered in these three sizes – there are thousands of different tyre sizes in the market – most winter tyre models are available in at least one of these sizes. In addition to our recommendations here, we encourage you to try a search on WhatTyre using your specific tyre size.
In addition to looking at the winter tyres with the best Tyrescores, we also used our database of more than 6,000 tyre tests to focus on products that have performed well in tests between the 2018/19 and 2020/21 winter seasons. While older tyres are also available, these latest tyres benefit from the most recent innovations in the segment.
The best 15-plus winter tyres in 2021
Winter tyres may be a small part of the UK market, but there is still an incredible array of quality products to choose from. We suggest that every tyre mentioned on our longlist is worth considering, especially since prices (which you can find on WhatTyre) can vary hugely even within this list of the top products. For the purposes of our ranking, we focus only on the tyres’ performance qualities. We will announce our top five recommended products and the winner of the WhatTyre Winter Tyre of the Year 2021 in around a week’s time, alongside our other five Tyre of the Year categories and the overall winner.
But first, here are our top 15 winter tyres (with a few other suggestions that don’t make the longlist).
The Bridgestone Blizzak LM-005 was launched in early-2019. It features a new tread pattern and Bridgestone’s new Nano Pro-tech compound, features that help it rank among the best available tyres in snow and ice braking and wet grip according to TÜV SÜD tests. In certain sizes, the tyre also comes with DriveGuard, Bridgestone’s runflat technology for conventional tyres – this allows drivers to continue moving with a puncture for another 50 miles. The tyre has been highly recommended by leading independent testers in the UK and Germany. It has a phenomenal Tyrescore of 8.26 in sizes 205/55 R16 94V, 225/45 R17 94V, and 225/40 R18 92V, with a label of C (fuel efficiency), A (wet grip), and two soundwaves.
The Michelin Alpin 6 is a strong all-round winter tyre with eight good independent tyre test results in 2019 and 2020. Auto Express said the tyre is particularly “well suited to UK winters thanks to its good performance in the wet.” Other tests noted that the tyre possessed good wear properties; Michelin targets performance when worn in the development of its tyres. With a C-B-one soundwave label in sizes 205/55 R16 94V and 225/45 R17 94V, the tyre has an impressive Tyrescore of 7.88.
Dunlop’s Winter Sport 5 was launched in 2015, a fifth-generation product built to continue the success of the line of previous Winter Sports. Based on quality independent test performances, the tyre is very recommendable, even at six years old. Designed to help drivers navigate unforeseen winter roads and conditions, including black ice, slush, icy patches, melting snow and puddles, the tyre has an increased number of tyre blocks for enhanced snow performance and angled centre sipes, which provide more lateral grip on slippery surfaces. The tyre has an excellent C-B-1 tyre label, which alongside very consistent test results help it to a 7.78 Tyrescore in size 205/55 R16 91H.
Two other Michelin brands also features on our list in the Kleber Krisalp HP3 and the BFGoodrich g-Force Winter 2. The second-line brand Kleber is perhaps a surprising candidate, but a series of excellent test results in 2018 and excellent tyre label grades mean that it achieves a Tyrescore of 7.66 in size 225/45 R17 94V. The Krisalp HP3 has been particularly strong in the wet and on snow. Testers’ opinions on the tyre have softened a bit in more recent tests, though the tyre was still considered “exemplary” by Auto Bild in September 2020.
The BFGoodrich g-Force Winter 2 is another exceptional Groupe Michelin product. The tyre’s directional V-shaped tread increases grip, braking response, control in the snow, and road holding on ice. Its B-rated wet grip proves high safety levels on wet roads. The tyre even features comparatively low running costs in larger dimensions, such as the 225/45 R17 94V model that makes our longlist, which gets a Tyrescore of 7.65. The tyre has been recommended by various testers as a “winter king” with only a few minor negative remarks about its handling in the dry.
The Continental WinterContact TS 860 is a multiple test winner with some serious winter tyre credentials for compact and medium sized cars. The tyre, which features Conti’s Cool Chili compound to deliver maximum braking performance in any wintry weather condition, is particularly well-regarded in wet conditions, indicating its slight bias towards driving in such conditions (which makes some sense in the UK winter). The tyre has C-B-2 labels in both the 205/55 R16 94V and 225/45 R17 94V sizes, netting it a high-quality Tyrescore of 7.60. The tyre has been around for a few years now, and a successor is all but ready for launch in the new 870 model. Yet strong 2020 tests show how good Conti is at producing winter models that continue to prove their credentials year after year.
Goodyear’s Ultragrip Performance+ has taken on the mantle from the test-conquering Gen-1 iteration of the product line. Goodyear said the plus-version improved wet, dry and winter performance for shorter braking distances on wet and dry roads. Its compound features a new traction resin, which improves the de- and reformation capabilities of the tyre. With C-B-2 label grades in the 205/55 R16 94V size and several test wins under its belt, the Ultragrip Performance+ has a Tyrescore of 7.60 – exactly the same score as the still-available Ulragrip Performance Gen-1.
Pirelli’s Winter Sottozero 3 has been around long enough to make it the oldest tyre on this list. Since its launch it has been overtaken by a new Pirelli flagship winter product for performance vehicles, the P Zero Winter, while the Cinturato Winter range caters to cars with smaller tyre dimensions. The Sottozero 3 has nevertheless built a great reputation with tyre testers. While praise has dimmed recently, the tyre was “highly recommended” by Autozeitung as recently as 2019. The Winter Sottozero 3 features 3D sipes and wide grooves for improved water and slush dispersion. With a C-B-2 soundwaves label in size 225/40 R18 92V, the tyre has a Tyrescore of 7.54.
Meanwhile, the Pirelli Cinturato Winter, a winter tyre for smaller models and electric vehicles launched in 2016, has become the Pirelli winter tyre most interesting to testers. A decent showing in the 2020 Auto Express test, combined with exceptionally low road noise, helps the tyre achieve a 7.50 Tyrescore in size 205/55 R16 94H.
Vredestein’s Snowtrac 5 and Wintrac Pro both deserve a mention in our 2021 winter tyre longlist. The historically Dutch brand, owned by Indian tyre manufacturer Apollo, makes some very well-regarded winter-oriented products that achieve excellent results on tyre tests. The Snowtrac 5 is aimed at cars with smaller tyre dimensions with only one tyre above 16” currently available in the UK. Untested in 2020, the tyre maintained respectable if unspectacular results between 2015 and 2019. With a particularly good tyre label of C-B-1 in size 205/55 R16 91H, the tyre achieves a Tyrescore of 7.48.
Vredestein’s UHP-focused Wintrac Pro meanwhile is a high-achiever in tyre tests, consistently achieving podium places in 2020 and 2019. Overall, it has a slight performance bias towards cold but not snowy conditions, testers say. Perhaps a result of its performance focus, its fuel efficiency rating is held back to an E in the E-B-2 rated 225/45 R17 94V, achieving a Tyrescore of 7.17. This is a winter tyre worthy of serious consideration for drivers of more powerful cars looking for better performance in the winter months – the range has fitments up to 22”, some of which carry a Y speed rating, very high for a winter tyre.
The inventor of the winter tyre, Nokian has a relatively new flagship tyre for the winter market in the WR Snowproof. The tyre has notably good label scores in size 205/55 R16 91H, though testers have only been mildly impressed so far. While ACE Lenkrad recommended the tyre, Auto Express wondered whether its “remarkable fuel economy” was top of the list for winter tyre buyers, though a Tyrescore of 7.47 in the sample size is impressive enough. Testers say the tyre’s wet performance does not match the best products, meaning it cannot match the previous Nokian winter flagship WR D4, which is still available. The older tyre scores a mighty Tyrescore of 8.18 in the same size, but only one test – which did not recommend the tyre – since 2018 meant the older tyre did not make the longlist for our 2021 Awards. Ratings indicate the previous generation is geared more to wet grip than fuel economy.
The Hankook Winter i*cept Evo3 is one of the newest tyres on our longlist. Available mostly in UHP sizes, the tyre has a Tyrescore of 7.27 in size 225/40 R18 92V thanks to a perfect record in its two 2020 tyre tests, in which it received top marks. For the Tyrescore, the tyre is marked down for its E-grade fuel economy rating, though like a few other tyres on our list, this is less of a consideration for drivers seeking top performance credentials for more powerful cars, even in the winter.
The Fulda Kristall Control HP2 gets a Tyrescore of 7.24 in 205/55 R16 91H – another good performance for a premium group brand (Fulda is a historically German brand owned by Goodyear). The tyre’s test results have been mixed, but a recommendation from ACE Lenkrad in 2020 combined with a good C-B-one soundwave label have helped it make the longlist.
Like the Hankook i*cept Evo3, Michelin’s Pilot Alpin 5 is a UHP winter tyre, and so does not offer top-tier fuel efficiency. In 225/40 R18 92W the tyre has a Tyrescore of 7.07, largely due to its E-grade on the label, though larger dimensions improve on this. The recently launched tyre has had an excellent start in tyre tests, proving its top tier winter performance credentials for higher-powered cars.
Finally, the Apollo Aspire XP Winter rounds out our list. The tyre is particularly interesting to milder markets due to its performance in the wet. In size 225/45 R17 94V, the Aspire XP Winter has a Tyrescore of 7.07 thanks to some very good tyre test results in 2019 and 2020. The Indian manufacturer that owns the Vredestein brand has brought vastly improved tyres to the European market in recent years, and is certainly one to look out for.
|1||Bridgestone Blizzak LM005||205/55 R16 94V||8.26|
|2||Michelin Alpin 6||205/55 R16 94V||7.88|
|3||Dunlop Winter Sport 5||205/55 R16 91H||7.78|
|4||Kleber Krisalp HP3||225/45 R17 94V||7.66|
|5||BFGoodrich g-Force Winter 2||225/45 R17 94V||7.65|
|6=||Conti WinterContact TS 860||205/55 R16 91H||7.60|
|6=||Goodyear UltraGrip Performance+||205/55 R16 94V||7.60|
|7||Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3||225/40 R18 92V||7.54|
|8||Pirelli Cinturato Winter||205/55 R16 94H||7.51|
|9||Vredestein Snowtrac 5||205/55 R16 91H||7.48|
|10||Nokian WR Snowproof||205/55 R16 91H||7.42|
|11||Hankook Winter i*cept Evo3||225/40 R18 92V||7.27|
|12||Fulda Kristall Control HP2||205/55 R16 91H||7.23|
|13||Vredestein Wintrac Pro||225/45 R17 94V||7.17|
|14=||Michelin Pilot Alpin 5||225/40 R18 92W||7.07|
|14=||Apollo Aspire XP Winter||225/45 R17 94V||7.07|
About the TyreScore
All TyreScores quoted in the WhatTyre Tyre of the Year Awards 2021 are correct as of our judging period in March 2021, but more data and a new version of the algorithm will inevitably mean changes. When you buy your next tyres, we recommend you make WhatTyre part of your pre-sale research to determine the best tyre for you.