Back in the 17th century, during the Thirty Years War in Central Europe, the tiny nation of Finland fielded a group of light cavalry called the Hakkapeliitta. Fighting for the King of Sweden, they were justly feared for their spectacular horsemanship, their utter ferocity and the blood-chilling battle cry; “Hakka Paale!” (“Hack them all down!”) from which they took their name.Nokian's Hakkapeliitta snow tires? Yeah, pretty much like that.
- Uncompromising winter grip.
- Excellent dry-road performance.
- Slushplaning technology.
- Extremely low rolling resistance.
- Slightly higher prices.
Nokian pioneered many of the technological advances that now show up in most of today's snow tires, such as the zigzag siping patterns cut entirely through the tread blocks, which were originally patented as the “Hakka Sipe.” Consequently, Nokian tires always pack a pretty big big technological punch, and the Hakkapeliitta R is no exception. One can begin with the unique canola oil/silica-based rubber compound which Nokian claims provides superior grip at low temperatures without using ecologically unsound volatile oils. Continue with the aggressive tread block design and new “Brake Booster” siping patterns designed to enhance braking power on slippery surfaces. In addition, the Hakka R sports a new siping style called “Pump Sipes” which places small voids beneath the sipes which draw in water as the tread block rolls down to keep it away from the contact patch, expelling it again when the tread block rolls upwards.
Nokian is also a longtime leader at building tires with extremely low rolling resistance, such that independent testers have confirmed that the Hakka R has as much as a third less rolling resistance than many comparable tires. Low rolling resistance saves both fuel and treadwear, and over an expected tread life of 30,000+ miles, that kind of fuel savings can really add up.
Like their all-season cousin, the WR G2, Nokian Hakkapeliittas provide superlative, confidence-inspiring grip on snow and ice that make even notoriously winter-incapable cars like BMW coupes feel like four-wheel drive SUV's. Along with near-perfect straight-line grip, Nokian's engineers put a lot of thought and effort into lateral grip, something that other major tire makers are just starting to pay more attention to. Hakkas have by far the best lateral grip I have ever experienced, making it nearly impossible to fishtail the car even when deliberately trying to do so. Even in a full skid, slight reductions in throttle will usually allow the tires to recover by themselves with remarkably little driver input. Steering even in deep snow is stable and precise, as the aggressive tread cuts through ruts and other irregularities without a hint of tramlining or kickout.
Hakkas are just as amazing in wet or slushy conditions. Braking grip on wet pavement is excellent, and hydroplaning is nearly nonexistent. Nokian is also the only snow tire maker in the world that puts serious full-time effort into preventing slushplaning, a condition that can be a real problem here in New England. On cold dry pavement, Hakkas are certainly not as good as Dunlop Graspics, but as good or better than any other dedicated snow tire I've driven. The steering feel is quite responsive with only a hint of sidewall flex and a low hum of road noise.
The Bottom Line
Nokians do tend to be somewhat more expensive than other tires. However, the low rolling resistance and accompanying fuel savings does compensate for at least part of that. For me, peace of mind easily compensates for the rest.
One winter some years ago, my wife had to drive from northern Massachusetts back down to Boston the day after Christmas in the middle of a tremendous nor'easter that was busy dumping more than two feet of snow on us. “Don't worry,” she said to me, “I've got the Hakkas on the car.” Less than an hour later she came back. “You ran into something even the Hakkas couldn't handle?” I asked, quite surprised. “No,” she said “I was completely under control. It's just that nobody else on the road was. When I saw a Land Rover that couldn't track straight because all four tires were skating, I decided to turn back.”
Yeah, pretty much like that.