It's a simple point of fact that just having 4-wheel drive on a vehicle doesn't make snow and ice a non-issue. If you're dealing with extreme winter conditions, you're also going to need some good snow tires or you and your 4-wheel drive are going to be unhappy campers. For years now, owners of larger SUV and CUV vehicles have had access to Nokian's Hakkapeliitta winter tire technology in the form of the Hakka R SUV. Now, with the launch of the newest Hakka R2, we get the companion Hakka R2 SUV.
I've already noted that the Hakka R2 is “crazy good.” The R2 SUV? Just as crazy and just as good.
- Contemptuous disregard of deep snow.
- Spectacular lateral and linear grip.
- Maybe a touch on the stiff side in terms of ride quality.
Most of the technology in the Hakka R2 SUV is pretty much the same as in the Hakka R2, with the addition of a center rib for stability and the subtraction of Cool Touch siping.
- Cryo Crystal Concept:
“The weakest point of any nonstudded winter tire is ice creep. That's for sure.” says Matti Mori. Nokian has embedded a kind of sharp crystalline particle which acts as grit in their tread compound especially to improve ice grip. The company won't tell us what it is, only what it isn't. “It's not aluminum oxide, not corn, not rice, not walnuts.” Mori jokes, “The difference, we've been told, is that ours is working.“
- High-Silica Tread Compound:
The R2 SUV boasts a new “cryogenic silane” compound using low-volatile oils, high percentages of natural rubber and a high degree of silica. Nokian says using lots of natural rubber “has a decisively positive effect on winter grip under extreme conditions, since natural rubber is stable across a wide temperature range.”
- Angled Hakka Sipes:
Nokian invented and patented the “Hakka Sipe” many years ago, and now the jagged siping pattern that presents multiple biting edges to the snow as the tread flexes is practically the industry standard winter siping pattern. For the R2 SUV Nokian has put a denser mesh of sipes on the tires, as well as sharply angling the siping on the shoulder tread blocks for greater lateral and handling grip.
- Stiffened Center Rib:
Unlike the passenger car version, the R2 SUV has a stiff center rib for greater stability under higher loads.
- Pump Sipes:
Specially shaped siping patterns that act as voids to suction the last layer of water off the surface of the ice to give the tread better grip. The R2 SUV's pump sipes are slightly larger than those on the Hakka R SUV.
- Grip Claws:
A set of sharp edges placed in the grooves between tread blocks for better grip in deep snow. Very similar to the “worm drive” groove edges on Michelin's X-Ice Xi3 and others, and for good reason – the concept seems to work.
- Sipe Activators:
A set of wider sipe openings strategically placed on the tread blocks help to open up the smaller sipes as the wider sipe is stressed. This adds in more grip as the G-forces build on the tire.
- Slush Penetrators:
Nokian was the first company to do testing and development to deal with issues of slushplaning. The R2 SUV's have a set of jagged edges on the trailing edges of the shoulder blocks designed to cut through thick slush and keep the tire's footprint stable.
Driving these tires through 3-4 inches of deep and loose snow is an interesting experience, largely because like their passenger car cousin they seem to have a contemptuous disregard of snow at any depth – they simply grip no matter what. At no point did I sense that they had reached their limits and wheel slip was basically nonexistent whether in the deep stuff or in the ruts. Frankly the worst part of our cross-country drive was the far too bouncy suspension on our Audi Q5 and the reindeer who resented us encroaching on their territory.
Lateral and ice grip were put to an extreme test on a twisty track deep in the woods on a frozen lake, with a mix of hardpack and sheer ice that made for some very challenging conditions. The R2 SUV performs like a champ. Lateral grip is excellent and very progressive. While the tires will of course fishtail if pushed hard enough, they do so under extreme protest, resisting the urge to slide very far and recovering with an authoritative snap under just a touch of braking. Linear grip was also superlative for both acceleration and braking – even on sheer ice the braking grip was strong enough to throw both driver and passenger hard against the seatbelts. Braking grip was also perfectly straight-line, with no discernible tendency to lose the rear end even in a panic-stop.
The Bottom Line:
Not only are these tires fantastic in their own right, but their spectacular lateral grip speaks volumes about the Hakka R2 itself, whose lateral grip I was unable to fully test. As the tires are almost identical in terms of technology and tread design, I have no worries that I am somehow missing a massive failure of lateral or progressive snow grip on the R2's or a similar failure of highway performance on the R2 SUV's.
Basically put, these are some very special winter tires for larger vehicles, especially if you're pushing the envelope in terms of conditions. If you're a skier that likes chasing storms to find fresh powder, live in an area with lots of deep unplowed snow, or even if you're out hunting reindeer on Arctic back roads, I think you're really going to like these tires and so will your 4-wheel drive.