Correction: I originally wrote this while under the mistaken impression that the WRG2 was a directional tire, and the the G3 had been changed to an asymmetric tread. It's since been pointed out to me by an alert reader that this is not true - the original WR was directional, but the mighty WRG2 is asymmetric. D'oh! My apologies for misleading readers.
There are a whole lot of tires out there that are called All-Season, and an unwary consumer might make the mistake of concluding that such tires are really meant to perform in, say, all the seasons. This is not generally the case. Most all-season tires are designed for wet and dry grip alone. Some have the most basic of winter capabilities. A perilous few are trustable at all in real winter conditions. Five or less carry the “Mountain Snowflake” symbol indicating true winter capabilities. Only one really deserves the name “All-Weather.”
Nokian's WRG2 is a tire that is quite literally in a class by itself, largely because it invented it's own class. The original Nokian WR was apparently designed as a UHP Winter tire for high-speed performance on cold dry pavement, but Nokian's engineers quickly realized that the tread compound that was intended to deal with heat due to high speed could also deal extremely well with heat due to summer. The second-generation WRG2, incorporating a lot of the technology from the Hakkapeliitta snow tire line, proved to be far and away the best “winter-biased” all-season ever built, so far above most tires in it's class that it could no longer really be called a part of that class, thus the All-Weather designation that Nokian gave it. I absolutely love WRG2's and my wife loves them even more than I do.
So we were both very excited to hear that Nokian would be updating the WRG2 for the American market, incorporating nanotechnology, new compounding and tread improvements from the Europe-only WR-A3 and D3 models.
- Better high-speed handling than the WRG2
- Smooth, firm and quiet ride
- Snow and ice grip are markedly worse.
- My wife now wants to grab a new set of WRG2's before they go away.
3D Self-Locking Sipes:
Nokian has been a leader in the design of self-locking sipe technology, in which the siping has an internal topology that prevents the cut treat block from flexing too much. Preventing this “tread squirm” is the key to densely siping the tread block for winter grip without increasing treadwear and causing mushiness on pavement.
The WR A3 and D3, which have never made it to the American market, showcased Nokian's first foray into nanotechnology. The resulting tread compound has tighter molecular bonds between natural and synthetic rubber polymers. This results in less heat generation when the bonds are stressed and makes for longer treadwear.
Nokian hand-polishes the circumferential and curved grooves in the tire to speed the evacuation of water and slush.
Silent Sidewall Technology:
A thin strip of softer rubber between the tread shoulders and the sidewall dampens noise and vibration for smoother and quieter driving.
Cool Touch Siping:
When the sipes cut all the way through a tread block, the tread block will flex easily. By only connecting the edges of some sipes, Nokian makes the tread block flex less, reducing heat buildup and tread squirm while still allowing enough flex to engage the sipes.
A set of slanted edges set on the front side of the tread blocks “blows” slush quickly away from the tread and into the grooves.
I nearly killed Tommi Heinonen, the General Manager of Nokian North America by overestimating the WRG3's ice grip, and that gave me my first clue that the tires were not going to live up to their potential. Winter grip in general is substantially reduced relative to the WRG2's. Even a smooth application of power while moving tends to spin the wheels in snow. On the other hand, they ride quite well on the highway and handle with great precision and authority on cold pavement. Braking grip was excellent in the dry and pretty decent in the snow.
I've said that Hakka 7's made sheer ice feel like pavement and the Hakka R2's made snow feel like pavement. The WRG3's made pavement feel like pavement, snow feel like snow, and ice feel like something to be avoided at all costs.
The Bottom Line
I am disappointed in the WRG3 Asymmetric. I didn't want to be, not just because I am admittedly biased in favor of Nokian, and not least because I was going to have to explain this to my wife! But this tire simply doesn't measure up to the sheer lightning-strike awesomeness of the WRG2's winter capability. On the other hand, it's an excellent performer on cold pavement and fair-to-middling on snow, which is more than many "all-season" tires can come up with.
I am told that the directional version has much better winter grip. I hope that is so, but the asymmetric version is basically a Grand Touring All-Season tire. Which is fine, and as winter-biased all-seasons go it's at least towards the head of the pack, but it's not a All-Weather tire, by which I mean of course that it's not a G2. As Tommi said to me, "If you live in a place where winter visits but doesn't stay, these are the tires for you." That I can completely agree with.
UPDATE: Nokian disagrees with my assessment of the WRG3, and has asked me to post their rebuttal, which can be found here.