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The Best Winter-Biased All-Season Tires For 2013

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The idea of all-season tires is always a compelling one. Having tires that can be kept on your car year-round, that work well in both the winter and summer is generally a whole lot easier and cheaper than switching between winter and summer tires. The thing is, the requirements for tires designed for summer performance and tires designed to function in snow are extremely different even down to the rubber compounds, which makes it very difficult to make a tire that excels in all regimes. This means that designing all-season tires has always involved some very important tradeoffs.

Only a few “all-season” tires are really designed to perform in snow and ice, and these tires generally must give up some warm-weather performance to do so. I tend to call these “winter-biased” all-season tires. Most all-season tires are really three-season tires, giving up true snow performance for great wet and dry grip. These I call “performance” all-seasons. Compiling a list of the best all-season tires is therefore kind of a difficult process, because “all-season” is a very wide category without a lot of definition. So to do justice to the entirety of the all-season category requires two lists; one for winter-biased and one for performance all-season tires. To be clear, these are entirely my definitions: If you go to a tire shop asking for a “winter-biased all-season”, you may get some blank looks.

If you live in an area that gets a goodly amount of winter, and you plan to run the same tire all year, you want to be looking at a tire that is truly designed to deal with snow and ice. Because winter-biased tires will have to use a tread compound designed to stay flexible in cold temperatures while not giving up too much wear in warm temps, what you get is generally a tire that performs acceptably in a wide range of conditions but does not tend to excel in any of them – the old “Jack of all trades/Master of none” conundrum.

5. General Altimax RT

The Tire Rack, Inc.
General's tires have a long reputation for good quality at good prices, as well as a reputation for paying attention to snow and ice performance in their all-season tires. The Altimax RT is one of the best of their all-season offerings, boasting a high-density tread compound that splits the difference between cold-weather stickiness and warm-weather wear riding atop a low-density compound that is designed to damp out vibration and give a smooth ride.

4. Goodyear Assurance TripleTred

The Tire Rack, Inc.
Goodyear's Assurance TripleTred works to manage the inherent tradeoffs of all-season tires by dividing the tire into “zones” and using different tread patterns and even different rubber compounds in each zone. The outer edges are tuned for dry performance and stability, while the inside tread has sweeping grooves to evacuate water and the center is heavily siped for snow and ice performance.

3. Michelin Defender

The Tire Rack, Inc.
Michelin's brand-new Defender is getting a lot of attention for many reasons. Certainly their breathtaking 90,000 mile treadwear warranty immediately catches the eye, but the Defender is also getting surprisingly good reviews for snow and ice performance. Michelin has packed a great deal of technology into this tire, including a high-silica tread compound and 3D self-locking sipes. Ordinary sipes increase grip in water and snow, but allow the tread blocks to flex, which increases wear on the tires. 3D sipes have an internal topology which allows the tread blocks to flex only as much as they need to before the sipes lock together, cutting down significantly on treadwear. This gives the Defender its great grip and magnificently low treadwear.

2. Continental ExtremeContact DWS

The Tire Rack, Inc.
The ExtremeContact DWS (Dry/Wet/Snow) is another of those few tires that has managed to strike a very good balance between extraordinary snow and ice grip and excellent dry performance, in fact the dry and wet grip of the DWS even exceeds the performance of its summer-only sibling, the ExtremeContact DW.

1. Nokian WRG2

Nokian WR G2
Nokian Tyres plc
When it comes to winter-biased all-season tires, there is one clear champion, one that is simply head and shoulders above the rest. That is the Nokian WR G2, a tire so good at what it does that it really belongs in a category all by itself. In fact, Nokian gives the WRG2 their own designation of “all-weather” rather than all-season. Nokian is also a strong leader in areas like slushplaning (hydroplaning caused by wet slush), something very few other tire companies have traditionally paid much attention to. The WRG2 has snow and ice performance that is only a small step down from the very best snow tires, while retaining extremely good performance on dry and wet roads. In fact the dry road performance is good enough that Consumer Reports seems to have trouble even categorizing this tire as an all-season, putting it at the top of their “Performance Winter” category, which means that they felt it performed better than UHP (Ultra High Performance) pure snow tires such as Michelin's Pilot Alpin PA3.
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