Portland, home of Digital Trends’ headquarters, is experiencing its worst winter in decades. While the Pacific Northwest has mild weather in comparison to the Midwest and Northeast, even the Weather Channel is calling Portland “America’s Most Winter-Fatigued City in 2016-17.”
The snowy and icy weather is made worse by Portland’s lack of preparedness, but drivers can do a lot to take matters into their own hands, such as running proper winter tires. Where colder cities know the virtues and necessity of changing over to winter tires, Portlanders overly rely on chains, which come with many compromises, such as having to drive at a reduced pace and causing damage to both the roads and tires. We wanted to find a less cumbersome way to get around town on the worst of days, and also be able to go play in the mountains.
For our first winter tire test, we turned to Nokian Hakkapelliitta R2. Just like in all industries, there are big names and there are small names, and while Nokian may not appear as prominently as other tire makers’s offerings like Bridgestone Blizzak and Michelin X-Ice, it’s got an exceptionally strong heritage and expertise in winter tires. Given that it’s a Finnish company, it’s easily to believe the company’s claims that it’s a specialist in northern conditions, and we wanted to drive them first hand.
First off, any modern winter tire is going to be fare better than even the very best summer or even all-season tire. The rubber compound and tread pattern of a winter tire are made specifically for the cold and low traction surfaces. The Hakkapelliitta R2’s compound contains a cryo-silane based winter silica compound for grip in the slick, and an above-average amount of natural rubber, which is stable across a wide temperature range. There’s also a secret ingredient: canola oil. Having a common cooking product in a tire may be odd, but the canola oil links the silica and rubber together, while also increasing tear resistance. Think about that the next time you pour canola oil into a pan.
In the snow, the Hakkapeliitta R2 practically gives permission to stomp on that go-pedal.
The tread and sipe pattern plays an equally crucial role in grip and handling. Nokian names a full handful of sipe design innovations in the Hakkapelliitta R2, including: Dense sipe mesh and wide individual sipes to grip wet ice; zigzagging pump sipes to displace water for wet grip; grip claws and sipe activators for better grip in the ice and snow; and slush claws to prevent slush-planing.
The design improvements over the original Hakkapeliitta R tire means an almost 5 percent lower rolling resistance and 10 meter reduced stopping distance from 80 km/h. In our experiences, the Hakkapeliitta R2 provided excellent grip in the snow. Repeated trips between Portland and Mt. Hood provided test opportunities ranging from dry, to wet, to hard pack, to accumulating snow all in the same day.
In the dry, the Hakkapeliitta R2s handled with pleasantly surprising road manners. Road noise was only slightly increased over the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 they replaced, and handling on our Infiniti G35x didn’t feel adversely affected during aggressive freeway merges. Mind you, these are winter tires meant for winter conditions, so spirited driving urges in dry conditions will have to be kept at bay until the warmer months.
In the snow, however, the Hakkapeliitta R2 practically gives permission to stomp on that go-pedal. Buckets of traction are available on both snow and ice, and the way the tires grip to the road surface inspires confidence to drive as if it was merely damp on the road. That said, with stability controlled disabled, the rear-wheel drive bias of the ATTESA E-TS AWD system of the G35x meant that the rear end would still kick out whenever the right foot beckoned. If hooning around deserted parking lots are your thing, the Hakkapeliitta R2 will grip when you want it to, and still break loose on command.
Regardless of tire choice, those with AWD vehicles have double the traction available when it comes to get moving, but the most critical factor is stopping distance. According to Car & Driver’s test, the Hakkapeliitta R2 came in first place on both snow and ice. Our experience with mashing the brake pedal confirmed that. While ABS would indeed activate every single time, the Hakkapeliitta R2 would bring the car to a dead stop in an almost anti-climactic fashion.
There is one area where the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 gives up ground to the other choices on the market: Price. Cost differences between these tires and the competition vary depending on exact tire size, but the Hakkapeliitta R2 trend at near the top of the range all other available winter tires. That said, the added costs spread over multiple winter seasons and tens of thousands of icy, snowy miles might be worth it to those in need of surefooted driving.
- Confidence inspiring in the snow
- Top-of-class grip in the ice
- Studless design means it’s legal everywhere, any time
- Predictable when starting to slip
- More expensive compared to other winter tires
- Harder to find in tire shops