The majority of all-season tires are compromise offerings with less wet and dry grip than a summer tire along with less-than impressive performance in winter conditions. Despite the shortcomings, all-season tires are found on most vehicles in North America, even those in the snowbelt. But dealing with two sets of tires—dedicated summer and winter rubber—is a pain in the ass. Enter the “all-weather” tire.
Stamped on the sidewall of dedicated winter tires is a funky little symbol called the three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF). This insignia is designed to inform buyers that the tire is developed and tested for winter use. In certain areas of Canada and Europe, the law requires the use of tires carrying the 3PMSF during certain winter months. As such, tire manufacturers are getting smart and are producing tires designed for year-around use that carry the 3PMSF. On paper, it’s a tire that can be run 365 days a year but with better winter traction than a traditional all-season tire. Just keep in mind that the process for achieving the 3PMSF stamp is quite simple and does not take into account braking, cornering, or ice performance—it’s simply an acceleration test on medium-packed snow. As a result, all 3PMSF tires are not created equal.
Finland-based Nokian Tyres (the company uses the British spelling in its legal name) proudly markets itself as the northern-most tire company. Finns know a few things about snow and ice and as a result, Nokian’s main business is proper winter tires. The company also understands the all-weather tire world, having started the segment some 20 years ago. It recently introduced its latest all-weather tire, the WR G4, which is a modified version of the company’s European performance winter tire, the WR A4.
“[The WR G4] is first developed for winter conditions,” said Petri Niemi, head of product and price management at Nokian Tyres. “That is our baseline and what we feel makes an all-weather tire. It is then further refined to improve dry and wet handling properties, to bring it up to an all-season standard.” Olli Seppälä, R&D operations manager at Nokian Tyres, added more details on what’s specifically different about the all-weather WR G4 versus the European WR A4 performance winter tire.
“In North America, of course, you have to put a bit more emphasis on mileage and comfort,” said Seppälä. “It’s the interior noise, ride quality and treadwear that’s better on the WR G4. The overall market for performance winter products in North America is quite small. For this reason, Nokian Tyres introduced the WR family of products in North America with similar characteristics found in Performance Winter products, but with modified compounds to accommodate using these tires 12 months out of the year.”
I fitted a set of WR G4s on my 2017 Toyota 86 (205/55VR-16 on steel wheels) to see how the rubber would handle the nasty winter weather of West Michigan. I usually choose the Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4D for my snow and ice tire on the rear-wheel drive coupe, using the same steel wheels. I’m happy with the performance winter tire as it works well in the snow yet is still fun and responsive on cold pavement—both wet and dry—when the white stuff takes its regular short break in Michigan.
My first proper run with the Nokian WR G4 tires installed on the Toyota was after an easy break-in. I immediately felt a lack of on-center feel and more understeer when pushed in cold, dry conditions compared to the Dunlop winter tires. Quite frankly, the precise steering of the 86 was neutered by the Nokian tire. Not a brilliant start. But that dry weather didn’t last. Michigan was hit with a very snowy period in early February. The rear-drive Toyota is huge fun in the snow but I wouldn’t label it as “good.”
I was slightly nervous about “downgrading” from a dedicated winter tire to an all-weather setup. After my first drive in proper winter conditions, I realized my concern was unwarranted. The Nokian WR G4 performed like a performance winter tire in 2-3 inches of snow. Acceleration, braking, and overall cornering grip was impressive. I still felt more understeer in the snow than with the Dunlops but the performance of the WR G4 was miles better than any all-season tire I’ve tried on various vehicles in similar conditions.
Later that week, we received a larger dump of snow overnight totaling over six inches. I went for a drive early in the morning, before the plows did their duty. The all-weather WR G4 showed its limitations in these conditions. The ABS worked overtime under braking and the confidence I felt in lighter to medium snow was diminished. On the other hand, the 86 never got stuck and there were other cars on all-season tires incapacitated all around me. Later that day, the roads were plowed and the temperature dropped, leaving a thick layer of packed snow on the driving surface. The WR G4 performed flawlessly in those conditions, once again acting like a performance winter tire. Only icy intersections reminded me that all-weather tire doesn’t offer the ice grip of ‘arctic-spec’ products like Nokian’s Hakkapeliitta line of winter rubber.
Later in February, Michigan experienced an extended warm spell with bucket-loads of rain. There was standing water all around but the WR G4 never struggled, laughing off large puddles. The wet weather grip offered by Nokian’s all-weather tire is fantastic.
Overall, I’m very impressed with the Nokian WR G4. For many drivers in the snowbelt, the WR G4 makes a ton of sense. I doubt my issues with steering feel will be felt by most owners, especially with more pedestrian cars than the Toyota 86. The dramatic increase in snow grip with the WR G4 compared to an average all-season tire is staggering. Add in the wet-weather performance and overall quiet, smooth ride and the Nokian all-weather tire ticks many boxes. Performance and refinement in hot weather as well as tread life is something I was not able to experience but the WR G4 does carry a 60,000 treadwear warranty, so they should wear quite well.
Personally, I’m a tire geek and love having the ultimate grip in all conditions and don’t mind dealing with twice-a-year wheel and tires swaps so I will stick with dedicated sets of summer performance rubber and proper winter tires. But the truth is that most owners don’t want to deal with the headaches of winter tires and, for them, a tire like the Nokian WR G4 may be the answer to increased winter confidence and safety with a 12-month tire, especially if you’re one to wait for the plows to go through their motions after a big snow storm. Just remember that a dedicated winter tire is always the best pick for ultimate winter performance and the majority of traditional all-season tires perform poorly the snow and ice.