As anyone who has been driving an electric car for a while will tell you, your choice of tire is just as important as the weather conditions and how you drive in influencing how far your car will travel on a single charge.
Most electric cars today come from the factory fitted with tires designed specifically to maximise range in temperate weather. Made of a special compound designed to ensure low rolling resistance while offering grip in wet weather, these tires may be fine in warmer weather, but they’re not great when it comes to winter weather. Then again, neither are regular all-season or summer tires.
That’s because the compound in all-season and summer tires lose their flexibility when the temperature drops below 10 degrees celsius or so. Winter tires by comparison, are designed to stay soft and supple when the temperature drops well below freezing, and have specially-designed tread patterns designed to aid grip on icy or snowy roads.
The problem? While winter tires give better grip, they generally affect fuel economy and range. And for that reason, many electric car owners forgo winter tires altogether. But in the Hakkapeliitta R2, Finnish tire company Nokian claims to have a winter tire that’s capable of providing great winter grip without sacrificing electric car range.
So we decided to call Nokian’s bluff and asked it to let us put its claims to the test. It agreed.
Which is how we’re testing a brand-new set of Hakkapeliitta R2 winter tires on our 2013 Nissan LEAF staff car this winter, with the aim of carrying out three specific tasks.
Firstly, we’re going to evaluate the tires and their performance in a variety of conditions, including both dry and wet roads above and below freezing point, as well as on heavily iced and snowy roads. While we’re based in Portland Oregon, a place with very little winter snow, we’re close enough to both the Cascades and Mount Hood. Both get significant snowfall in the average winter season, and Mount Hood — despite low levels of snow over the summer — has the longest snow season of any U.S. ski resort.
We’ll be checking to see how well the tires grip in wintry conditions, paying close attention to how the tires handle the high-torque output of an electric car motor.
Second, we’ll be examining the effects the Hakkapeliitta R2 tires have on our electric car range. We want to know how much range is lost due to the tires in cold weather, and if there’s any noticeable difference between it and a Nissan LEAF with regular all-weather tires.
We’ll be paying particular attention to trips we know well, evaluating if winter tires mean planning for extra stops, or if our overall consumption rises noticeably during winter.
Finally, we’ll be looking at the overall benefits of using winter tires on an electric car, even in areas where there’s little winter snow. Our aim? To find out if you should consider winter tires for your electric car next year.
Obviously, our winter test won’t give you the answers you need for this season, but with the tires fitted a little over ten days ago — and our first winter trip on an unplowed, snowy mountain pass where winter tires or chains are required by law, we’ve noted the following things.
Grip is vastly improved on pack ice and snow. Indeed, climbing to Government Camp on Route 26 from Portland, we were able to climb the several thousand feet up to Skibowl West with no traction worries, all while watching SUVs with all-wheel drive and summer tires struggle on the same pass.
Grip on non-snowy passes with plenty of wet leaves is also improved, with Hakkapeliitta R2s gripping better than the stock Michelin Energy Saver tires they replaced. However, when brand new, we’ll note grip on dry, warmer tarmac is less impressive, with some loss of traction when getting over-excited with the accelerator. Since no tires are particularly grippy when new, we’ll hold off judgment at this time.
We’ll be covering the Hakkapeliitta’s unique structure and technical capabilities in future posts throughout the winter, but for now we’re curious to know if you fit winter tires on your electric car.
Do you live somewhere where winter tires are required? Or perhaps you just want improved grip should the weather turn bad. Either way, let us know what’s on your car this winter.
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