Review: How The Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 Winter Tires Taught Us How Awesome Winter And An Electric Car Can Be Together

Believe it or not, today is the last day of August which, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, means that we’re soon going to be exchanging our summer shorts and T-shirts for hoodies, winter coats and thick fluffy socks. And if you happen to live far enough north, the prospect of the first snowfall of the season as the beautiful colors of fall turn into the brisk, cold morning of winter.

Which means it’s finally time for us to write a review we’ve been waiting for more than six moths to write: a first-season review of the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 studless winter tires, as tested out last winter on our staff 2013 Nissan LEAF electric car. And for us to explain to you just why you need to consider buying a different set of tires for your electric car this fall ahead of winter — even if you live somewhere where severe winter weather is a rarity.

You don't need to live somewhere with season-long snow to benefit from winter tires.

You don’t need to live somewhere with season-long snow to benefit from winter tires.

When we first reached out Nokian North America last fall to arrange for a set of Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 tires to be sent to us for review, we’ve got to admit we weren’t convinced winter tires — any winter tires — would have much of an impact on how our staff Nissan LEAF drove throughout the winter. After all, being residents of the moderately temperate Pacific Northwest, we weren’t sure that winter tires — emphasis on the winter — would really make a change to how our car drove or performed. Indeed, part of our desire to test winter tires int he first place was to see how badly winter tires impacted electric car range. After all, if they gripped more in snow and gripped more on dry but cold tarmac, surely range would take a massive hit and driving an electric car in winter would prove problematic?

Missed our previous long-term reviews on the Hakkapeliitta R2? Check out part one and part two.

The answer is a resounding no and as we quickly discovered, fears that our Hakkapeliitta R2 winter tires would impact range quickly faded. If you happen to own an electric car and live somewhere where winter tires are mandatory in the winter, the chances are you already know that when paired with the right winter tire, an electric car is more than capable of living through the toughest of winters. And with more than 10 years of electric car driving under our belt, we too knew that even on all season tires, electric cars can cope with winter weather just as well as a gasoline car can.

We put our R2s through as many different conditions as possible.

We put our R2s through as many different conditions as possible.

But while we know the above to be true, we’ve heard of local electric car owners in the Pacific Northwest who are so worried about their car’s winter capabilities that they put their car into hibernation for the winter, opting instead to use the family SUV as their commuting workhorse of choice.

Our experiences last winter prove that’s really not necessary.

Backed by more than 80 years of harsh winter experience in Finland, Nokian Tyres (with a y not an i) really does have the upper hand when it comes to winter tire design. And while many of its winter tire products are studded tires for use on Scandinavian roads, the Hakkapeliitta R2s are non-studded tires designed to be used throughout the winter season on everything from dry, cold tarmac through to heavy, unplowed snow-covered roads.

The key to the Hakkapeliitta R2’s winter capabilities lies in the rubber compound used to make them, as well as the carefully designed tread pattern, sipes, and channels designed to ensure the tires retain their grip no matter what.

Compound first. Unlike all-season tires which tend to lose their flexibility in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) the Hakkapeliitta R2s are made with a softer rubber compound that can retain its flexibility well below freezing point. This means that even when the temperature drops, the tires retain their flexibility and thus their grip.

While (as regular readers will know) we made several trips during last winter to the snow-laden Mount Hood ski resort, the majority of our winter experience with the Hakkapeliita R2s were not on snowy roads but wet city streets and local highways. There, we found the extra-grip of the winter-compound tires actually helped prevent slips and slides that all-season tires would certainly have struggled with. Previously, we’d have evaluated the conditions as being perfectly within the capabilities of all-season tires, but with the R2s helping our LEAF hug the road, our perspective has changed.

Our R2s have been enjoying a summer off, but they're going back on this fall.

Our R2s have been enjoying a summer off, but they’re going back on this fall.

As to the range? We found it hard to tell the difference between our previous well-worn Michelin all-seasons and the Hakkapeliitta R2 in terms of range per charge. Indeed, while we did think at one point that range was impacted, it seems that weather conditions — such as wet roads or snow — played more of an impact on range than the choice of tires.

More grip and no discernible difference in range on non-snowy, winter roads? That’s what we experienced, and on its own we’d even go as far as to suggest the added grip would be more than enough to make the case for winter tires for any electric car driver in a climate where the winter temperature hovers near or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for months at a time.

But it was the snow performance which really blew us away. On the multiple trips we made last winter to the nearby ski resort of Mount Hood, our snowflake-emblazoned R2s handled both fresh snowfall and hard snowpack with aplomb. And since our tires met the requirements under Oregon State law for ‘winter traction tires’ there was no need to stop and chain up on mountain passes, keeping both us warm and the car going exactly where it needed to. Moreover, the combination of the LEAF’s front-wheel drive electric motor and grippy winter tires meant that we were able to power pass more than one stranded 4×4 V-8 pickup or SUV spun out on the steeper passes. And with no chains to worry about we found it our winter excursions on snow almost as quiet as driving on regular roads.

Which brings us to the final conclusion. Is the Hakkapeliitta R2 winter tire really worth it? After all, with most tire shops charging between $500 and $700 for a set of R2s — depending on the size of your wheels — they’re not particularly cheap.

If you live somewhere with regular winter snowfall, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. With less road noise and road wear than studded winter tires, the R2 should be your standard electric vehicle ‘go-to’ for winter use thanks to its excellent low rolling resistance and astonishing vice-like winter grip. While the R2s won’t grip as well as studded tires on pack ice — and we’re talking ice lake driving here — we found them to be more than capable in every other situation we could throw at them.

The Hakkapeliitta R2 experience means we're buying Nokian WRG3s for our RAV4 EV.

The Hakkapeliitta R2 experience means we’re buying Nokian WRG3s for our RAV4 EV.

As for places with occasional winter snowfall and more temperate conditions? If your average winter temperature stays below 50 degrees most of the winter, we’d not hesitate to recommend the Hakkapeliita R2, especially if you find yourself driving outside of the urban jungle, since these tires make winter time driving feel just as comfortable as summer driving in all but the most extreme of conditions. And in an electric car — where the torque from the electric motor tends toward wheel spin on all but the most grippy of surfaces — these tires make winter far more enjoyable.

If that doesn’t convince you, think of it like this: if your car grips the road better in poor weather conditions, the chances of you being involved in a weather-related accident are reduced. Think of winter tires like the Hakkapeliitta R2 as additional insurance.

As for us? While we received our set of Hakkapeliitta R2s from Nokian as review units, we were so impressed with their capabilities that we invested in a set of Nokian ENtyre 2.0 summer tires for our staff Nissan LEAF this summer, and so far have driven more than 7,000 miles on them with negligible tread loss. And the Gordon-Bloomfield Toyota RAV4 EV? When the weather turns, we’ll be buying a set of Nokian WRG3 all weather tires (which are also approved for extreme weather use) to get us through this winter.

But our reviews of both of these other tires will have to wait for another time…


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