Tire Review: Nokian Hakkapeliitta R winter tires winter driving insights advice
Nokian Hakkapeliitta R. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Haney Louka

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Nokian Hakkapeliitta R

We enjoyed a hot, sunny summer here in Winnipeg, so for some it’s difficult to start thinking about the upcoming deep freeze we’re about to experience. The winter driving season certainly has its challenges, but it can also be manageable if we’re prepared. Something every driver should be considering right now is putting winter tires on their ride.

The up-front cost of winter tires can be a tough pill to swallow, but consider that buying them will make your summer or all-season rubber last nearly twice as long as if you drive on them year-round. And if the tires save you just one collision thanks to their superior performance in emergency situations, then they easily pay for themselves.

I’ve tested different tires on the same car, one season at a time, for the last seven years. This time it’s different, because last winter I decided to test the winter mettle of my 2007 Infiniti G35 Coupe. And to help me get through the winter, I had a set of Nokian Hakkapeliitta R winter tires, size ­­­­­­­P225/45-R18, installed on the car.

Tire Review: Nokian Hakkapeliitta R winter tires winter driving insights advice
Tire Review: Nokian Hakkapeliitta R winter tires winter driving insights advice
Top: The Hakkapeliitta R next to the summer tires on Haney Louka’s Infiniti G35; Bottom: The previous-generation Nokian Hakkapeliitta RSi. Click image to enlarge

I’ve long been a fan of Nokian tires; specifically their winter tires for car applications. Being from Finland, the company is no stranger to northern weather conditions, and in the tires I’ve reviewed previously, their performance has been class-leading. The name Hakkapeliitta may look like a mouthful, but if you remember that it’s supposed to sound like “have a fajita,” you won’t be too far off.

The Hakka R is the successor to the RSi tires that I sampled on my Mazda6 wagon back in 2006. At that time, the RSi earned a place at the top of my list for all-around winter performance among the tires I had tested. Even until today, it remains up there alongside the Continental ExtremeWinterContact. So I had high hopes that the R would continue that tradition, even when fitted on a rear-drive coupe with wider, lower-profile tires and lower ground clearance.

One of the primary contributors to a tire’s winter performance is the rubber compound, which controls how suitable the tire is for low-temperature applications. Tires not designed specifically for winter use get harder as the temperature descends toward zero. And since the rubber compound cannot be readily identified (unlike with siping and tread design that are visible to the naked eye), we rely on information from the tire companies to tell us what it’s made of. But to a tire company, a rubber compound is like KFC’s secret blend of 11 herbs and spices – a proprietary blend about which they will not get very specific.

But what I can glean from Nokian’s press information is that the rubber contains a canola-silica compound which is claimed to improve the tire’s wet grip and reduce rolling resistance (and thus saving fuel) without compromising its cold-weather performance. The purified oil also replaces traditional compound materials that are more harmful to the environment.

Information like that doesn’t exactly make us feel enlightened, but if you’re in the market for a winter tire one of the most effective ways to evaluate the rubber compound is to press your thumb into one of the tread blocks. Particularly up at room temperature, the tread block should have a fair amount of flexibility and “give” when pressed. If it feels stiff at room temperature, chances are it won’t have the flexibility it needs at colder temperatures to maintain good grip. Now, that’s not the be-all and end-all of winter tire selection, but at least it gives shoppers a tool while navigating through the ever-growing selection of winter tires on the shelves.

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