This week's How I Drive interviewee hails from DC, owns…
Come with me on an adventure to the Arctic Circle, where snow-covered evergreens line the horizon, Northern Lights dance across the night sky, and reindeer roam the land. We are in Ivalo, Finland where Nokian Tyres has the northernmost test track in the world. The tire company, better known for its winterproof products and most popular in the European market, invited us to experience both its test facility and the Finnish culture.
Nokian Tyres Tested: Ice Braking, Drifting an Audi RS4, and a Nature Drive with (Real) Reindeer
The first test we participated in featured a Porsche Cayenne outfitted with Nokian’s Hakkapeliitta 8 studded tire (pronounced like Hock-uh-peh-leet-uh), which balances soft contact with the road with Nokian’s new Eco 8 stud technology, versus an Audi Q5 wearing all-season tires by a different brand name. The test took place inside a 700 meter (that’s almost half a mile!) ice hall. It is literally a ginormous tent with an ice floor, and it is where Nokian tests the acceleration and braking capabilities of tires in icy conditions.
When the Porsche Cayenne on its Hakkepeliitta tires engaged in the drive and stopped at the appropriate orange cone, it came to a controlled halt with ease. The Audi, on the other hand, was wearing all season shoes and upon hitting the same mark went way beyond where the Cayenne stopped, meaning Mr. Dummy became our unfortunate victim. Thankfully, only Mr. Dummy was harmed during this experiment.
The side-by-side tests are eye-opening for those who may be firm believers that all-season tires are appropriate for exactly what they advertise…all four seasons. And let’s be honest; in most North American climates, an all-season tire will give the majority of drivers the kind of performance they need at least three seasons out of four. But in northern and elevated climates — the Northeast, Great Lakes region, Pacific Northwest, and mountainous areas throughout America — a winter tire may not only be necessary, it may be legislated.
A studded tire provides more control on ice because it is able to give the kind of grip onto the slippery surface that will return control to the vehicle and its driver. Nokian spaces its studs apart, avoiding putting them in a single line, in an effort to maximize grip and minimize roughness when driving on dry pavement.
The studded Hakkapeliitta 8 also came in handy when we each took turns taking joy rides in a bright-yellow Audi RS4 around the Nokian Tyres ice track, which is literally on top of a frozen lake. The crew at the Ivalo facility clears the path daily, ensuring optimal conditions for testing.
Now, our friend Tommi took us around the first loop to show us how to drift the car properly, which was a blast. But soon, they set us free in the RS4 around the track. I was determined not to be the person who spun the car out and wrecked.
Non-studded Hakkapeliita R2 and Hakkapeliita R2 SUV tires did the job out on the ice track, where we tested braking capabilities on Nokian Tyres products against competitors. Nokian rented an Audi Q5 from a nearby facility in order for us to try out a differing brand. The differences between the Nokians and the all-season tires they provided were evident with regards to stopping power and the feel of control passed back to the driver through the wheels.
Nokian taught several of us how to drift on ice and snow, and their studded tires definitely did the job in helping us stick to the track. The most important lesson learned through this event, however, could best be summed up by Nokian Tyres Director of Marketing, Steve Bourassa, who emphasized that in a far northern climate like Ivalo, “any winter tire is better than no winter tire.”
It’s worth mentioning that the same week a select few automotive writers from the U.S. were in Finland testing out Nokian’s products, some news broke that the company had prior provided European media tires of better quality than what was readily available to consumers for testing purposes. While the issue is an important one, the company released a statement on the matter that clarified this was done under a former leader and that the problem was central to Europe, not North America. Bottom line, we experienced Nokian’s winter tires first-hand, and that’s what we wanted to share about here.