Review Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 Winter Tire
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Review: Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 Winter Tire

We put the premium Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 winter tire to the test, including several hundred kilometres of use on cold bare pavement and winter’s worst array of hard-packed and polished snow. So, is this Nordic non-studded worth putting on your vehicle this winter season?

Owners of Nokian’s Hakkapeliitta winter tires are amongst the happiest and most loyal winter tire owners out there. The Finnish tire manufacturer is widely known for their popular range of winter tires, nicknamed ‘Hakkas’ by some fans.

Nokian Hakkapeliitta winter tires are available in a range of styles and variants to cover a wide range of applications—including an Aramid-reinforced Hakkapelliitta SUV, and a Hakkapellitta R5 EV, specifically designed for use in electric vehicles. 

In this test? We’re on a set of standard Hakkapelliitta R3’s. 

Putting these pricey non-studded winter tires to the test

This tire was announced in early 2018 and hit the road with improved grip on ice, tweaks and enhancements for added handling and noise control in slippery conditions, and low rolling resistance implements to help improve fuel economy and energy efficiency, resulting in more miles per tank, and more range per charge in the cold.

This non-studded winter tire option is designed for excellent wintertime handling, but also features a solid selection of features and design that intend to improve comfort and fuel efficiency, too.

Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 | Photo: Justin Pritchard 

Our test vehicle was an AWD-equipped VW station wagon, and testing conditions were a full smattering of winter’s worst array of hard-packed and polished snow, peanut-buttery slush, ice pellets and deep powder. Test impressions below also include several hundred kilometres of use on cold bare pavement.

Noise level on bare roads

An initial wintertime drive immediately grabs the driver’s attention. First, shoppers can expect to notice a slightly softer and quieter ride on bare pavement than many lower-cost winter tire options. 

This helps mitigate a common complaint in the winter tire world (noise levels). In the specific vehicle and conditions of this test, the R3 exceeded expectations slightly but meaningfully where noise levels and ride comfort were concerned.

Performance over a variety of winter conditions

Over 2 subsequent seasons of winter testing, the R3’s impressed mainly with their ability to inspire confidence across the gamut of winter driving conditions. For their second season on the test car, their installation brought a sigh of relief in anticipation of their performance. 

Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 | Photo: Justin Pritchard 

After 3,500 kilometres of winter driving, the R3’s impressed this seasoned tester primarily for their consistent and reliable performance across the gamut of winter driving conditions. 

These include highways covered in fresh powder and hard-packed snow, backroads covered in polished snow and ice, driving on frigid bare pavement, and handling warmer-weather snowstorms that tend to coat highway surfaces with several inches of thick, heavy, peanut-buttery slush.

Braking abilities

On polished hard-packed surfaces, drivers can expect a pleasing shove out of their seat during full ABS panic stops, where the R3’s deliver a confidence-inspiring performance. 

On a surface like this, most drivers will find the Michelin X-ICE XI3 we reviewed to perform slightly better where initial braking bite is concerned, though the performance of the R3’s and XI3’s in hard stops are both amongst the best I’ve ever encountered.

Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 | Photo: Nokian 

When it comes to stopping hard on polished hard-pack, these two studless tires are as good as we’ve ever tested. From the driver’s seat? The R3’s deliver reduced need and severity of ABS engagement, for a smoother pedal feel. 

Add in a reassuring shove towards the steering wheel, which transmits the sensation of braking traction to the driver, you’ve got two strong signals that you’re solidly in control, reducing winter driving stress levels

Control and grip

In cornering and evasive maneuvers on smooth-and-slippery surfaces, drivers can expect a precise and easily-controlled steering response with reduced intervention from their stability control system tugging at the brakes on corner entry and corner exit. 

Versus the XI3’s and a recently-tested set of Pirelli Ice Zero winter rubber in the same conditions, this tester noted smaller, quicker, and less frequent stability control system interventions—another strong signal that the R3’s are giving the system more grip to work with. 

The tires, not the electronics, feel like they’re doing the bulk of the work of keeping things in line. From the driver’s seat, there’s a reduced sensation of the vehicle ‘fighting’ to find grip, which reduces stress levels and opens up additional driver bandwidth for handling tricky situations.

Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 | Photo: Justin Pritchard 

This is especially apparent when attempting to aggravate the vehicle into a spin or slide, rapidly steering left and right and using specific throttle and braking application to try and upset the vehicle into a loss of control. 

Weaving the car back and forth while working the throttle and brakes to shift weight from one axle to the other effectively live-streams a variety of unfavourable situations for the tires and traction-boosting electronics to sort out.

In this test on an all-season tire, you’d spin out in a moment. 

On a decent winter tire, this test can result in some messy handling at times, though a competent driver should find little trouble in keeping things between the snowbanks. Here, the rear of the car follows the front, but not without some slipping and drama and heavy driver workload required to keep things from getting messy.

Further Hakkapeliitta R3 handling impressions

With the R3’s installed, the workload shifts in the other direction. Additional work was required to try and overwhelm the test vehicle’s grip and traction, and it felt more difficult to try and make the car spin. Now, rather than fighting to maintain control, I was fighting to try and lose it.

Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 | Photo: Justin Pritchard 

In this specific test, the R3’s clamped down more confidently into the hard-packed, with the rear of the vehicle following more closely in line with the front. There’s less intervention and tugging from the stability control system, less throttle management from the traction control system, and a near total reduction in the tendency for the car’s tail to build up lateral momentum which can contribute to a spin. 

Specifically, the R3’s feel expert at ‘catching’ the car as it transitions from left to right in rapid succession, mitigating the tendency for unwanted momentum to build up in the rear end. The traction and bite in this exercise is the best part of these tires.

Verdict: are these Nokian winter tires worth it?

A competent winter driver should, therefore, find the R3’s leave them feeling very well supported, while less experienced winter drivers should feel a major confidence boost across a wide range of driving maneuvers—including some of the most serious. 

Before you pick up a set of Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3s, make sure to read our full winter tire guide.

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