Review: General Altimax Arctic tires and Sparco Terra wheels

Winter in the Northeast can be a brutal, bitter time of year. Rain, snow, ice, sleet, you name it; if Mother Nature can concoct it, you can expect it just when you want it least. As all of us in the automotive community know, summer tires are absolutely inappropriate for getting around once the temperature falls below forty degrees or so, and only get worse and more dangerous from there as the mercury continues to drop.
My Subaru WRX come from the factory with summer tires, it’s a no-brainer to grab a set of dedicated winter set to simultaneously assure your safe-going and protect your summers. Going with a cost-effective but high-performing combination, I picked out a set of General Altimax Arctics and Sparco Terras to help get me, and my beloved Subaru, through the worst that winter can throw at us.
Read on to see how they fare.

Selecting a wheel and tire package on a budget is nothing short of strenuous. I knew I wanted a rally-inspired wheel, one that is lightweight and inexpensive. Not an easy profile to fit, but Sparco – maker of everything from seats to shift knobs – had exactly what I was looking for in their Terra, which is priced an easy-to-swallow at around $100 each. For reference, the size here is 17×7.5” and weighs around 21 pounds per corner. Pretty good for the price, and having a large and reputable company backing the wheels sweetens the deal.
My tire choice was heavily driven by price, but somehow the least expensive tire I was considering also had the best reviews. General Tire is a well known brand, and the Altimax Arctic is their well-regarded, bargain-priced but not bargain-performing winter tire. In this 215/50/17 size the Generals are a bit narrower and shorter than my stock tires. With the wheels, this results in an eight pound drop per corner, but I heeded the advice of Tire Rack and went with their recommended size. So, how’s she do?
On the appearance front, they’re just right. The gold wheels, which up close have a beautiful flake to them, offset the World Rally Blue paint perfectly and really help buy into the traditional Subaru rally image. With a fairly aggressive tread pattern for a car tire, the Generals also help add some visual aggression; together, they make the WRX look like just the winter weather monster that it’s transformed into with this set underneath the car.
Out on the road, the car rides remarkably well. The increased sidewall translates to a softer, cushier ride than on the 18” stockers, something very much welcome in the pothole-ridden winter months. It doesn’t coast as well, but overall it rides great and is actually quieter on any surface. Somehow, despite the decreased weight at each corner, I’ve been seeing slightly worse gas mileage, but the winter gas blend and occasional days of letting the car warm up before leaving work probably isn’t helping the case.
As for handling, the car has become a bit floaty, but that’s totally to be expected. The major difference is most apparent in its turn-in characteristics; whereas on the summer tires the car changes direction at the smallest turn of the wheel, on the snow set it becomes a lot less responsive. I can best explain the sensation like this: on the summers, when you turn hard into a corner, it’s one single motion. On the winter set, when you turn in equally hard, the front dives in and then the back end comes in after, in what feels like a secondary motion versus the one single motion on the summers. There’s definitely less communication through the steering wheel, but the car remains fun to drive and still corners well.
Despite the cold, I’ve had the car in the rain a few times on this setup, and it does well in these conditions. It’s marginally unstable at high speed in severe downpours, more so than the summer set, but it’s nothing worrisome. The temperature hit  around 65F on a rare warm winter weeknight, and in an emergency braking situation the car was fairly squirrely and nowhere near as stable as on the summers, but it still kept me out of the intersection that was dead ahead.
Over the last two months I’ve been treated to a number of chances to explore one of the WRX’s best qualities: snow performance. Between the Generals and the AWD system the WRX is basically unstoppable in the winter, short of debilitating ice or high-centering in snow deeper than the frame. It’s so good at handling the white stuff that when playing around in an open lot covered in less than 4-5” of snow you really need to use the throttle, and a ton of steering input, to induce sideways action, and that’s with the traction control system fully off.
That being said, the General/Sparco combo makes the Subaru extremely competent here in the hilly areas of Connecticut, where the weather is unpredictable and can change from snow to ice to rain and back again without so much as a minute’s notice. With this setup, the WRX makes commuting in even the worst of conditions extraordinarily easy. To say it’s confidence inspiring is a drastic understatement. The total cost from was $1013, mounted and balanced. 
As a whole, I’m remarkably pleased with the General Altimax Arctic tires and Sparco Terra wheels as a winter package for my WRX. The ride quality improvement has left me craving a similarly sized set for my summer package, and that the car looks properly badass is only helping the cause. On this setup the Subaru has become nearly unstoppable in the snow, and is as confidence inspiring as I can imagine a standard-height car to be; that’s not only the telltale sign of a good car, but one of tires that are doing their job admirably. The WRX is a great all-season car as-is, and the General tires and Sparco wheels have only made the harshest of seasons not only easier to navigate, but have made the car great to look at as well. I couldn’t be more pleased.

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20 responses to “Review: General Altimax Arctic tires and Sparco Terra wheels”

  1. roguetoaster Avatar

    Good concept for a write up! The Artics are very reasonable tires for the price, and I personally like them far more in non awful weather than the Coopers Weathermaster ST2s I got this year. However, I rather wanted to try the Hankook Winter iPikes instead, but they were sold out for the year from DTD. Interestingly, any sort of Tirerack type of review for the Coopers and Hankooks simply didn’t exist when I was looking to buy in November.

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      Somewhat surprised by the lack of Tire Rack reviews as you mentioned…from my understanding (and research) they don’t carry every brand and perhaps you were looking at those tires just as they got them in stock, with nobody having bought and reviewed them yet.

    2. GTXcellent Avatar

      Heh – we’ve got iPikes on the Saab and Cooper Weathermaster ST2s on the SS! Love the iPikes. I personally can’t really comment on the Coopers’ performance, as we’ve only driven the SS when the roads are clear and it’s too cold for any slush. The Coopers are nice and supple when it’s -20.
      The guy who owns the local tire shop (we’ve been friends since high school and were in each others weddings so I do trust what he says) personally likes the Coopers better and has been pushing them now instead of the Hankooks (although he could just be making more money off them).

  2. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    Snow tires really make a difference in snow, but when do you switch back to all season or summer tires?
    When is the time of not enough snow?

    1. salguod Avatar

      It’s not about snow, it’s about temperature. Not only do they have more aggressive tread, the rubber compound is better suited for the cold. Conversely, they drive poorly in warm temperatures. My Artics are really squirrelly above 60 degrees.
      The rule I’ve heard is winters on when temperatures are reliably below 50 and off when regularly above 50.

      1. Ross Ballot Avatar
        Ross Ballot

        Exactly what @salguod:disqus said.
        The prior two years I took the winter set off my Challenger sometime around the end of March, when snow was highly unlikely and the temps were over 50 during daytime hours.

      2. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        That explains why we’ve banned winter tyres here in NZ for summer use. Many used Japanese import cars had them and there were a quite a few accidents caused by lack of grip in our warm rainy weather.

  3. Ol' Shel' Avatar
    Ol’ Shel’

    They don’t coast as well and the fuel economy is down. Makes sense.

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      Yep. Still surprised me, in light of the decrease in weight at each corner. Guess the rolling resistance increased as well.

      1. salguod Avatar

        I see MPG decreases on all my cars in the winter regardless of tire use. Combination of winter fuel blends and different driving habits. I wonder if that’s more the case for you.
        My Mazda3 would get 28-32 in the summer and mid 20s in the winter. The 318ti is similar – low 30s in the summer, high 20s in the winter. The Prius is a bit more dramatic – 41-45 summer, 32-38 winter.

  4. salguod Avatar

    I’ve got Arctics on two cars, the wife’s Prius and the Mazda3 my daughter drives. I scored the Prius tires on Craigslist, new mounted on new gen 3 Prius alloys, for $400. For the Mazda I bought new 16″ steelies, the package was about $635 at Discount Tire.
    But, I’ve yet to drive them in any real snow. I got both sets fall of 2015 and last winter was very mild and this one has been about the same so far.
    I have noticed that warm temperatures (60+) make them quite soft and squirrelly. That Prius with it’s nonexistent steering feel wanders all over in warm weather with the winter tires on. I’ve also read that stopping distances rise dramatically in warm weather.

    1. roguetoaster Avatar

      Stopping distances definitely increase, at least on the ’95 318ti (got that as my winter daily in early Nov & it’s been great in snow with the tires/locking differentual). I tried out both the all seasons, which are fairly old Michelins, and the Coopers on a ~45 degree day and found that I needed at least 20′ of additional stopping distance in my highly unscientific test from 55MPH. Granted those Coopers had about 4 miles on them before the test.
      With the ’91 318i stopping distances were about the same on that day between a set of Dunlop DZ102s (a UHP summer tire) and older Vredestein Snotracs.

      1. salguod Avatar

        Nice to see another ti owner here! My daily for the past 16 months or so has been a 1996 318ti. It had 239K when I picked it up, recently turned 258K. It’s been a lot of fun.
        No snows on it, but it probably could use them. It’s easy to engage the traction control with the slightest of snow or slick roads. I almost bought a second set of BMW wheels with snows on Craigslist, but decided against it. I get along OK without them for now.

        1. roguetoaster Avatar

          Your ownership may have played a part in deciding to get one. I consider myself lucky as a friend was selling his already inspected base model example example with one original option, a limiting slip differential, and 198k miles. The car came with H&R/Bilstein dampers/H&R sport springs which are great in most places but are too stiff for bad back roads and any sort of real speed and a Remus cat back which doesn’t really go well with the DD purpose of this car.
          Thus far I’ve only changed the oil, put hatch lifters on and the installed tires the tires on the original steel wheels which for some reason the seller gave to another friend just before he advertised the car. I do like the uncomplicated design, the hints of E30 and the utility value. Hoping I’ll keep it for at least a year or two.

          1. salguod Avatar

            Fantastic. Yours looks a bit cleaner than mine, but with about 60K fewer miles I suppose it should. A known history is a big plus, as you know mine came from a long term owner who cared for it well and with receipts back to new.
            I actually emailed about another Boston green 1996 ti on Craigslist this past week, advertized as a parts car at $1100. I was hoping that the interior would be better, and it is a bit, and I’d swap some parts to mine. I still might, but $1100 is a bit rich for a parts car for my $500 ti. 😀 If I can talk him down a bit …

          2. roguetoaster Avatar

            Strangely this was a PA car until 2015, yet it is almost rust free aside from a small bubble setting in on the RR wheel arch. It has a sand interior in cloth which I rather enjoy, although I found the material hard to clean when I first got it.
            I do like that it’s a ’95 and therefore shares engine the majority of components with my ’91 318, as well as the spares I have for that. However, I have thus far been unimpressed with the fuel mileage, but this may have something to do with the 3.45 rear end and 1:1 fifth gear, and at this point I’m undecided if I should install the 3.15 torsen I have in the shed.
            Locally ti prices have doubled in the last year or so, with this car coming in at $2200 with a few spares included, and it has been car #1 in the new strategy of buying cars that don’t really need any work, even if that means paying somewhat of a premium for them. I suspect that the increase in prices of E36 (and E36/5s) chassis cars is driven by many E30 owners desiring something else to keep the miles down on our old cars, or to save them from normal use wear & tear. This is exemplified by the transition about two years ago in the local BMW meet from plenty of E30 DDs to a large number of E36s, then on to E39s as the group ages, their needs for a vehicle change, and the market prices deliver more desirable/faster, but still fixable BMWs in to reasonable territory.

    2. Roody Avatar

      Agreed on how they perform above 60 or so. Definitely felt the soft/squirrely feeling, and stopping suffered as well. That being said, they perform great in the snow.

  5. Douche_McGee Avatar

    I have these on my FiST for Winter duty – 185/65/15s I think, on stock 15″ fiesta steelies.
    Last winter I only had em on a few weeks, but when it snowed, they worked great.
    So far this year, it hasn’t snowed. I have to run a stock tune with them mounted because they can spin too easy. Braking isn’t as good, and it’s taken all the sharpness out of the handling. I can tell the car isn’t keeping me happy under this setup because I am searching AutoTrader for BRZs 🙂
    I’m hoping to swap the summer tires on at the end of February.
    I’ll probably need new summer tires before the car gets inspected in August, and part of me wants to just get some all seasons. I’d rather give up a little traction to be able to keep the car quick, and handling sharp even when its cold. I can always throw on the Artics if it snows bad, but we don’t get many bad storms here in the Midwest.

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      I expect a BRZ/FRS/GT86 on snows would be an absolute blast. Todd at Everyday Driver has a tuned FRS that he puts Blizzaks on for the winter, and supposedly it does great.
      I’d stay away from all-seasons. Obviously there’s people that do just fine on them, but a dedicated winter set is irreplaceable.

  6. Farud Alonto Avatar
    Farud Alonto

    Did you have to purchase TPMS sensors as recommended by tire rack? I’m trying to get a hold of these new wheels also. Thanks!