Nokian might be a tire maker unfamiliar to many readers. Nokia, the Finnish phone company? I think I had one of their cellphones with that charming tonal ringtone like 20 years ago? “Duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh-duuuhhh.” No, that’s Nokia. Nokian, also Finnish, is the 19th-biggest tire brand in the world, so, not really a household name. If you drive often on ice and snow, however, it should be. Nokian introduced the first dedicated winter tire more than 80 years ago, after first making boot soles designed for snow. Finns, and Nokian, know a heck of a lot about driving, period (ever see how many F-1 drivers are from Finland?), but especially so about driving in harsh winter conditions.
Their new Outpost APT, or All-Purpose-Terrain, shows that heritage masterfully in a tire you can (and should) run all year-round, if you drive in the dirt and on roads, which, of course you do. It’s essentially what you’d think of as a standard AT tire, just with the harshest edges rounded off so it’s more pleasant to drive on pavement. It’s designed for CUVs and smaller SUVs, with the road manners of an all-season, but with terrific grip when things get messy.
Now, tire reviews are almost ridiculously subjective and relative to the car, driver, day, location, temperature, wind, bird song, position of Saturn’s moons, how much coffee you had, what your favorite song is, etc. Your mileage may vary, in other words.
I’ve had the Outposts fitted to my 2016 Subaru Outback for about 3 months now. My Subie has the 2.5-liter engine, a mild 1.5″ lift kit, and heavy heavy metal skidplates, all of which add their own little wrinkles to my experience. They replace a set of Yokohama Geolandar ATs, the same tires you now get stock on Wilderness editions of the Outback and Forester. My gas mileage is exactly the same with the Outposts as it was with the Yokos. Those in turn replaced the stock all-season tires the car came with that I hated and replaced within two weeks. I did not take these Nokian tires to a dedicated winter tire testing facility. I did not switch them back and forth with the Yokos for comparison. I tried to drive on the same roads in reasonable the same conditions I typically encounter in the winter, but that’s not much of a control.
The Outpost APT is an all-new tire for Nokian, meant for adventuring, though not hardcore off-roading. (Nokian makes a tire called the Outpost AT for that, if you’re interested, though most of their passenger car and SUV tires are focused squarely on the road.)
The tire has what I would consider a blocky tread pattern, with hard-edged shoulders, large and tightly packed lugs, and deep grooves running through the center of the tire’s tread to channel out water. There are gravel guards—thick strips of protection between the grooves to prevent rocks from getting caught in the tread, then grinding through the rubber to the steel belts below. Nokian beefs up the sidewall with aramid fibers to resist punctures too. It has a symmetrical tread pattern though the sidewalls are different on either side; one has an aggressive-looking tread pattern on the wall, common to many AT tires now, while the other has a diamond, or maybe snowflake pattern. Speaking of, they are stamped with the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol (3PMSF), meaning they’ve satisfied the criteria for severe snow duty as stipulated by the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association.
My first impressions were these tires looked solid, rugged, and dependable, without being flashy. The Falken Wildpeaks are all the rage these days on Tacomas and Subarus, and many other vehicles that do plenty of dirt driving and they may be great tires, but they’re way, way too busy-looking for my taste. The Outposts look a lot like Michelin Defenders from the side—squared off lugs, without any “hey, look at me, I’m an off-road tire” bling.
Because we didn’t get our first snowfall in the Sierra until December, really, the first couple months I had these tires I spent most of my time testing them in mud. Because, boy, howdy has it rained in Northern California this year. For tires that skew toward the lighter side of off-roading, these puppies dig and claw very well in soft, wet soil. I spent a day testing my limits in a receded lake bed near Truckee, (legal driving) and every time I spun my tires through the muck, I expected to get stuck. Never did. During rainy driving on roads, they’re easily the most confidence-inspiring tire I’ve driven.
The tires have no problem at all climbing on rocky, rutted forest service roads too. They’re grippier than the Yokos off-road, in my experience. While they’re not built for serious off-road use, I think they’d serve you just fine if that’s your bag.
On snow: please. While I can’t remember ever being let down by the Yokos in snow in years past, the Outposts feel like you’ve gotten out and installed tire cables. Old snow, new snow, icy snow, slushy snow, muddy snow—it didn’t matter. There’s a burger place I like in Arnold, California, a little town at about 5,000 feet, in the northern Sierra, with a steep climb from the parking area. In winter, I’ve watched lots of 4x4s and cars with AWD spin their tires and reverse back down the slope, tail between their legs. A few weeks back I headed there to see how the Outposts did. A Ford Explorer with AWD and AT tires spun and struggled for grip getting up the hill ahead of me. I went next, and with no drama whatsoever climbed right up the road without so much as the traction control lighting up. Part of that is Subaru’s excellent AWD system, but I’ve spun wheels there before in the same car. Not with the Outposts.
Gripes? They are louder than the Yokos, that should be said. Not as loud a real-deal ATs or the plodding, whirring KO2s, but you can definitely hear these once you get moving at over 25 mph or so. I also had a hard time picking which side I wanted mounted outward, does that count as a gripe?
I don’t believe any cars in the U.S. can be had from the factory with Nokians, but Subaru should consider it. The road manners are excellent with the Outposts, and the off-road performance is great, especially when it gets cold and snowy, exactly why so many of us drive Subarus.
Again, relative. Subjective. I can’t possibly speak to what you drive or where. I’ve had my car for a few years now, and these are my favorite tires thus far. I liked the Yokos. I really, really like the Outposts. Oh, before I forget, Nokians have a built-in tire life indicator, which is the coolest thing. As the treads wear down, percentage symbols are worn away, showing you how much life the treads have left. Brilliant. (You can see it in the photo above).
Nokian is pushing hard into the North American market, and these new Outposts will be made in their Dayton, Tennessee factory too. We’re unsure about pricing at this point, but the tires these likely replace in the Nokian lineup, the Rotiiva, go for about $180-200 depending on tire size. Not cheap by any means, but the best tires never, ever are.