High-performance tires

Some highly rated models are comparative bargains

Last reviewed: November 2010

There's no shortage of good performance tires. All of the 38 ultra-high-performance (UHP) models we tested for this issue earned a Very Good score of 70 or higher; five scored an Excellent 82.

That abundance of highly rated tires makes it easy to save money without giving up much performance. Among UHP summer tires, for example, we paid $112 for the impressive Hankook Ventus V12 Evo. That's considerably less than the $184 to $220 we paid for some models, which scored only slightly higher. That type of difference can save you $200 or more if you shop around.

Likewise, among UHP all-season models, the Sumitomo HTR A/S PO1, $99, is a bargain compared with the similarly rated Pirelli P Zero Nero All Season, $164, and the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S Plus, $200.

Tire prices vary by size and retailer, and prices have generally gone up since we bought our tires last year. Expect to pay more, for example, if you need larger tires than the 225/40R18 size we tested. But bargains are there if you shop wisely.

Ultimate grip

With short, low-profile sidewalls and a wide tread, ultra-high-performance tires are designed to provide tenacious grip and superior handling, but they usually wear more quickly and cost more than standard all-season passenger-car tires. They used to be designed primarily for high-end sports cars and sports sedans, but they're now showing up as factory rubber on many lower-priced cars, such as the MazdaSpeed3 and Mini Cooper S.

All UHP tires in this report carry a speed rating of W, Y, or Z, which means they are capable of sustaining speeds of more than 149 mph. For the typical driver, such ratings might seem outlandish. But speed ratings also reflect how well a tire can dissipate heat, which affects its overall quality and durability. And in our tests we've found that tires with higher speed ratings have better overall grip even at normal highway speeds.

We tested two types of UHP tires: summer and all-season. Summer models are designed to provide the best grip on dry and wet pavement but aren't intended for use on snowy or icy surfaces. Most of those we tested had a shorter tread life than the better UHP all-season models. Of the 21 models tested, the Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric was the only one that got top Ratings (available to subscribers) in four of the five braking, handling, and hydroplaning tests. But other models earned similar overall scores and provided better tread life, ride comfort, or rolling resistance.

UHP all-season models provide some performance in wintry conditions, but most give up a little dry/wet grip. Of the 17 models we tested, several provided good grip in three-season driving and respectable performance on snow and ice. The Michelin Pilot Sport A/S Plus also had excellent tread life.

Performance winter tires

We also tested 15 performance winter models. Designed to provide better grip on snow and ice, they come in sizes that make them a good winter alternative to UHP tires. The top-rated tires are good all-around choices, providing impressive performance on snow and ice as well as getting good scores in our standard handling and braking tests.