As automakers try to boost the handling and fun-to-drive quotient of their cars, they’re coming out with more models equipped with performance tires designed to optimize cornering, grip, and handling. And in the upper tier of this market—in both capability and price—are ultra-high-performance (UHP) tires.
Those tires have a wide tread to maximize grip and short, stiffer sidewalls that minimize flexing while cornering. Both attributes help them deliver more responsive handling. The trade-offs, however, are typically a stiffer ride and a shorter tread life. Mainstream tire types might have a tread-wear warranty of 75,000 to 100,000 miles, for example, but a warranty for a UHP model, if there is one, goes up to only 60,000 miles.
The models we tested have speed ratings of W, Y, and Z, which means that they’re capable of sustaining speeds of more than 149 mph. That might seem like overkill on public roads, but speed ratings are a good guide for a tire’s overall performance. We found that tires with higher speed ratings also have better overall grip at normal highway speeds.
We tested two types of UHP tires: summer and all-season. Summer tires are designed to deliver maximum grip in temperate conditions. But they give up grip when the mercury dips to near freezing, and they provide very little grip on snowy or icy roads. UHP all-season models are for year-round use, although they don’t perform as well as dedicated winter tires on snowy and icy roads. We also found that they typically last longer than summer models, which often have no tread-wear warranty.