When winter comes to an end, it’s time to remove all that specialty rubber and put on some warm-weather appropriate tires.
Performance tires (also called summer tires) are made of no-compromise rubber that is perfect for warm weather. This is in contrast to all-season tires, which are designed to cover a lot of conditions and end up not being perfect for any of them.
According to a few studies, performance tires are grippier in dry conditions and wet conditions when compared to all-season tires. This is due to a number of reasons including compound and tread patterns. They’re certainly impressive, but the downside to performance tires is that they’re completely unusable in snowy and winter conditions. You definitely have to be proactive about switching tires at the right time of the year and have the storage space to have two dedicated sets of tires. But the advantages beyond having superior performance in the summer is that your tires last twice as long.
There are a few sub-categories to performance tires:
- Grand Touring Summer Tires – Best suited for use on luxury cars or sports sedans. They blend the usual performance tire elements of good dry and wet handling with lower noise levels and improved comfort.
- High-Performance Summer Tires – Like the previously mentioned Grand Touring tires but aren’t as focused on the noise and comfort. They’re usually saved for sports car and sedans.
- Ultra High-Performance Summer Tires – Prioritizes the handling and responsive nature, offering a sharper feel on the road alongside added grip in dry and wet conditions.
- Max and Extreme Performance Summer Tires – two no-compromise tiers of tires that are stiffer and more responsive than the other categories of performance tires. They will also put less of an emphasis on wet traction.
Here are a few good bets in each of those categories.
Updated 2/28/2020 with minor revisions.
1. Editors Pick: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S
The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S is a relatively new set of Max Performance Summer Tires that have been specially designed with a focus on cars from automakers like BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and Porsche, using technology developed throughout those automakers’ motorsports programs. These tires are designed for top performance in dry conditions and warm, wet roads too.
It uses an asymmetric tread pattern and a compound derived from Le Mans. The outer shoulder features a dry-focused tread that improves handling and braking, while the center ribs and inbound shoulder are designed for improved wet braking performance. There are even a few exterior callouts, like a checkered sidewall for select sizes. There are many sizes of Pilot Sport 4S tires and they’re great fits for a wide variety of cars including luxury sedans, sports cars, and sports sedans. Critics say that these tires are loud, expensive and don’t feature any rim protection.
2. BFGoodrich G-Force Sport Comp-2
BFGoodrich is an expert when it comes to tires because of its long history with motorsports. They provide the tires used at the Ford Racing High-Performance Driving School at Miller Motorsports Park and Skip Barber Racing for their various schools and racing series. So naturally, the tires they use are pretty high-level.
The g-Force COMP-2 improves every sporty characteristic of a vehicle, by improving the acceleration, cornering and braking distances with its race-derived compound. There are stable shoulder blocks, as well as twin center ribs that help improve traction in both wet and dry conditions and help prevent hydroplaning. These tires also feature steel belt reinforcements and are extremely stiff, which means it will be very stable and responsive when cornering. Some reviewers call these tires extremely stiff and uncomfortable with a very low treadwear rating. For the price commanded by these tires, you may be expecting something with more value.
3. Bridgestone Potenza RE760 Sport
Bridgestone Potenza tires are some of the most popular tires on the market for a number of reasons. They work really well on performance vehicles, sports cars and sporty coupes with a focus on driving pleasure without the usual sacrifice that comes with performance tires. Bridgestone manages this without an advanced, high-tech compound, but rather by shaping the tread into an asymmetric tread with a 3D center block, which helps enhance dry traction and cornering.
Bridgestone also says that they’ve focused on three primary tire elements – the beads, casing, and tread – to enhance comfort as well as handling and traction. Critics say these high-performance tires have excellent dry performance and are really comfortable, but suffer a bit in the wet and are a bit underwhelming in terms of longevity.
4. Michelin Pilot Super Sport
The Pilot Sport is Michelin’s halo tire. It is frequently seen on exotics and supercars; vehicles that demand the most performance possible. These are the choice for drivers who want an uncompromised tire that delivers lots of grip, engagement and dry weather confidence. It’s race tested throughout just about every demanding series you can think of, including Le Mans. It has a similar design to the Pilot Sport 4S, but they’re lighter, yet stiffer than the Pilot Sport 4S. They’re also much quieter than the other Michelins. Buyers looking for lots of grip will be pleasantly surprised, but these tires don’t do well in the wet and are very expensive.
5. Continental ExtremeContact Sport
This is the Continental answer to those Michelin Pilot Sports. It’s a max performance tire, designed to deliver uncompromised driving pleasure. It uses a special summer only compound, so people who want to use these tires later in fall or early in spring might be disappointed. It has a five or six-rib design, depending on the width of the tire, which helps improve the tries wet weather capability and noise mitigation. There are also wide tread blocks, which help with grip and handling. The advanced compound is well suited for damp, but warm conditions and many love Continentals performance indicators, which are molded into the tread pattern to show you whether the tire is too worn out to be used in the wet. They’re expensive, and they don’t last very long, but they’re cleverly designed with a lot of performance.
6. Bridgestone Turanza ER30
Unlike the other tires on this list, the Bridgestone Turanza ER30 is a Grand Touring Performance tire, with a deeper focus on comfort and noise in comparison to the others on this list. It’s often used as the original equipment on a number of luxury cars from BMW and Porsche, and can blend comfortable handling with performance. This is done by molding a summer tire compound into a specific way, with lots of grooves to improve wet weather capability and noise. It’s not among the highest performing tire here in terms of grip but it still handles and comes with many benefits for buyers who don’t want the most hard-edged tire out there.
7. Michelin Primacy HP
These Michelins may seem kind of average, but they have a hidden secret – they’re designed to improve fuel efficiency. See, the Primacy HP uses Michelin’s Green X standard for eco-focused manufacturing and low rolling resistance, meaning you should feel good when rolling around on these, since you’re not harming the environment yourself, and the products satisfy an environmentally conscious concern. They’re pretty good all around in terms of performance and don’t feature an above average rating in any one area, but they last long, are fairly quiet and get the job done.
When Should I Switch to Performance Tires?
Performance tires just don’t have any traction in cold weather. Anything colder than 45 degrees Fahrenheit is too cold for performance tires. Additionally, temperature fluctuations will impact tire pressure too, so jumping to switch your tires the moment its a little bit warm might be premature… but waiting for the first week of spring will be ideal. Removing your winter tires should be done well in advance of any snowy weather. They’re not just bad in snow, but when it gets cold they get stiff and don’t grip even pavement. Change them off as soon as the forecast predicts temperatures below 45.
Why do you Need Performance Tires?
Performance tires are prepared for any conditions except for snow. They will help provide more responsive steering, shorter braking distances, can be quieter, and can work well in wet weather too, resisting hydroplaning and skidding. Since all-season tires have to accommodate all weather conditions, they’re compromised and can’t focus on excellent performance in warm conditions. Performance tires can, so they’ll afford you a better experience on the road.
Good tires aren’t just about performance, they’re about safety. Performance tires can improve the steering response and braking distances, which is something that should be appreciated by all drivers, not just drivers of sports cars.
How Do They Work?
There are a number of reasons why summer tires work so well in warm weather. The most important part is the compound, which is the make up of the rubber in a tire. Unlike winter tires that are flexible in the cold, performance tires are grippy but stiff in order to provide excellent handling characteristics. In order to keep things sticky while also being stiff, tire makers have started using very unique materials and ingredients in the tires. Yokohama, for example, uses orange oil, which is billed as one of the stickiest natural substances in the world.
But while the construction is a major part of the summer tires success, so is the tread pattern. They usually have wide grooves that help with water evacuation, making performance tires good in wet weather as well. By removing as much water between the road and the tire, you can get traction and experience less hydroplaning.
Finally, the pattern of the tread of summer tires is designed to mitigate tire and road noise. This is done with precision grooves, which disrupt the airflow within the grooves, which make the quieter too.
Most performance tires feature lower treadwear ratings than all-seasons, which is because they’re grippier and won’t last as long. Some performance tires are asymmetrical, which will limit the ability to rotate them too, which again ensures that they’ll be the most responsive tires you can get, due to the focused design.
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