Performance tires can make a world of difference for any vehicle, and can drastically improve handling, stopping distances, and more. If you are in the market for performance tires, our list of the best models available will get you started down the right path.
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All of these tire picks were ranked using Car Talk's unique methodology based on over 30 different data points:
Consumer Satisfaction: Consumers provided data about what their experience was using tire models within each of these brands.
Industry Professionals: Car Talk researchers performed a nation-wide survey of over 800 mechanics and industry professionals for their opinions.
Government Reporting: Statistics reported for safety and durability.
Tire Quality and Engineering: A tire brand’s overall quality and engineering or innovation influenced a consumer’s decision to purchase.
Performance: Car Talk looked at how tires from these particular brands performed in a variety of weather conditions.
Car Talk's Golden Wrench winner for Best Performance tire is the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S. “Just pay for the Michelins” became a saying for a reason. The company knows how to build tires that live up to the hype. The Pilot Sport 4 S is a great example of Michelin’s know-how. The tire took top marks in our ratings, in part due to its flexibility and ability to maintain grip in a huge variety of conditions. In cooler weather, the Michelins deliver surprising performance, with excellent wet and dry stopping distances and good feedback. In warm temperatures, the Pilot Sport 4 S is a precision tool that offers spectacular grip and a decent ride. Big downsides here are price and tread life, but those are both small blemishes on an otherwise great report card.
Continental developed the ExtremeContact tire to provide excellent traction in all seasons. The tires manage extreme dry traction while maintaining a confident level of grip in wet conditions. Continental says that the ExtremeContact tires are suitable for winter use, and notes that its complex tread patterns makes it ideal for light snow.
The Eagle Exhilarate is a solid choice for drivers wanting a tire to take them through the winter months without giving up the farm in performance. Goodyear says that the tires’ sipes and groove patterns provide grip on ice and in light snow, and notes that they feature reinforcements to improve high-speed capabilities and stability.
General G-Max tires have been developed with traction and grip in mind, and have a large, wide footprint to get and keep as much rubber on the road as possible. The tires feature visual alignment indicators to help you know when something is off, and come with an excellent 50,000-mile treadwear warranty.
The Pirelli P Zero All Season Plus is a winner for folks who live where winter is a legitimate weather threat. High-performance all-season tires can be hit or miss, as it’s easy to drop the ball when you try to be the jack of all trades. Pirelli gets around that trap with a complex tread pattern, which allows the tire to maintain grip and performance in a wide variety of conditions, even cooler weather. That all-around capability does come at the expense of all-out performance, but the trade-off is a welcome one for people who love driving year-round.
BFGoodrich’s newest G Force tires feature a special cold weather tread compound that the company says offers shorter stopping distances and better traction in poor weather conditions. The tires feature a squared shoulder to create a larger contact patch with the road, and should deliver excellent wet traction. The V-shaped grooves help channel water away and reduce the risk of hydroplaning.
The Sumitomos may have only grabbed a bronze award, but there’s still plenty to like. The HTR A/S PO3 offers great year-round performance, and even holds its own in snowy conditions. Sweetening the pot is the tire’s budget-friendly price tag, which makes them accessible to a wider range of drivers and vehicle owners.
Performance tires, as the name suggests, are designed to deliver maximum grip and performance above all else. Tire manufacturers use special rubber compounds to increase grip and maximize cornering abilities, but the tradeoff here is usually a shorter lifespan. Many tire manufacturers have worked to increase the comfort and tread life of the tires, so they are much more comfortable and accommodating than performance tires of years past. Performance tires are also generally better in warm weather, as the rubbers are more pliable and provide better grip in summer-weather months.
One of the easiest and most impactful modifications you can make to any vehicle is to upgrade its tires. You don’t need to drive a full-on performance car to get a benefit from the tires either. Buying performance tires at any point will increase your vehicle’s grip and performance, but tread carefully if you live in cooler climates, as you may not get the best out of the tires in winter months.
The table below shows an average starting price for a few of the tires that made our best-of list. There is a wide range of pricing between them, which can be attributed to a few factors. The first, and most obvious is branding and marketing. Michelin does this better than anyone, and while its tires generally perform at the top of their class, the company’s branding is top-notch as well. Our full review of Michelin tires is available here.
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Performance tires are designed to deliver maximum grip and capability in a narrow range of circumstances. They generally require warm, dry weather to perform at their best. All-season tires, on the other hand, are built to handle a much wider range of conditions, but do so with the tradeoff of all-out performance. It’s also important to note that all-season tires are “all-weather,” and should not be treated as such.
The biggest factor that plays into tire life is you. Your driving style and willingness to handle routine tire maintenance such as rotations will have the greatest impact on tire life. That said, performance tires tend to wear out quicker than other types of tires. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S, for example, sports a tread warranty of just 30,000 miles, compared to non-performance tires the company makes that come with a 50,000-mile warranty or longer.
Traditional performance tires are meant for warm, dry weather, but the number of winter performance tires is growing. It’s now possible to buy a snow tire with higher speed ratings and great handling characteristics.
Performance tires are one of the most impactful upgrades you can make. Tires can completely change the handling and performance characteristics of a car, and can drastically improve lap times. Brakes are the other simple upgrade that can make a major difference in performance.
In general, yes. The rubber compounds that give performance tires their amazing grip and capability also tends to wear more quickly than tires with harder rubbers.
Several online retailers like Tire Rack offer regular discounts and free shipping for their tires. Their sites also have tire fit guides and pricing estimators to help you understand what you’re buying.
Most online tire retailers have free shipping or reduced shipping cost when you choose to have them installed at a partner shop. The retailer may have an arrangement with a local tire chain or installation center and can ship the tires there for free.
Retailers like Tire Rack offer fast shipping and can often have tires to your preferred installer in as little as two days. Many others, like Discount Tire Direct, offer the same fast and free shipping. It also depends on where you live. If you’re in a large metro area, close to a distribution center, it should be relatively quick. If you live 5 miles from East Moosejaw, it might take a little longer.
Some shops will offer free installation when you purchase tires from them, and online retailers often promote the same deal for people who choose to have installation done at one of their partners. If you do find yourself paying for tire installation, expect to pay between $15 and $50 per tire, depending on what is needed. That money pays for mounting and balancing the tire to ensure a safe and comfortable ride.
The tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) is independent of your tires but should be checked at regular intervals to ensure no damage or malfunctions are occurring. Your local tire shop can perform this check as part of normal tire rotation or installation.
Yes! You can find the right fit, tread pattern, and speed rating on nearly any online retailer’s site. They sometimes offer specials and rebates around the time when people start looking for winter tires (late fall).
It’s certainly not a requirement to buy your tires and wheels from the same place, but you’re more likely to get a deal on the package if you buy from the same place. Check the retailer’s specials and make a determination from there. You may also find a better deal ordering either the tires or wheels online and buying the other component from your local shop.
Yes, and in some cases, rebates are offered alongside discounts on the tires. It’s important to ask questions and understand what you’re getting, so be sure to chat or call the retailer before ordering if the rebates are unclear.
Ordering your tires online vs. the shop will save you money