Performance tires currently account for 21 percent of the replacement tire market and are often the best choice for more performance-oriented cars. Photo: The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
Indeed, performance tires currently account for 21 percent of the replacement tire market and are often the best choice for more performance-oriented late-model cars.
The trade-off for higher levels of handling and grip achieved by performance tires, however, has often been tread life.
We reintroduced tread wear to our tire-testing program last year. This year, we made our test more demanding by extending it from 7,200 miles to 16,000 miles, including more driving on city-type roads. We found that wear varied from model to model and did not necessarily follow tread-wear warranties.
This year's tread-wear testing took place over more miles than the testing that manufacturers use to assign their tread-wear grades. As a result, we believe our Ratings show better differentiation than the tread-wear rating you'll find on a tire's sidewall or the manufacturers' warranties.
We tested 35 performance all-season tires, which provide balanced handling and braking in dry and wet conditions and provide nominal performance in snow and ice conditions. We also tested 20 performance winter tires, which are good in regions where drivers must drive over snow and ice in colder months.
Performance all-season tires have a higher speed rating than standard all-season tires (see Types, available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers). They generally provide better handling and braking, and usually have a lower profile (shorter sidewall height) and a wider footprint.
Performance all-season tires, as we define them, come in two speed ratings:
H-rated (130 mph). The most common performance all-season tires on the market are designed to handle and grip better on wet and dry roads than conventional tires, without giving up much in ride comfort.
We found some substantial differences among the H-rated all-season tires we tested. Most were very good or excellent in our tests of braking and handling on both dry and wet pavement. And most were good to excellent at resisting the tendency to hydroplane, or lose grip, when they hit standing water. Almost half of them were competent at coping with snow and ice, comparable to good conventional all-season tires.
We tested 22 sets in a common 15-inch size, P195/65R15. For any given tire in our Ratings (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers), we expect performance to be comparable in a range of sizes.
V-rated (149 mph). Generally, these tires are more tuned to performance than H-rated all-season tires. Here, too, we found some significant differences between the V-rated tire models in our tests. Some V-rated tires sacrificed winter grip for superior cleared-road handling and grip. Other V-rated tires behaved more like H-rated tires, with good all-season qualities but less ultimate grip than the more performance-oriented models.
The 13 V-rated tires we tested were wider and had a lower profile than the H size. We tested them in a common P205/55R16 size.
How to choose
Start with Types (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers) to determine the proper type of tire for your vehicle. Different tire models have different strengths and weaknesses, even within types. CR Quick Recommendations (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers) can help you further narrow your choice.
Put safety first. Concentrate on our Ratings (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers) for braking, handling, and resistance to hydroplaning. Let tread wear, ride comfort, noise, and rolling resistance be tiebreakers.
Read the fine print. The warranties manufacturers provide for their tires are prorated; the more miles on the tire, the less credit you get on a replacement. And most tire warranties only cover damage resulting from regular use and don't cover damage resulting from potholes or other road hazards.
Know your tire's size. To find the size and type of tire recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle, check the placard in the doorjamb or glove compartment, on the fuel-filler door, and in the owner's manual.
Taking the P205/55R16 94V tires we tested as an example, the P prefix denotes a passenger-car tire, although some sizes carrying this designation may fit some light trucks as well. LT is the designation for tires that should be fitted only on light trucks. Some tires omit either prefix.
The 205 is the tire cross-section width in millimeters, and 55 is the ratio of sidewall height to cross-section width (55 percent). R means radial-ply construction. And 16 is the wheel diameter in inches. The number 94 corresponds to the tire's maximum load capacity. The letter V is the speed rating indicating the maximum sustained speed.
Although we recommend buying tires with the same or greater speed rating as the original equipment tires, winter tires are the exception. Nevertheless, look for winter tires with a speed rating that is close to or the same as the original tires they replace.
Shop around. Tire prices can vary widely by region, retailer, or even by the changing price of the raw materials used to produce them.
Check independent tire dealers, online or mail-order stores, tire chains, car dealerships, department stores, and clubs. Be sure to ask whether the price includes mounting, balancing, and new valves, which can increase total cost.
Buy fresh. Look at the sidewall of a tire for a designation beginning with DOT (for Department of Transportation). The last four digits of the designation indicate the week and year of manufacture. For example, 3305 means the tire was made during the thirty-third week of 2005. Don't purchase tires that are more than a few years old.
Winterize wisely. Mounting only two winter tires on a vehicle is asking for trouble. Buy and install winter tires in sets of four to maintain balanced handling and for secure grip when starting and stopping.
Winter tires have a mountain/ snowflake symbol on the sidewall. It indicates that they passed an industry test for severe snow use. All the winter tires we tested carry that symbol. Don't be misled by an M&S (mud and snow) designation found on the sidewalls of a tire. That doesn't mean it's a winter tire; it means only that the tire has a relatively open tread pattern.
The full Ratings and recommendations for more than 200 vehicles, along with the latest information on thousands of other products and services, are available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers. Find out how to subscribe today.