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Best Ultra High-Performance Summer Tires: Get a Better Grip on Things

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BYMichael Febbo/ LAST UPDATED ON August 16, 2022

Imagine walking into your local shoe store, deciding on a pair, the footwear-referee brings them out, you pay, and then leave. No trying them on, no bouncing around or fake running, spinning in front of a bench-mounted mirror, nothing. Pick a shoe on looks alone, maybe some online reviews, but no trying it out to see how it feels, not even for size. That’s how we select tires — the most important component of our cars. 


The average consumer knows nothing about tires and they care even less. As long as a tire isn’t too bad in terms of noise, ride quality, grip, and tread wear, most people won’t give them a second thought. But, when you need new tires, especially a summer performance tire, you want to get the most out of them. Not only do you want a good performing tire, but you also want a tire that best suits your car, your needs, and even your driving style.

Best Overall

Michelin Pilot Sport 4S

Summary
A near-perfect tire for performance cars and performance drivers. Plenty of grip with little trade-off in comfort.
Pros
  • Enough grip for some of the world’s best cars
  • Precision handling, good response, more feedback than most
  • Comfortable tire given its capabilities
Cons
  • Some owners have reported sticker shock
  • A new version of this tire is releasing any day
Best Value

Firestone Firehawk Indy 500

Summary
Not everyone can justify spending premium money for premium tires. This is a great value compromise delivering much of the premium performance at a fraction of the price.
Pros
  • Active and on its toes feel makes a car feel more responsive
  • More than enough grip to keep you entertained
  • You have to admit that they look cool
Cons
  • Price of entry is lower, but they will wear faster than other tires 
  • Those switching from less aggressive tires will notice harsh ride
Honorable Mention

Continental ExtremeContact Sport

Summary
A more forgiving tire than the Michelin in most aspects. Breakaway happens slower and easier to recover. A better choice for many FWD cars, especially for less experienced drivers.
Pros
  • Allows for a more settled ride, which makes cars feel more stable
  • Better braking performance than anything but competition tires
  • Good tread life, relatively speaking
Cons
  • Doesn’t provide the steering feel or precision of Michelin
  • For skilled drivers, this won’t return the lap times of some competitors’ tires
Best Ultra High-Performance Summer Tires: Get a Better Grip on Things

Summary List 

Our Methodology

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

Learn more

The problem with most tire advice is the person giving it has never driven the tires on the same cars, the same roads, and same track, on the same day. I’m talking about everyone. Fred, that guy in accounting who’s “super into cars,” to the guy behind the counter at the tire shop, and even most people writing buyer’s guides haven’t done real driving tests. I’ve been testing tires for nearly two decades.

My tire testing experience has involved everything from studded snow tires mounted on minivans driven on hockey rinks to racing slicks on race cars at racetracks, and everything in between. Yes, as a matter of fact, I have driven a school bus and a dump truck.

The reviews below include some of the tech found inside the tire. But, mostly they will include information that helps you make the best choices. If a tire uses rayon or polyester cords is pretty irrelevant. You need to know what a tire feels like, how loud it is, and how long it will last compared to competitors. As a secondary source, consumer reviews on TireRack from people who have owned the tires, are also referenced. 

Best Summer Performance Tire Reviews & Recommendations

The Michelin Pilot Sport, in all its guises, is the Porsche 911 of the tire world. Competing brands have worthy competitors that come and go, some may surpass the Pilot Sport in one or two attributes, but for all around great summer tire performance, you can’t beat it. The current iteration, at the time of writing this, is the Pilot Sport 4S. It falls in the “Max Performance” category, but whether ultra, max, extreme, or whatever the next hyperbolic marketing term is, doesn’t matter – it’s the best. This tire is found on the world’s best cars. Those of us who test cars have also found it on the world’s most mediocre cars in a Hail-Mary attempt to eke out decent performance on skid pads. It works, but we call them out on it. If you are looking for ultimate grip from a full tread depth tire, this is it. But it also provides a decent ride without too much tire noise. From 200hp front-wheel drive compacts to 700+hp tuner cars, it feels at home everywhere. It returns some of the sharpest handling without going to a track tire. The Pilot Sport is a precision tire; by that, I mean it feels more like an ice skate, cutting into the road rather than something like our honorable mention from Continental, which feels softer and glued to the road. It makes a car feel nimbler and quicker to change direction. On-center feel is good, even in modern cars devoid of feel. Turn-in provides a natural buildup in force and the tire rewards smooth inputs and more experienced drivers. On front-wheel drive cars, that nimbleness can sometimes feel busy and it can be tough to stay right on the edge in turbo cars which often deliver torque in a sudden all-or-nothing push. Rear-wheel-drive cars, however, love this tire. Tread life is amazing compared to summer tires of the past, but still maybe just shy of a few top-level competitors. Both TireRack reviewers and customers are as in love with this tire as I am. It isn’t cheap, but it is a good value based on performance per dollar.

Specs

  • UTQG: 300 AA A
  • Wheel Diameters: 17-23 inch
  • Speed Rating: Y

Pros

  • Tread uses two compounds optimized for wet and dry use in cornering and straight-line
  • Stiff tire that will still round off big impacts
  • Will elevate the performance and feel of most cars
  • Great tread life for such a high-performance summer tire

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No wireless remote control

Specs

  • UTQG: 340 A A
  • Wheel Diameters: 16-20 inch
  • Speed Rating: W

Pros

  • Feels like a budget Michelin
  • Lively tire that will make your car more responsive
  • Looks like a performance tire, if that’s your thing
  • You’ll have something to talk about with your dad

Cons

  • Louder and harsher
  • Non-enthusiasts will regret putting these on a leased BMW

When I mentioned worthy competitors to our Best Overall, this is a prime example. Yes, the Michelin is an achievement of humanity that elevates our entire species closer to spiritual transcendence, but ya know, maybe it’s not for everyone. Where the Pilot Sport knifes into the pavement like a hockey skate, the ExtremeContact Sport sticks to it like a well-chewed piece of gum. It isn’t as precise, but for some cars, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve driven this tire back to back with several competitors on a number of different cars. For higher-powered front-wheel drive cars, the Continental is usually the better choice. Having a little bit of forgiveness around the edges of the friction circle makes it easier to put down power while turning. In modern turbocharged cars, where you’re never really sure exactly how much torque you’re getting at part throttle, this can mean the difference between a little scrub and blasting the tires loose and going straight for the weeds. The softness of the Continental provides a more relaxed feel and confidence, even if the car doesn’t feel as “on its toes.” Subjective judgments aside, this tire is measurably better than pretty much everything in the category once the road is wet; especially in braking. TireRack’s testing data backs me up on this, as the ExtremeContact Sport out stopped the Pilot Sport 4S by over eight feet in the wet from 50-0mph — that’s big.

Specs

  • UTQG: 340 AA A
  • Wheel Diameters: 15-20 inch
  • Speed Rating: W, Y

Pros

  • Most of the grip of competitors but a more forgiving and relaxed feel
  • Great braking performance in dry and wet
  • Slightly longer life than Pilot Sport
  • An ideal tire for less precise front wheel drive cars

Cons

  • Doesn’t have the cornering grip of Michelin or Pirelli
  • Doesn’t look “racy”

Specs

  • UTQG: 200 A A
  • Wheel Diameters: 14-18 inch
  • Speed Rating: H, W

Pros

  • Old school feel and old school sizes
  • Affordable tire even if fast-wearing
  • Big performance envelope for easier driving
  • Tread pattern screams performance

Cons

  • Loud and not the best ride quality
  • You’lll burn through these pretty quickly

A few years back I tested the Falken Azenis RT615K+ against a couple of other mid-priced performance tires on an auto-X course. In less than a week, I had ordered up a set for a Fiat 500 Abarth project I was working on. The Fiat is a throwback to ‘80s and ‘90s hot-hatches not only in terms of feel, but also in tire size. Falken is gracious enough to produce this tire in wheel sizes as small as 14 inches, which is basically unheard of on modern cars. Although terribly named, the Azenis RT615K+ is a pleasure to drive. Even more than the Continental, it provides a generous performance envelope making it easy to drive. The ride is anything but supple, and the tread pattern — which looks straight from a racing rain tire — is anything but quiet. But cars from the 1900s are loud anyway. As I mentioned, I put these on a Fiat Abarth and they transformed the car compared to the Pirellies they replaced. While the car felt nervous and constantly on edge with the Pirellis, the Falkens were more predictable and put way more power to the ground. The car maintained its willingness to change direction, but was far more planted and high-frequency vibrations from coarse pavement no longer felt like the tire was skimming across the tops on the bumps. These are 200 treadwear tires and are eligible for those racing categories. There are stickier tires available in the category, however, so in this case, all-out grip may be a concern. These are not an ideal tire for daily driving, but for weekend drivers and project cars, especially ones requiring smaller sizes, these are tough to beat.

Specs

  • UTQG: 240 AA A
  • Wheel Diameters: 17-21 inch
  • Speed Rating: Y

Pros

  • Track tire performance just usable enough for the road
  • Shoulder compound resists graining better than just about anything
  • Connected technology will make you a better driver and improve car setup
  • Access to real time tire temperature and pressure is every geeks dream

Cons

  • While streetable, not ideal for a daily driver
  • App’s honest feedback might hurt some drivers’ feelings

I recently got a new smoker/grill and it took a good hour to assemble the thing. It took another 30 minutes to download the latest software package. We all knew it was only a matter of time. When everything from running shoes to refrigerators are “connected,” it makes sense your tires would be, too. So, building on the already world class Pilot Sport Cup2, Michelin’s new Connect version gives racers a whole new reason to geek out over tires. Whenever I get into a car with Cup2s, I have to recalibrate my expectations. This tire is closer to a race slick than a street performance tire. Even more so than the Pilot Sport 4S, the Cup2 rewards skilled drivers who know the fastest way around the track is to do the least amount of driving. This is a precision tire which does exactly what you tell it to, good or bad. The limits are extremely high for a street legal tire, but the drop-off over the limit is abrupt. But, if you can dance right on that edge, your friction circle hovers around 1.5G in all directions. The “connected” part of this tire means you can connect to your tires via Bluetooth using the Track Connect Kit hardware and Michelin’s app to provide tire pressure and car setup recommendations; it’s like having a race engineer and driving coach suction-cupped to your windshield on track days. It will make you a better track driver. I’ve driven the standard Cup2 on a wide variety of cars not only on track, but to and from the race track. This is not a confidence-inspiring tire in the rain, but if you’re looking for track tire performance without having to haul a separate set of tires to and from the track, this is your best choice.

Our Verdict

In 1970, Alvin Toffler introduced the concept of Overchoice, which essentially describes the phenomenon of being unable to make decisions when too many nearly-equal options are presented. The tire market being a prime example. This buyer’s guide was assembled with real world experience with each tire listed and many of the best competitors. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S is undoubtedly one of the best summer performance tires ever made. It has loads of grip, feels precise and immediate, while also providing a reasonably good ride and unobtrusive noise levels. It might not be the perfect tire for everyone, for one, they aren’t cheap. That’s why our choice for best value, the Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 is an attractive alternative. It’s most of the performance at a fraction of the price. 

Things to Consider Before Buying Summer Performance Tires

Driving Style

Most people will look at a glass case full of chef’s knives and, aside from some color variations and logos, not see too much difference between them. Professional chefs and committed home cooks will be able to go on for hours about minute differences in shapes, materials, blade-bevels, and especially balance. Tires are no different. First, if you have no idea what a driving style is, there’s a good chance this section doesn’t apply to you. If you know what I’m talking about, but don’t know your own style, you may need to take your best guess as to what you like — just like traveling abroad and picking from a dinner menu you can only partly decipher. Some tires are very precise and provide more feel, but they also sometimes tend to feel a bit more edgy or darty. A softer tire will slow down response and might mute some of the feedback, but they tend to be more forgiving and feel more stable. If you’re just commuting, you probably want the softer, more comfortable tire.

Whether or Not Your Car Has Run-Flat Tires

The first few generations of run-flat tires were a huge step down in terms of, well, every performance aspect of tires. Modern run-flats aren’t nearly as much of a penalty for convenience, but they still aren’t as good as traditional tires. If you don’t want to remove your run-flats, you will need a good contingency plan if you get a flat. Some cars that are sold with run-flats still have a space for a spare tire so you can source one either from a tire store or even a salvage yard. If you don’t have space for a spare, you can carry a can of sealant and an air compressor. 

Staggered Tire Sizes

Many powerful rear-wheel drive cars have wider tires in back; Audi offers the RS3 with wider tires on the front. If your car came from the factory with a staggered setup, it is best to stick with it. Tire width and the difference in stagger is determined by the amount of work the tire is required to do when a car is driven near its limits, such as track driving or in an emergency. The handling balance is tuned with those wider tires in mind, so changing to a square setup will have a negative effect on your car’s handling.

Best Summer Performance Tire Pricing 

It's difficult to say a summer performance tire costs “X” amount. It depends on the size and specs of the tire. If you have an older performance car that uses a 14- or 15-inch wheel, tires may start at just under $100 apiece. But, if you’re shopping for your late model hypercar, you might be looking at $1,200 per tire. Keep in mind that you will also have to pay for mounting, balancing, and other state and federal fees applicable to car tires.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: What’s the difference between Ultra, Max, and Extreme Performance tires?

A: These are marketing terms that have no objective definitions, but tire performance tends to increase in the order of the terms listed above.

Q: Can I use summer tires all year if I don’t drive in snow?

A: Most summer tires have a minimum operating temperature, with some starting as high as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Check the ratings of tires before you buy, as even storage in too low of temperature can cause damage.

Q: Will cheap tires hurt my car?

A: Buying cheap tires likely won’t cause damage to your car, but they will hurt not only performance, but may be uncomfortable in terms of noise and ride quality.

Q: Why buy tires online when I still need them installed locally?

A: Many online retailers have local shops they work with for installation making for a seamless process. Shopping online gives you a greater selection and often big price savings.

Q: Do I have to buy the same size tire my car came with?

A: Not always. Sometimes you will have a few choices of different sizes, but you will normally be limited by the width of the factory wheel. Aftermarket wheels are another post.

Q: What’s the difference between the tire pressure in my owner’s manual and what’s listed on the tire sidewall?

A: The recommended pressures in your owner’s manual or the sticker located somewhere on your car is what you want to use. The pressure, in psi, on the sidewall is the maximum pressure the tire manufacturer allows and hardly ever matches what the car manufacturer intended.

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