Best Ultra High-Performance Summer Tires: Get a Better Grip on Things
Your car is only as good as its connection to the road.
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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.
Michelin Pilot Sport 4S
- Enough grip for some of the world’s best cars
- Precision handling, good response, more feedback than most
- Comfortable tire given its capabilities
- Some owners have reported sticker shock
- A new version of this tire is releasing any day
Firestone Firehawk Indy 500
- 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
- Price of entry is lower, but they will wear faster than other tires
- Those switching from less aggressive tires will notice harsh ride
Continental ExtremeContact Sport
- 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
- Doesn’t provide the steering feel or precision of Michelin
- For skilled drivers, this won’t return the lap times of some competitors’ tires
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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
- UTQG: 300 AA A
- Wheel Diameters: 17-23 inch
- Speed Rating: Y
- 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
- No wireless remote control
- UTQG: 340 A A
- Wheel Diameters: 16-20 inch
- Speed Rating: W
- 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
- Louder and harsher
- Non-enthusiasts will regret putting these on a leased BMW
- UTQG: 340 AA A
- Wheel Diameters: 15-20 inch
- Speed Rating: W, Y
- 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
- Doesn’t have the cornering grip of Michelin or Pirelli
- Doesn’t look “racy”
- UTQG: 200 A A
- Wheel Diameters: 14-18 inch
- Speed Rating: H, W
- Old school feel and old school sizes
- Affordable tire even if fast-wearing
- Big performance envelope for easier driving
- Tread pattern screams performance
- Loud and not the best ride quality
- You’lll burn through these pretty quickly
- UTQG: 240 AA A
- Wheel Diameters: 17-21 inch
- Speed Rating: Y
- 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
- While streetable, not ideal for a daily driver
- App’s honest feedback might hurt some drivers’ feelings
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
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.
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.