Choose the right tires, and you could save $100 or more a year on fuel without necessarily spending any more on the tires. Low-rolling-resistance tires use special tread compounds and shapes to cut down on fuel-wasting tire drag, and expert tests at ConsumerReports.org and TireRack.com prove that they really can increase your fuel efficiency by 2 to 4 miles per gallon (mpg).
But what about traction? Reviews say the best low-rolling-resistance tires work their mpg magic without sacrificing grip. The Continental ProContact EcoPlus (*Est. $95) does the best job, critics say: This all-season tire not only posts one of the best rolling-resistance scores in a major independent test (measured with a dynamometer), but its all-around solid grip on wet, dry, snowy and icy roads and 80,000-mile tread-wear warranty make it a top pick in two leading performance tests and a favorite of owners posting their own reviews at TireRack.com.
Bonus: It costs $20 to $45 less than many other top-rated all-season tires. In fact, it's a top runner-up in our updated tires report.
"An eco-focused tire that doesn't give up traction to get there," say experts at TireRack.com, where the Continental ProContact EcoPlus outperforms other low-rolling-resistance tires and a regular all-season tire in a comparison test. It grips the best on both wet and dry roads and it's the quietest and most comfortable-riding, too.
Still, "as they say, your mileage may vary," TireRack.com points out. When they tested the Continental ProContact EcoPlus in July 2010, they achieved 28.1 mpg -- making it one of the most fuel-efficient tires in the test. But when they repeated the same test in August 2011, the Continental dropped to 27.3 mpg. Nothing changed in the test (500 miles on TireRack.com's usual mixed-road course in a 2011 BMW 328i coupe), but differences in temperature, wind speed and barometric pressure can alter your tires' efficiency.
The Michelin Energy Saver A/S (*Est. $120) is critics' runner-up pick. It posts the best mpg (53.8 mpg on a Toyota Prius in TireRack.com's 2009 gas-miser tire test (which did not include the Continental ProContact EcoPlus). Owners at TireRack.com say it grips just about as well as the Continental ProContact EcoPlus in all weather. However, in another expert test, the Michelin doesn't match the Continental on ice and snow.
Our price estimates for these tires are based on size 215/60R16, which is appropriate for many passenger cars.
If you drive a sportier car, or are just willing to spend more for a better-handling tire, there's no reason to give up fuel economy. The performance all-season Michelin Primacy MXV4 (*Est. $165) echoes the regular all-season Continental ProContact EcoPlus in tests (top-rated performance on all road conditions, plus outstanding rolling resistance) only with more emphasis on handling. (Note: Some sizes of the MXV4 carry Michelin's low-rolling-resistance Green X label, while others do not. The rolling resistance test cited here used a Green X size.)
The Michelin Primacy MXV4 wins a head-to-head test at TireRack.com, beating three grand touring all-season tires. Experts there rave about the Primacy MXV4's "excellent road manners" and "near-perfect balance between steering response and a light, relaxed feel appropriate for a grand touring all-season tire" when fitted to a BMW 328i coupe.
The Primacy MXV4 also wins another leading test, outclassing 12 other H-rated performance all-season tires and showing no weaknesses on any measure (it even boasts long tread life and a 60,000-mile tread-wear warranty). And it's a favorite of owners at TireRack.com, who agree with the experts' findings, giving it the highest possible rating of "superior" for wet- and dry-road performance, ride comfort, noise and tread wear and "excellent" scores for winter-road performance. One owner recently reported no fuel efficiency loss after switching to the Primacy MXV4 from the fuel-miser Michelin Energy MXV4 (*Est. $230) tires that came standard on a Toyota Avalon. "I'm still getting 33 mpg on the highway!" the owner reports after driving 15,000 miles on the Primacy MXV4s.
Our price estimate for the Michelin Primacy MXV4 is based on size P235/65R17, which is appropriate for many performance cars.
Even if you drive a less-efficient pickup truck or SUV, you can maximize your fuel economy by choosing your tires wisely. The Continental CrossContact LX20 EcoPlus (*Est. $165) is not only the Best Reviewed SUV/truck tire you can buy (see our report on SUV/light truck tires), it also happens to win TireRack.com's latest eco-SUV-tire shootout.
It's not the most fuel-efficient tire in the test, though: On a Porsche Cayenne V6, the Continental gets 18.3 mpg, versus 19.1 mpg for the Bridgestone Dueler H/L 422 Ecopia (*Est. $155) and Goodyear Assurance CS Fuel Max (*Est. $170). They'd save the average driver about $137 per year at the pump over the Continental, but "give up a little traction to get there," TireRack.com experts say. The Continental makes no performance compromises: It's the quietest, best-handling and most stable on dry roads, with "significantly more overall traction than the other two" on wet pavement.
Other experts and owners agree. The Continental CrossContact LX20 EcoPlus shows no performance weaknesses on wet, dry, snowy or icy roads in another well-regarded expert test. Owner reviews show that it's their favorite crossover/SUV touring all-season tire at TireRack.com. The Continental's 70,000-mile tread-wear warranty is another plus. The runner-up tire in this category, the Michelin Latitude Tour HP (*Est. $210), cuts rolling resistance a little more than the Continental, but owners say it slips more on snow and ice.
Price estimates for these tires are based on the 245/70-17 size (or the closest available size), appropriate for popular SUVs and pickups such as the Ford F-150, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.
Experts at TireRack.com test low-rolling-resistance tires head-to-head to find the stingiest fuel-sippers -- and the best performers. Editors have experimented with fuel-miser tires once on a Toyota Prius, twice on a BMW 328i coupe (in 2010 and 2011) and twice on a Porsche Cayenne SUV (in 2010 and 2011). ConsumerReports.org doesn't count mpgs in its road tests, but editors do performance-test more than 130 car and SUV/truck tires and measure their rolling resistance on a dynamometer. Owners who buy low-rolling-resistance tires at TireRack.com rank them based on their real-life performance and fuel economy.