All-season tires are broken down into several categories, depending on their blend of performance and traction: standard, grand touring, high performance and ultra-high performance. Basic all-season tires traditionally carry S- and T-speed ratings, which is fitting for sedans and minivans. "But today there is a growing trend that even basic passenger tires carry at least an H-speed rating to match up to what the vehicle manufacturer used as Original Equipment (OE) at the factory," say the experts at TireRack.com. "These higher speed rated tires also tend to bring along premium attributes through more advanced tread designs, high-tech tread compounds, and sophisticated internal construction."
To narrow down which all-season tire is best for you, consider each type's strengths and weaknesses. For the most comfortable ride, many grand-touring all-season tires "are designed to provide reasonable tread life while blending the smooth and quiet ride of a passenger tire with the looks of a performance tire … but can also deliver reassuring handling and good traction," according to editors at TireRack.com. High-performance all-season tires have higher speed ratings and excellent traction for rainy roads, using "siping or other technology added to enhance wet grip and hydroplaning resistance," says Sean Phillips, tire expert at About.com. He cautions that even though many are labeled all-season tires, high-performance tires "are not usually tires to be trusted in any kind of snow or ice."
The Michelin Primacy MXV4 (Est. $130) is one of the best all-season tires because it "strikes the Grand Touring All-Season tire category's traditional balance between road manners and handling," according to editors with TireRack.com. It gets high scores from more than 1,300 owner reviews and in several professional comparisons (a leading consumer organization ranks the Michelin as one of the best all-season tires for snow). After including it in numerous comparisons, TireRack.com editors say, "The Michelin Primacy MXV4 continues to be one of the most refined during everyday driving and also provides good traction."
At the top of several expert reviews and owner surveys -- alongside the Michelin Primacy MXV4 -- are the high-performance Pirelli Cinturato P7 (Est. $170 for 205/55R17) and value-priced Continental PureContact (Est. $110). In an extensive side-by-side comparison with all three, the Michelin stands out with the most comfortable ride and quietest tread noise. Though it scores consistently well, the Michelin doesn't take first place in every category. The Continental PureContact has the best traction and handling on wet pavement, according to TireRack.com, while the Pirelli Cinturato P7 is fast and responsive.
With "very good ultimate traction," experts with TireRack.com say, the Goodyear Assurance TripleTred All-Season (Est. $140) is a "capable tire for drivers who put a priority on traction." It maintains superb grip in wet and dry weather, but doesn't manage snow and ice well. While tread life and warranty are outstanding, the Assurance TripleTred trades in some comfort for performance -- owners say its ride isn't as smooth or as quiet as all-season tires like the Michelin Primacy MXV4 or Pirelli Cinturato P7.
For less than $100 per tire, experts say the Kumho Ecsta PA31 (Est. $80) is an excellent value. Tire experts at TireRack.com say it offers a "great balance of capabilities for drivers wanting good handling and traction," and they like that Kumho designed the tire to "provide high performance handling in both dry and wet conditions, along with reasonable treadwear and some all-season capability for coping with wintery weather." And unlike many budget-priced tires, the Ecsta PA31 doesn't compromise on treadwear. Owners say it's long-lasting and durable, with a six-year, 50,000-mile tread warranty that's only slightly shorter than Michelin's coverage for the Primacy MXV4.
A different type of all-season tire is becoming more common as both an original equipment (or OE) and replacement tire: the run-flat tire. "Built with very stiff sidewalls, enough so that if the tire loses pressure, the sidewalls will support the weight of the car," run-flat tires keep your car in control and rolling after a blowout, says Sean Phillips, tire expert at About.com. You can drive up to 100 miles after a flat, which should be more than enough to reach a tire-repair center. Tire experts at TireRack.com call the Bridgestone Potenza RE960AS Pole Position one of the best run-flat tires available, saying it "shows how close the best run-flat design comes to matching the ride quality of conventional tires, while still delivering good handling and dry/wet traction." However, they add that "winter traction is not one of this tire's strong suits." While run-flats are convenient after a blowout, some experts say they don't match the overall comfort and handling of a standard tire.