The average all-season and OE tires carry only S- and T-speed ratings, which top out at 118 mph. Though this is appropriate for many family cars and minivans, sport coupes and exotic rides will find these slower tires too limiting. By upgrading to a high-performance tire, a driver can unlock their car's potential. The key, according to experts, is to match the tire's capacity to the car's ability. A tire should be able to handle the car's torque and horsepower without leaving untapped traction in the tire.
High-performance tires are broken down into a few subcategories, depending on how fast they can go. Even the slowest H-speed rated high performance tires are still capable of reaching 130 mph. The faster W-speed-rated maximum-performance tires "shift the balance of wet and dry performance that is baked into ultra-high-performance (UHP) summer tires toward the dry, with less optimization for ride and noise," says K.C. Colwell with Car and Driver. "Extreme-performance tires go a step further: They offer the best dry-road performance available for the street. A rainy day won't sideline a car on extremes, but as a group they are not designed around comfort requirements such as ride and noise." These carry a Y-speed rating for up to 186 mph and are designed for competitions and track driving.
When Ferrari was launching its 458 Italia a few years ago, K.C. Colwell says putting Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (Est. $190 for 235/45ZR17) on it was a priority. "It isn't hard to understand why Ferrari wanted" these, says Colwell, noting that this maximum-performance tire "has the best balance of wet and dry performance we've ever experienced in testing." In a Car and Driver comparison test, the Michelin outranks the Yokohama ADVAN Neova AD08 (Est. $230 for 235/40R17) and the Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position (Est. $170 for 235/50R17). TireRack.com also names the Pilot Super Sport as the best tire for maximum performance. "When asking these tires to drive at their limit, the Michelin Pilot Super Sport leads the group. It feels almost unflappable with impressive lateral grip and responsive steering that build driver confidence," say editors with TireRack.com.
The Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 (Est. $230 for 235/40R17) can also help step up performance, with extra grip to deliver power directly from the engine to the road. It provides better traction than the summer-rated Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position (Est. $170 for 235/50R17), according to a comparison by Motor Trend, while still maintaining a feel that is refined enough for street driving.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Tires: What are the best tires for your car? Editors analyze expert tests and owner reviews to pick the best all-season, summer, high performance and budget tires.
Best All-Season Tires: Which passenger tires provide the best traction and comfort? Editors name the best all-season tires from brands like Michelin, Goodyear and Pirelli.
Best Summer Tires: Which summer tires are the best? Editors say Dunlop, Michelin, Bridgestone and Yokohama make the best summer tires according to expert tests.
Buying Guide: How do you buy the best car tire? Editors explain what features to consider when shopping for all-season, summer and high-performance tires.
Our Sources: Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top tires, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.