The average all-season and OE tires carry S- and T-speed ratings, which can be driven as fast as 112 mph or 118 mph, respectively before the tire's performance and safety are negatively impacted. Though this is more than appropriate for many family cars and minivans, owners of high performance sport coupes and exotic rides will typically want to choose a high-performance tire to match. By upgrading to a high-performance tire, a driver can unlock their car's full 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. (Keep in mind, however, that no matter what the tire's speed rating, no manufacturer ever recommends exceeding posted speed limits on public roads and highways.)
However, high performance tires also tend to come with a higher price tag and won't have the durability of a general all-season tire. If you just need tires for the type of everyday driving that most people do, see our separate discussions of all-season and summer tires; for winter conditions, check out our separate report on snow tires, if you're looking for a tire for an SUV or Light Truck, we cover those elsewhere as well.
High-performance tires are broken down into a few subcategories, depending on how fast they can be safely driven. Even the lowest H-speed rated high performance tires are still capable of reaching 130 mph before tire performance begins to degrade. 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.
At the top end of the scale are extreme performance tires that carry a Y-speed rating (up to 186 mph). Colwell notes that such "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." In addition to use on the road, these tires are a recommended choice 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 (Est. $140 and up per tire) tires 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. $115 and up per tire).
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.
Just a hair behind the Pilot Super Sport in owner ratings, the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 (Est. $180 per tire and up) "virtually tied for first" with the Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric (Est. $145 per tire and up) in a TireRack.com test of four popular high performance tires. The PS2 earned kudos for "Crisp handling on the road and around the track." Owners agree, awarding the Pilot Sport PS2 second place overall in its performance category. Although, the Goodyear Eagle F1 did take first place in that expert test, even if by only a fraction of a second, and that tire also earns top marks in tests at a separate professional testing organization.
The Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 (Est. $150 per tire and up) can also help step up your vehicle's 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. $115 and up per tire), according to a comparison by Motor Trend, while still maintaining a feel that is refined enough for street driving.
In a Motor Trend tire review, race car driver Randy Pobst says that the Potenza RE-11 has "so much grip it emphasizes the feeling that I need more power. It does everything better." Hot Rod magazine tests the Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 in its performance tire review, calling it progressive and smooth. "That's a good thing for driver confidence," says Hot Rod's Elana Scherr. Testers with TireRack.com say handling is balanced and stable with "a nicely weighted feel in the steering wheel."
Elsewhere in this report: