Summer tires range from a basic grand-touring style that emphasizes comfort to low-profile tires built for speed and handling. Many original equipment tires (or OE tires, which are the tires mounted on the car when you buy it new) feature a summer tread. One of the easiest ways to improve your car's handling is to upgrade to a summer tire in a higher performance category. The best deliver "an unsurpassed blend of dry and wet traction and handling for the street using high-tech materials and advanced manufacturing techniques," say TireRack.com editors. They recommend maximum-performance summer tires for driving enthusiasts who want to "connect the soul of their sporty coupe or sedan to the road, translating driver commands into action."
The softer materials used for summer tires provide excellent traction, but don't last as long as the harder compounds found in all-season tires. Many tires in this category have treadwear grades under 300 and don't include a tread warranty. Also, summer tires are not a good choice for winter weather conditions. It's best to have a pair of snow tires (which we cover in a separate report) to change into for snow and ice.
In Hot Rod magazine's track test, the Dunlop Direzza ZII (Est. $80 per tire and up) was the clear favorite as the best summer tire, with pro driver Woody Rogers describing it as "magic from the first corner of the first lap!" Its performance and lap times beat out the high-performance Michelin Pilot Super Sport (Est. $140 and up per tire) and Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 (Est. $150 per tire and up) by more than a second, a significant advantage on the track. "The Direzza was a run-away winner in our test getting high marks in every corner, on acceleration, and during braking," say editors with Hot Rod. It is also the fastest tire in a comparison test by TireRack.com, though editors there have a few criticisms of its performance. The Direzza ZII "Éwas found by some of our drivers to be just a little too eager to change directions when making small corrections (such as maintaining your lane in traffic, coping with a strong crosswind, etc.)," say TireRack.com's editors. They note that ride comfort was middling, including a rough finish and an "unusual whishing/ripping/static-like" tread noise.
Another favorite is the Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position (Est. $115 and up per tire), which is designed to be "highly capable while remaining predictable and easy to control at the limit," say editors at TireRack.com. K.C. Colwell with Car and Driver says the Bridgestone "presents a great blend of wet and dry performance, plus it's quiet and provides a good ride." The Potenza S-04 is one of the fastest tires in our report -- able to reach speeds up to 186 mph -- though experts say this doesn't translate into first-place finishes on the track. In a test by Car and Driver, testers appreciate the Bridgestone's "steering precision as well as its nice combination of roadholding attributes." The Bridgestone also comes in second place in wet-braking and in skidpad tests. In its test, TireRack.com says the Bridgestone "felt well-balanced and poised, with equal levels of initial steering response, cornering grip and drive traction." The Potenza gets high marks for ride comfort as well, with a top score for its quiet ride.
The Continental ExtremeContact DWS (Est. $105 per tire and up) has been around for many years, and is still a popular, well-performing tire, with one professional testing organization giving the DW version (the S stands for snow) Excellent scores for wet and dry braking, dry handling and hydroplaning and Good to Very Good scores in all other categories -- placing it very near the top of a multi-tire Summer Performance Tire roundup. At TireRack.com, owners place it at the top of the list for Ultra High Performance All-Season tires, with Superior to Excellent scores in every category. Editors at TireRack.com note that the Continental ExtremeContact DWS's "long-term popularity in our owner survey shows it's plenty good enough in the handling department." They also note that, in testing, the ExtremeContact DWS "did the best job softening the bumps, potholes and sharp edge of expansion joints."