Ultra-high-performance summer tires and max-performance summer tires are a step up from all-season tires. These are for driving enthusiasts who want the best pure-performing tires on wet or dry roads. They are not equipped for snow and ice at all. Ultra-high-performance and max-performance tires come in 15- to 22-inch wheel sizes. As you'd expect, they have high speed ratings and, usually, high prices. Speed ratings top out at 186 mph with ratings of W, Y or Z.
The new Michelin Pilot Super Sport (*Est. $195) sweeps the most recent expert and owner reviews, running away with the title of best all-around summer performance tire.
"'Wow' handling and ultimate traction," TireRack.com testers say of the Michelin Pilot Super Sport. "This is the new superstar in the max performance summer category."
It convincingly beats some big names in TireRack.com's shootout, including last year's winner, the Continental ExtremeContact DW (*Est. $160), the new Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position (*Est. $180) and the venerable Pirelli P Zero (**Est. $165), an original-equipment staple on supercars. But the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tire ranks as a big name itself: It comes standard on the fastest road car Ferrari has ever built, the limited-edition Ferrari 599 GTO.
TireRack.com experts attack both wet and dry pavement in a BMW 328i coupe. On either road condition, the Michelin Pilot Super Sport laps the track and steers through the slalom faster than its rivals, posts better g-force cornering numbers and still manages to display "reasonable road manners considering its obvious focus on at-the-limit handling."
You also get a 30,000-mile tread-wear warranty with the Michelin tire -- a rarity in this category. Built with technology from Michelin's record-setting endurance race tires, the Pilot Super Sport starts with dual steel belts reinforced with spirally wound, lightweight, high-strength synthetic Twaron cord, with a polyester carcass for responsive handling and ride comfort. The tread consists of two different compounds: One on the outboard shoulder for dry-road cornering and another on the inner area for better wet grip.
The tread really does wear a long time, an independent test confirms. The Michelin tire outperforms all other tires in that test, too: It's the only one that earns the highest possible score for braking and handling on dry surfaces as well as wet braking and hydroplaning resistance.
Real-world performance is just as stellar, according to rave reviews from owners at TireRack.com. It's the only max-performance summer tire that earns the highest possible rating of "superior" on every measure -- wet and dry traction, hydroplaning resistance, cornering stability, steering response, ride comfort, noise and tread wear.
For the ultimate in dry traction, TireRack.com experts and users recommend splurging on their favorite extreme-performance summer tires, the Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 (*Est. $220). Racy but street-legal, extreme-performance tires tend to be noisier and stiffer than max-performance tires like the Michelin Pilot Super Sport. But in an expert comparison at TireRack.com, the Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 proves surprisingly quiet and comfortable and is dubbed a "tire you can live with during day-to-day driving."
Owners agree, awarding it higher scores for ride comfort and quietness than any other extreme-performance tire, along with some of the highest ratings for wet and dry performance. In the expert test, the Potenza RE-11 runs a little slower on the dry track -- 2/10 of a second behind the first-place finisher on a 1/3-mile track with right-angle corners, lane changes and simulated freeway ramps -- but it grips, brakes and handles better in the wet, making it the experts' top pick in this highest-performance category.
Again, tread wear is an afterthought in this category. The extreme-performance Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 earns an even lower government tread-wear rating (180) than the max-performance summer tires, with no tread-life warranty. However, it does get the best tread-wear ratings in its class from owners at TireRack.com.
If you prefer a quieter, more comfortable ride -- but you still crave tight grip and responsive handling, experts and owners recommend trying the Michelin Primacy HP (*Est. $245). Luxury sedans from Audi, Lexus and Mercedes have used this tire as original equipment, and owners who post reviews at TireRack.com rank it higher than any other grand touring summer tire. A consumer testing organization agrees, awarding the Primacy HP "best buy" status for its balance of wet- and dry-road performance, comfort and rolling resistance (low rolling resistance can mean better gas mileage). It's pricey, but experts point out that you do get a hefty tread-wear warranty for a summer performance tire: 35,000 miles for the W-, Y- and Z-rated versions, or 45,000 miles for the lower-speed H- and V-rated versions.