Summer tires range from a basic grand-touring style that emphasizes comfort to a low-profile tire 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 models in this category have treadwear grades under 300 and don't include a tread warranty.
In Hot Rod magazine's track test, the Dunlop Direzza ZII (Est. $180 for 235/45R17) 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. $190 for 235/45ZR17) and Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 (Est. $230 for 235/40R17) 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 its editors have a few criticisms of its performance. The Direzza ZII "was 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 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. $170 for 235/50R17), which is designed to be "highly capable while remaining predictable and easy to control at the limit," say editors at TireRack.com. In Car and Driver's comparison of extreme tires, the Potenza S-04 Pole Position beats out the Yokohama ADVAN Neova AD08 (Est. $230 for 235/40R17), partly due to its performance on wet pavement. 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." It takes "second place in wet-braking and skidpad tests," while the "the Yokohama finished just ahead of the bottom markers, with lap times at the slow end and midpack grip," says Colwell. Reviews say both models are stable and predictable tires on wet roads.
The Yokohama doesn't mess around on dry pavement, however, posting some of the fastest lap times in Car and Driver and TireRack.com comparisons. "Very close to the Dunlop [Direzza ZII] in lap time was the Yokohama ADVAN Neova AD08, which displayed impressive overall handling and excellent braking traction (setting a new dry braking record in the process)," say editors at TireRack.com. They add that the ADVAN's handling is predicable with a "responsive steering feel." When comparing the Yokohama to the high performance Bridgestone Potenza RE-11, TireRack.com says, "Both tires were well-liked by our team for their overall traction, controllability and predictability as the limit was reached, with the Potenza RE-11A having a small subjective advantage over the slightly quicker ADVAN Neova AD08."
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 Performance Tires: Which performance tires have the best grip and handling? Editors say Michelin, Yokohama and Bridgestone make the top performance tires according to experts.
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.