Speaking as a performance enthusiast and as a person who has gone backwards into a block wall at over 80 miles per hour, tires are arguably the most important part of a vehicle. The performance, handling, feel and safety of the vehicle and its occupants and cargo all depend upon the vehicle’s tires supporting the vehicle and remaining in contact with the road.
First, a word about fit. Your tires and wheels MUST FIT PROPERLY. PERIOD. Don’t get hung up on having the biggest available tires or wheels, and for God’s sake, make sure you get the right offset. Nobody is going to be impressed by your 20-inch wheels. We have 30’s now. If 19’s fit better than 20’s, go with the 19’s. I’d rather brag about my car’s handling and ride than about the fact that I have 20’s. Fit, above all else, is non-negotiable.
But what kind of tires should you choose for your vehicle? As a performance enthusiast, wet and dry traction are two performance categories that are important to me. As a money enthusiast, treadwear and cost are also very important. As someone with refined tastes, comfort and quiet also come into play.
When I was looking at tires, I started with the US Department of Transportation’s UTQG Rating System.
Uniform Tire Quality Grading, commonly abbreviated as UTQG, is the term encompassing a set of standards for passenger car tires that measures a tire’s treadwear, temperature resistance and traction.
Treadwear is rated using a baseline “test tire.” A treadwear rating of 100 means that the tire in question would last as long as the “test tire.”
The next part of the UTQG Rating is traction. Currently, the highest available rating for traction is AA, which means that a tire will hold G-forces in excess of .54g under wet braking conditions. This may not sound like a lot, but this means that if you weigh 200 pounds, your tires will hold a panic stop sufficient to push you forward with 108 pounds of force under braking, without losing traction or “skidding.” If you can imagine what this feels like, you will see that this is, in fact, very heavy braking, particularly in the wet. I have never seen a tire that did not provide much better traction under dry conditions than in wet conditions.
The third part of the UTQG is the tire’s resistance to overheating. “A” is the highest rating here, and to earn an A rating, tires must be able to handle driving a continuous 24 hours at speeds in excess of 115 mph without damage or degradation due to heat.
For reference, I reviewed the UTQG ratings of my “dream tire” – the (unrealistically expensive) Michelin Pilot Super Sport – and found that they were rated 300 AA A. Next, I located several sites where I could compare tires side by side, and sorted them by price, lowest to highest. (Tirerack.com was an excellent resource for this.) In the below-$100 range, the Lionharts, Nankangs and others rated pretty low on this scale. The Achilles ATR Sport 2 tires, on the other hand, boasted a UTQG rating of 400 AA A. Not bad, but depending on the size, these can cost as much as $180 each, and the initial quality is hit or miss. There are better choices in this price range.
A couple of tires the budget conscious performance enthusiast will want to consider are the Sumitomo HTR Ziii and the Falken Azenis FK453. The UTQG for each is 300 AA A. Reviewers love the wet and dry traction, and lack of noise. Detractors say that the treads wear too quickly, and that the sidewall flexes a little too much to provide maximum “bite” when entering a corner. Since I was going from 17-inch wheels to 19-inch wheels, I knew that the extra bite provided by the low profile of either of these would more than make up for the lack of bite compared to other “Maximum Performance Summer” tires. At a very budget-friendly price of $110.00 each, the Falkens became one of my two finalists.
In the end, the tires I chose came with both a UTQG rating of 560 AA A and a 6-year, 50,000-mile treadwear warranty. The Continental Extreme Contact DWS-06 is an all-season tire (although it is very unlikely that I will ever drive this vehicle in the snow). Wet and dry traction are every bit as good as some of the best “extreme performance summer” tires, like the Michelin Pilot Super Sport. These tires are smooth, comfortable and quiet, with tremendous grip under all circumstances. The treadwear warranty means that, even though it is not likely that any tire will actually last 50,000 miles, if they don’t last that long, I will receive a prorated amount of money to go toward my next set of tires. The Continentals are directional, so proper installation is a must. If you shop around, you can find the Continental Extreme Contact DWS 06 for less than $150.00 each. Happy motoring!