Best car tyres: evo performance tyre test
Which high performance tyres should you be shortlisting for your car? We put nine contenders through the toughest objective and subjective tests to find out
It’s time once again to put the best-selling UHP (Ultra high Performance) tyres to the test in our annual performance tyre test. This year’s tested size has a slightly taller sidewall profile than 2020's test, with the ZR-rated 225/40 R18 being our focus this year – again a reflection of a median size the market demands. EU tyre labelling makes customers better informed when choosing tyres, but as evo’s tests have shown, even tyres with identical ratings for wet grip and rolling resistance can show quite different performance.
As well as multiple objective measurements, including wet and dry braking and aquaplaning resistance, our comprehensive test also rates the tyres subjectively, describing what they feel like – how responsive, how tactile, how comfortable and how noisy over different surfaces – so you can make the most informed choice.
Contenders this year include a new Bridgestone, the Potenza Sport, which finds itself up against the tyres that finished first, second and third respectively when we last tested this size in 2019: Pirelli’s P Zero, Michelin’s Pilot Sport 4 (a more popular choice than the Pilot Sport 4S in this size) and Continental’s PremiumContact 6 (on its last outing before the new PremiumContact 7 arrives). Goodyear is represented by the Eagle F1 SuperSport, and Dunlop and Hankook are here too. We also welcome a newcomer to evo testing, GT Radial, with its SportActive 2, and for added context we’ve included a budget tyre, the Triangle Sportex TH201.
This year our test car was an Audi S3, which has a Haldex-style four-wheel-drive system – a first for an evo tyre test. Exploratory laps revealed it has throttle adjustability akin to a front-drive Golf and in the wet it can settle into power oversteer. It also has decent steering feel and plenty of performance: its turbo’d in-line four delivers 306bhp and a muscular 295lb ft of torque from just 2000rpm. This is fed through a seven-speed DSG gearbox to the front wheels before being shared with the rears if they become overwhelmed.
It’s been a number of years since we’ve visited Bridgestone’s European Proving Ground in Aprilia, south of Rome, Italy. Since then, a large, weir-style wet handling track has been added, which means we can carry out all our tests on one site. Objective tests were carried out by Bridgestone staff while evo set wet and dry handling lap times and rated the tyres subjectively. We also rated the tyres on a ‘road route’ that we put together using an appropriate selection of the special surfaces and proving ground link roads.
- Prices shown are an average from a number of suppliers.
- EU tyre label ratings for each tyre are shown inside the brackets:
- RR = rolling resistance, on a scale ranging from A (best) to E (worst). A tyre with a better rating should deliver better fuel economy.
- Wet = wet grip, also on a scale ranging from A (best) to E (worst). This EU rating focuses solely on wet braking performance.
- Noise = the exterior noise generated by a tyre, measured in decibels. Quieter tyres generate between 67 and 71 dB, louder tyres up to 77 dB.
The wet disciplines carry a heavier weighting in the final results than the dry tests for the simple reason that you are much more likely to find the limit of grip in the wet, a fact that was starkly illustrated by the difference in performance between the best and worst tyres on the handling circuit. It’s a wide circuit, so we chose to use only half its width in places, creating a lap that would reveal poise, adjustability and lateral grip as well as traction.
The fastest tyres aren’t always the most impressive in terms of feel and confidence, but that wasn’t the case here. Right from the off, the pace-setting Pirelli gave great feel and good feedback, so it’s a tyre that you quickly trust and exploit, its decisive low-speed turn-in matched to useful adjustability and poise at speed. The Goodyear was just three tenths off the Pirelli in terms of lap time and was rated even higher, for its feeling of grip and precision and also its subtle, exploitable adjustability that allowed satisfying fluency. A great performance.
The Bridgestone and Dunlop tied for third subjectively, the quicker Bridgestone praised for its reassuring, granular steering feel and strong traction out of the slower corners. It felt fractionally less settled in the faster transitions than the best, but overall it was a solid performance. The Dunlop was over a second off the pace and didn’t offer the same traction but delivered a useful agility that allowed the car to be placed with accuracy and confidence.
Ahead of the Dunlop in lap time but lower ranked subjectively was the GT Radial. It didn’t really put a foot wrong, offering good grip and stability in the transitions, but it was noisy, which made it seem like you were forcing the grip out of it. Ranked sixth on lap time and in feel was the Michelin. It was a decent, consistent performance but one that lacked the sheer grip and positivity of the best here. Almost three seconds off the best was the Hankook, which gave great traction out of the tighter turns but felt rather vague in the faster curves and transitions.
The Continental was a huge six seconds off the pace and felt like it was on tip-toes, with limited lateral grip that could easily develop into a slide. Over a second slower still was the Triangle, which offered an astonishing lack of grip: it was as if it was on snow. Understeer was minimal because front grip was so easily overwhelmed, so in a number places it was power oversteering, requiring expert correction.
Wet handling - lap time
Wet handling - subjective
Around the wetted, 83-metre-diameter circle – a simple test of wet cornering grip – the Pirelli topped the table on 14.9sec, just ahead of the Bridgestone (15.0), mirroring their wet circuit performance. The Goodyear was third, a couple of tenths off, with the Michelin just another tenth behind. Dunlop was ahead of GT Radial, and Continental and Hankook were close to the pace, while the Triangle was some way off the rest.
Braking and rolling resistance
According to their self-certified labelling, all of the tyres here are rated ‘A’ for wet grip – the best possible – except for the Triangle, which is rated ‘C’ (middling), yet among our A-rated tyres there was a big variance in stopping distance, which was measured from 80 to 20kph (50 to 12mph) on a surface wetted to 1.6mm.
The best, the Pirelli, took just 27.0m, while the worst A-rated tyre, the Dunlop, took 32.3m, a difference of 5.3m, or more than the length of a BMW 5-series. Bridgestone and Michelin were both under 30m, Hankook, Goodyear and Continental were closely matched at just over 30m, and the GT Radial was a couple of metres adrift of them. However, providing perspective, the C-rated Triangle took a massive 42.9m for the stop, almost 16m further than the Pirelli.
Backing up its strong performance in the wet, the Bridgestone topped the dry braking test, stopping from 100 to 0kph (62 to 0mph) in 33.9m, just ahead of the Pirelli and Michelin. The spread of results here was smaller, the Goodyear under a metre adrift of the best, the Hankook and Continental around 2m off, the Dunlop a little under 3m, and the GT Radial 4m. The Triangle, meanwhile, took 7.3m further than the best.
Rolling resistance impacts fuel economy, and the best in this test was the Hankook. Just a point behind was the Michelin, with the Continental a further point back. Despite being officially rated as E – the worst – the GT Radial was next, ahead of the Triangle and Dunlop (both C). The E-rated Bridgestone and Goodyear followed, while the Pirelli came last, despite being D-rated.
|GT Radial (E)||8.7||96.6|
A less frequent but more alarming experience than limit braking in the wet is aquaplaning in standing water, because you momentarily lose the ability to steer and brake.
We test a tyre’s ability to resist aquaplaning both in a straight line and in a curve. In a straight line we measured the maximum speed each tyre attained in 7mm of water before it overspeeded by 15 per cent, and in a curve we measured the amount of residual acceleration at set speeds, again in 7mm of water.
In previous years, Dunlop has topped the tables in both disciplines, but this year the GT Radial pushed it down to second in the curved test and was joint leader in a straight line. Bridgestone was third in both tests, some way off the table-topping pair, with Goodyear fourth in a straight line but only joint sixth in cornering. Michelin was mid-field in both tables, just ahead of Pirelli in cornering and the Continental in a straight line. Last in both tests, and by a considerable margin in the curved test, was the Hankook, trailing the Triangle.
The handling circuit we put together from the options at the proving ground gave a good mix of low- and high-speed turns and tested traction and agility. The first corner was a long right with a late apex, approached in fourth gear, the second had another late apex, looping right and leading into a quick left-right, then straight into braking for a hairpin. A great test of agility and poise. Completing the lap was an off-throttle cresting right.
The fastest six tyres were covered by little more than a second, but the top performer, the Goodyear, was fastest by a notable 0.7sec from the Michelin and Dunlop, which tied for second. The Goodyear felt good too and was rated second subjectively by the smallest of margins, praised for its clean, positive steering feel and its willingness to rotate obediently under you when you lift off on turn-in to find the apex, giving confident, sweet precision.
Despite being 1.1sec slower, the Pirelli was top rated subjectively. It was the only tyre that felt like it could make every apex on pure grip – all you had to do was keep turning. That feeling of abundant grip and settled neutrality was matched to a smooth, feelsome steering that inspired confidence.
The time-tied Dunlop and Michelin were close subjectively too, but got the job done in different ways. Like the Goodyear, the Dunlop was calmly, exploitably agile and had good steering connection, while the Michelin was reassuringly neutral and strong on the brakes. Both were rather noisy under pressure.
Fourth on lap time and ranking, the Bridgestone took a fraction to settle but hit every apex. It inspired confidence through its steering feel and stability but was noisy and so felt like it was grinding out the lap time. Just a tenth behind, the Continental was the opposite: usefully agile and surprisingly quick given the lack of edge and bite to its steering, brake and throttle responses.
The GT Radial lapped a chunky 1.8sec off the best. It was neutral like the Pirelli and showed good traction out of the hairpins but needed to be hustled to extract the speed and got noisier the harder it was pushed. The Hankook, a tenth slower, was noisy too but looser in feel, adjustable on a trailing throttle but less accurate than the best. Slowest by almost three seconds was the Triangle. Squealing from the start and scrubby in feel, it lacked grip generally and although usefully mobile couldn’t carry speed like the others.
Dry handling - lap time
Dry handling - subjective
Road driving puts the emphasis on steering weight, feel and response, and ride comfort and noise, demands that are contradictory. All tyres are a compromise, and some strike it better than others.
The best was the Pirelli, delivering great steering feel and response combined with an impressive degree of ride comfort and good noise suppression. The second-placed Dunlop also balanced comfort and connection well, matching the Pirelli’s refinement to decent directness and steering feel.
The Goodyear and Continental scored equal third but for different reasons. The former’s crisp, feelsome steering was offset by a sharpness over ridges and broken asphalt and a noise sensitivity to coarse surfaces. In contrast, the Continental was by far the most impressive for comfort and noise, but gave steering that was soft and lacking in bite when you picked up the pace.
The GT Radial lacked the fine steering feel of the best, but its ride rounded off sharp inputs well, if a little noisily. The Bridgestone felt like it had sacrificed comfort for sharp steering, while the Michelin gave decent steering directness at speed but was soft at lower speeds and was noisy over transverse ridges too. The Hankook was similar, lacking the feel and sharpness of the best and crashing noisily over difficult surfaces.
Last was the Triangle, which offered good refinement and dealt well with most surfaces but gave soft, light, feel-free steering.
9th Triangle 79.8
The Sportex TH201 appears to be good value, but fit this after a quality tyre and your car will feel worse. It will also take much longer to stop, especially in the wet.
Blackcircles says… Not a high-selling model at Blackcircles.com, and with only a handful of customer reviews we are unable to provide any meaningful insight into its popularity at this time.
8th Continental 88.3
The PremiumContact 6 felt like a comfort-biased tyre in this company. Impressively refined and absorbent, but at the expense of the dynamic sharpness. We look forward to seeing how the new PremiumContact 7 performs.
Blackcircles says… With over 680 customer reviews this tyre has achieved an overall score of 4.6/5. Customers remarked on its low noise levels, as well as reliable grip and handling performance.
7th Hankook 89.7
Good results in wet and dry braking were the high spots for the Ventus S1 evo3 (K127). It was last in the aquaplane tests and never shone on track but offered a fair compromise on the road.
Blackcircles says… This tyre is proving to be a popular choice with customers, with reviews frequently commending its braking, great grip and overall performance.
6th GT Radial 90.4
The SportActive 2 excelled in the aquaplaning tests and performed well on the wet circuit too. It was less dynamic on the dry track but was liked on the road route for its decent steering connection and ride. A good tyre.
Blackcircles says… Blackcircles does not currently hold stock of this tyre, so are unable to provide any insight into its popularity or performance with our customers.
5th Michelin 91.5
The Pilot Sport 4 gave direct steering and its balance was reassuring, but absent was the bright, rewarding steering feel and fluency we’ve come to expect. A solid performer but not inspiring.
Blackcircles says… The Pilot Sport 4 seems to be showing its age against newer competition, but we can’t wait to try the brand-new model launching in January.
4th Dunlop 92.6
The Sport Maxx RT 2 delivered excellent aquaplane results, was agile on the dry track and ranked second on the road route for its balance of feelsome steering and good ride comfort. Recommended.
Blackcircles says… More than 2200 reviews have resulted in an overall customer rating of 4.6/5 for the Dunlop, many commenting on its low noise and reliable grip.
3rd Bridgestone 92.8
The new Potenza Sport was in the top three in most objective tests and gave solid performances in wet and dry handling. The trade-off was a sometimes choppy ride and lots of road noise.
Blackcircles says… There are no customer reviews on this new model at the time of writing, but it is sure to build upon the favourable feedback of its predecessor.
2nd Goodyear 94.9
The Eagle F1 SuperSport was strong in both wet and dry handling, subjectively and against the watch. It felt poised and grippy in the wet, and in the dry was agile, connected and tactile. A bit noisy on some surfaces but an outstanding performance tyre.
Blackcircles says… With an overall customer rating of 4.6/5, this tyre has impressed customers, reviews often commenting on its great grip, with its dry performance highly praised.
1st Pirelli 96.0
Top ranked subjectively for dry handling and on the road route, the P Zero PZ4 is a tyre that proves you can have (almost) everything. Combines great steering and grippy, secure but rewarding handling with a supple ride and great refinement.
Blackcircles says… Since launch last year this tyre has gained a good reputation, with a score of 4.5/5 from over 300 customer reviews. Many have highlighted excellent grip and handling performance.