Affordable Street Racing Car
When in doubt, it seems, add adjectives. Just as the EPA tacked on “ultra” and then “super” in creating ever-more-stringent-sounding categories for its low-emissions vehicle ratings, the tire business is continuously inventing variations of its high-performance segment. There are now five categories of street tires designated exclusively for summer driving—grand touring; and high, ultra-high, maximum, and extreme performance. This category list is arranged in increasing dry-road capability, and those capabilities tend to produce trade-offs on tire wear, noise, wet performance, or all of the above. It makes our noggins ache trying to grasp how it is possible for a category to better “maximum, ” and don’t say we didn’t warn you if there soon appears a “colossal” or, even better, an “extreme super colossal” performance category.
Summer tires are one of the easiest and most effective ways to increase a car’s performance. When shopping for them, we usually consider those in the top three performance categories, so that’s what we did for this test, with one catch—we set a price limit of $140 each in a 225/45R-17 size. Naturally, the goal was to see which of the nine tire models gathered here is best at chomping the pavement and generating quick lap times.
At the time of this test, Michelin, Goodyear, and Toyo didn’t have any tires that qualified for our criteria, so we turned to their subsidiaries—BFGoodrich, Dunlop, and Nitto, respectively—as well as low-price specialists such as Hankook, Kumho, and Falken. This also marks the debut of a Chinese brand in a C/D tire test. While more than 10 percent of tires sold in the U.S. are now manufactured in China by well-known companies, Chinese brands themselves are just starting to have a presence. Steady growth seems likely, however, considering the cut-rate prices: The Ling Long L688s cost just $57 each.
Some makers offer more than one tire model below our price cap, and in that case, we chose the one in the higher-performing category. And to see how this popular, lower-priced contingent performs compared with more expensive tires, we brought along one of our blue-chip favorites: the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2, which sells for $192 apiece.
We also included a four-mile street loop to measure interior noise and note subjective behaviors such as sound quality, impact harshness, and steering feel.
The two drivers were the author and, once again, Spencer Geswein—engineer and former racer and Michelin tire tester. His finely calibrated backside and expert driving skills provided another opinion on the subjective nuances among the tires, and he rated each candidate in three areas: grip, precision, and progressiveness.
Summer tires are not designed to be driven in temperatures below about 50 degrees and certainly not in snow or ice. To us, they are about maximum dry-weather performance, with enough capability in the wet to get through a sudden downpour. So we skewed the results to favor the dry-pavement champs, giving double the weight to those tests, even though summer tires generally outperform all-season rubber in wet capability as well.