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Best tyres 2018: Improve your drive with great tyres from £72 to £95

Dominic Tobin
27 Sep 2018
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Get the most bang for your buck with the best car tyres you can buy

When the garage mechanic sucks their teeth and tells you, with a pained expression, that your car’s tyres need replacing, it’s tempting to ask: “What’s the cheapest option?”

But in torrential rain, at 70mph on a motorway in heavy traffic, it’s reassuring to know that you’ve got the best tyres for the job – and not necessarily your wallet.

Your car’s four tyres are its only points of contact with the road. They have an enormous effect on a vehicle’s grip, cornering performance and braking distance. Fuel economy and interior noise are also impacted by the tyres that you choose. So it’s worth choosing a decent set and, as our test results show, top-performers come at a reasonable price.

All of the tyres below have been tested in wet and dry conditions by experts at our sister title Auto Express. They purchased them to ensure that they're identical to those sold in garages.

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How to choose the best car tyres for your car

What tyre size is right for my car?

Tyres come in a vast range of specifications, each of which has an individual code that resembles an MI5 recruitment test. For example, 205/50 R17 89V.

You don’t need to understand what each number and letter means, but it is important to get a tyre with the correct specification, which matches the tyres already on the car. If in doubt, you’ll be able to find out the correct tyre size from the manufacturer.

The tyre specification begins with three numbers (eg. 205), which is the width in millimetres. It’s followed by two numbers (eg. 50), known as the aspect ratio. This is the height of the tyre from the car wheel rim to the tread, which is known as the sidewall. It’s a percentage of the width – 50% of 205mm in this example.

The next section begins with a letter relating to the tyre’s construction. Most tyres have "R" to indicate radial-ply. It’s followed by two digits showing the diameter of the wheel that the tyre will fit onto (eg. 17).

Finally, there are a further two numbers (eg. 89), showing the load index, which is the weight that a tyre can carry. The number is calculated to an industry standard. The final letter is a speed rating, which indicates the maximum speed that a tyre can rotate at full load. This should be suitable for a car’s top speed – not the fastest that you think you’ll travel.

What types of car tyre are there?

Most cars are fitted with standard tyres, which should be able to cope with most British weather, including heavy rain. These are the tyres tested below.

In colder weather, standard tyres can become harder, reducing grip and increasing the distance needed to brake. When driving on snow, this can increase the risk of skidding or the wheels spinning. That’s why many drivers choose to fit winter tyres during colder months. The tyres have a compound that remains softer and a tread pattern that’s more effective in snow to increase grip. Their performance decreases above 7°C. While winter tyres are fitted, your standard tyres can be stored in your garage or by some tyre retailers.

All-season tyres are meant to combine the benefits of standard and winter tyres without the need to change with the seasons, but can’t quite match the performance of standard tyres in the summer or winter tyres when cold.

Directional tyres have a tread pattern that’s designed to rotate in one direction, so there’s a specific side that must be facing outwards when the tyre is fitted. The pattern is generally better at dispersing water, and can make the car more stable too.

When do I need to change my car tyres?

Legally, tyres must have at least 1.6mm of tread, covering the centre three-quarters of the tread, around the entire tyre. Many tyres have wear indicators, which are small blocks of rubber between the tread. When the tread wears down to the level of these blocks, the tyre needs to be replaced. Alternatively, you can put a 20p piece into the tyre grooves; the outer band should sink below the treads. If it’s visible, then new tyres are needed.

Given the safety-critical role of tyres, some experts recommend changing your tyres once tread wears down to 3mm. Tests suggest that lower levels of tread can have a significant impact in wet weather braking performance.

How different are tyres?

Tyres aren’t just made of rubber. Each manufacturer has their own secret chemical compounds that affect performance from one company to the next. There are differences in the tread patterns too, as tyre firms aim to strike the right balance between wet and dry grip; fuel economy; noise; and handling, which covers responsiveness in cornering and stability.

Another key quality is their resistance to aquaplaning, which occurs in wet conditions when the tyre can’t shift water on the road quickly enough and a layer builds up between the tyre and tarmac. The pressure builds until the tyre loses contact with the road surface, making it impossible to steer or brake.

What do the scores on tyre labels mean?

Since 2012, car tyres have been given an official score from A to G for fuel economy, wet braking and noise – like the fuel efficiency rating for your fridge. These are based on standard tests that allow you to compare general performance from one tyre to another.

Which tyres are best?

Each tyre below has been through a range of tests to assess their performance in wet and dry conditions, so you can find one with the right characteristics to suit you. The scores are given as percentages, to show how close the results were. The best in each category scores 100%. The nearer a score is to this figure, the smaller the performance difference. We’ve assessed common 225/45 R17 tyres but all are available in different sizes.

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The best car tyres you can buy

1. Continental PremiumContact 6: The best tyre for all-round performance

Price: £94 | Buy now from Blackcircles 

No tyre excels in every type of test because characteristics that make them strong in some areas generally lead to weak points in others.

This Continental comes close, though, thanks to excellent performance in dry and wet conditions. Its grip in corners makes a car feel sharper and more agile, making it the best tyre on test for wet and dry handling.

It was a whisker away from being the best on test for wet braking, while braking performance in the dry was respectable too, and it wasn’t far off the best when it came to the noise test.

In deeper water, the tyre was a little more susceptible to aquaplaning in corners than most rivals, and fuel economy was only average.

Buy now from Blackcircles 

Key results – Dry braking 96.2% (5th best on test); Dry handling 100% (=1st); Wet braking 99.5% (2nd); Wet handling 100% (1st); Fuel economy 81.1% (4th); Interior noise 98.8% (3rd)

2. Dunlop Sport Maxx RT2: The best tyre for driving in heavy rain

Price: £84 | Buy now from Blackcircles

For excellent performance in wet weather, look no further than this Dunlop tyre, which was one of the best at resisting aquaplaning. On a sodden test track, through deep water, this Sport Maxx was better at keeping in contact with the tarmac – keeping the driver in full control of the car – than most rivals.

It performed well in more conventional, less torrential wet weather too, coming close to matching the best on test inwet cornering and braking assessments.

The tyre’s strength in the wet comes at the expense of ultimate performance in the dry. It’s no also-ran, recording respectable results for cornering and braking in dry conditions, but not quite at the level of the best.

Buy now from Blackcircles

Key results – Dry braking 95.6% (7th best on test); Dry handling 99% (7th); Wet braking 98.1% (4th); Wet handling 97.9% (=3rd); Fuel economy 82.7% (4th); Interior noise 99.9% (2nd)

3. Michelin Pilot Sport 4: The best tyre for fast cornering

Price: £94 | Buy now from Blackcircles

This Michelin tyre excels in the dry. The grip and stability it provides in corners meant that it achieved the fastest lap time on a dry test track, making it the best tyre for dry handling.

It switches direction sharply – if not quite as well as the Continental – and braking performance is impressive too, in the wet and dry.

On paper, the tyre is a top performer in the wet. It was the best at resisting aquaplaning when travelling in a straight line, and was within touching distance of the best for cornering in the wet too. However, from behind the wheel, you can sense grip dropping away in tightening corners.

If fuel economy and quietness are your priorities, then this is not the tyre to choose. It’s expensive too.

Buy now from Blackcircles

Key results – Dry braking 98.40% (3rd best on test); Dry handling 100% (=1st) Wet braking 99.2% (3rd) Wet handling 97.7% (6th) Fuel economy 79.4% (7th) Interior noise 95.4% (9th)

4. Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3: The best tyre for all-round performance and reasonable fuel economy

Price: £84 | Buy now from Blackcircles 

The name of this tyre alone makes it sounds as if it’s on the cutting edge of performance, even if the results don’t quite live up to that billing.

It’s fairly close to the best in test for most of the categories tested, delivering good all-round performance without shining in any area.

Fuel economy and noise results were respectable, while grip and stability were best in the dry. There were mixed results in wet conditions, though. The Goodyear is one of the best tyres at resisting aquaplaning in corners. Grip, however, is diminished when it rains, and it’s close to the bottom of the pack for wet cornering and handling, if not by an enormous margin.

Buy now from Blackcircles 

Key results: Dry braking 96% (6th best on test); Dry handling 99.3% (5th); Wet braking 94.5% (8th); Wet handling 96.7% (9th); Fuel economy 82.8% (3rd); Interior noise 98.2% (4th)

5. Falken Azenis FK510: The best tyre for sharp responses

Price: £81 | Buy now from Blackcircles 

On twisting roads, this Falken was one of the most responsive tyres, switching directly sharply, which improves safety, as well as making cars more fun to drive.

Although it was only sixth for dry handling, which measures cornering grip and stability, it was still close to the best on test. It was the same story in the wet too.

Braking performance in the dry was excellent, and the tyre required just 40cm more road to stop than the Pirelli, which was this test’s braking champion. Falken appears to have achieved its results by prioritising performance over fuel economy and noise, which were weak points.

Buy now from Blackcircles 

Key results: Dry braking 99.20% (2nd best on test); Dry handling 99.20% (6th); Wet braking 95.60% (7th); Wet handling 96.90% (8th); Fuel economy 81.70% (5th); Interior noise 95.10% (10th)

6. Pirelli P Zero: The best tyre for braking performance

Price: £104 | Buy now from Blackcircles

As the tyre supplier for Formula 1, Pirelli can transfer its high-performance knowhow into better tyres for your daily commute – at least in theory.

The tyres certainly have a price to match their pedigree, and some of the test results are exceptional too. The P Zero is the best tyre on test for braking, requiring the shortest distance to stop from 62mph in wet and dry conditions.

You may not ever find yourself trying to set a lap time around Silverstone, but the stability and grip offered by the tyre does allow for fast and secure cornering.

Less impressive is when the tyre encounters deep water: it was more likely to aquaplane than most rivals. Fuel economy, too, is far behind the best here.

Buy now from Blackcircles

Key results – Dry braking 100% (best on test); Dry handling 99.6% (4th); Wet braking 100% (1st); Wet handling 99.4% (2nd); Fuel economy 74.5% (10th); Interior noise 98% (5th)

7. Bridgestone Turanza T005: The best tyre for fuel economy

Price: £91 | Buy now from Blackcircles 

The energy lost by a tyre as it rolls along the ground is known as rolling resistance and it’s caused as the part of the tyre touching the road deforms slightly and flattens out.

Reducing this energy loss will improve your fuel consumption and this Bridgestone tyre excels in this respect, proving to be the most efficient tyre, which can reduce fuel use by around 3%, compared with the next best tyre.

This does come with some compromises too – most notably in braking performance, where it needs two metres more road than the best-on-test Pirelli in the dry, and five metres in the wet. Cornering performance is particularly affected in the dry, where the tyre isn’t as sharp to respond to steering inputs as most rivals, but it’s closer to rivals on wet roads.

Buy now from Blackcircles 

Key results – Dry braking 94.9% (9th best on test); Dry handling 97.9% (9th); Wet braking 88.4% (9th); Wet handling 97.8% (5th); Fuel economy 100% (1st); Interior noise 97.6% (7th)

8. Hankook S1 evo2: Great handling, but fuel economy suffers

Price: £96 | Buy now from Blackcircles 

Poor fuel economy is the undoing of the Hankook tyre, which is less efficient than the majority of its rivals.

Strip that result out and you’re left with a tyre that delivers respectable performance in the wet and dry, with scores that are never far off the best in class.

Sharp responses and strong grip in the wet make it a particularly good tyre for rainy weather.

Buy now from Blackcircles 

Key results – Dry braking 96.8% (4th best on test); Dry handling 99.8% (3rd); Wet braking 96.8% (5th); Wet handling 97.9% (=3rd); Fuel economy 76.2% (9th); Interior noise 96.1% (8th)

9. Nokian zLine: The best budget tyre

Price: £83 | Buy now from Blackcircles

With a price that’s close to £80 and decent efficiency, which boosts fuel economy, this Nokian tyre helps to keep costs in check.

Unlike the most efficient Bridgestone, the Nokian also maintains respectable braking results. It also compared well to rivals in wet driving too, although grip and steering response is off the pace in the dry.

Buy now from Blackcircles

Key results – Dry braking 95% (8th best on test); Dry handling 97.7% (10th); Wet braking 96.1% (6th); Wet handling 97.7% (=6th); Fuel economy 85.2% (2nd) Interior noise 97.9% (6th)

10. Avon ZV7: Cheap and quiet, but it’s worth spending more if you can

Price: £73 | Buy now from Blackcircles

It’s the cheapest on test and the quietest too, but there’s not a great deal else to praise about this Avon tyre, which finished last in the majority of assessment areas.

Despite its official A rating for wet grip, our tests placed it behind tyres with lower ratings, and it needed seven metres more than the Pirelli to stop from 62mph.

In the dry, it just couldn’t get around the test track as quickly as the leading contenders.

Buy now from Blackcircles

Key results – Dry braking 89.8% (10th best on test); Dry handling 98% (8th); Wet braking 83.9% (10th); Wet handling 93.6% (10th); Fuel economy 79.2% (8th); Interior noise 100% (1st)

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