'Performance' Tires Are Everywhere: Do They Still Stand Out? - Tire Review Magazine

‘Performance’ Tires Are Everywhere: Do They Still Stand Out?

What is performance? A recent commercial by stalwart automakerMercedes-Benz asks the question – and then sets about answering it ascompletely as 30 seconds of prime-time television can.  

Sparing their hyperbole, arguably performance is action – it is doing.Whether something is doing well is an altogether different point.  

Tiremakers develop what they term “high performance” and “ultra-highperformance” tires. I’ve even heard the term “hyper-performance.”  

That last one aside, the definition of what a high performance orultra-high performance tire is, and what it isn’t, is serious business.It is also something that can trip up uneducated consumers. (Whodoesn’t want the absolute best performing tire for their car? No one,that’s who.)

But somewhere along the line, the word “performance” became synonymouswith “fast” and “racy” and ultimately the word became an adjective – asuperlative – and readily chucked about by the marketing pros chargedwith labeling their company’s products.  

However, as automakers tune suspensions, bring exotic materials to bearand make cars more like tanks, tiremakers have had to stay one stepahead, providing OEMs with tires that augment a suspension’s abilities– and about a dozen other things like treadwear, fuel efficiency,weight, etc.

As HP/UHP tires become more and more prevalent, memories of a time when a high performance tire was a rarity come to mind.  
Hot wheels, at least in its day, a 1990 Pontiac Firebird  like the one owned by my pal Ricky  was the epitome of high performance.
When I was in high school (lo, those many years ago), there were alwaysone or two guys with a “cool” car (read: sporty, fast, loud, fast – didI say fast?). I remember a kid named Punka with his canary yellowPontiac Firebird, or Ricky, whose insurance company-owning dad boughthim a brand new 1990 Firebird.

Both of these guys were given the golden keys to driving pleasure whenthey were 16 (in fact, our town was so small that Punka was driving hiscar well before his 16th birthday, but I’m sure any statute oflimitations has expired by now). Most of the rest of us pined overtheir glorious sheet metal and purring power plants and hoped for a daywhen we would have enough dough to deliver us from our family sedan orwagon.

Until that time, we augmented our milquetoast rides with white lettertires (racy!) and Cherry Bomb mufflers (loud!). That was “performance”– at least to us.

One of my good friends had the greatest non-performance car of all time– a 1970s era Chrysler Newport. A year older than me, this guy andanother friend would pick me up in the “Battlestar Gallactica.”Underpowered even with a 318-cubic-inch V8, it was plush and in norush.  

The best thing about it, though, was the bitchin’ set of white letter“performance” tires he installed. A giant white car with white lettertires, riding on the bump stops with six growing teenagers aboard. Isay “aboard” because this truly was a mega-yacht with absolutely nosporting abilities, no matter what our sporting intentions were – evenwith the cool tires.

In our minds, no one could touch Joe’s Chrysler Newport. It was abeast. Sure, he may have shortened the stopping distances with the newtires, and the barge may have come about with more aplomb than usualfor an ocean liner, but the fact of the matter was his was no musclecar – and our high performance aspirations were no match for the car’slow performance tossability.  

Nowadays, that big Chrysler’s heir apparent has no trouble being“chucked about,” and wears HP tires that it can actually use. There isno arguing with a Hemi 300C, and if only we had that kind of power,stability and styling in 1990, we could have been contenders!

Performance Indicators
The point is that today we seem to be at a point where tires that domany things well – sometimes exceedingly so – are classified as“performance” tires. Even when, in fact, one could parse and make theargument that all tires are performance tires – it’s just that someperform better than others. It is these high performance and ultra-highperformance tires that really have turned the industry on its ear.  

The fact is, today’s tires stop better, have better wet and drytraction and deliver better handling and stability than before. It’s nosecret that automakers fit these HP and UHP tires to many vehiclestoday, even those one might not classify as “performance cars.” OE orreplacement, HP/UHP tires are making the rounds and are appearing onfamily sedans, wagons and crossovers, too.

There was a time when a set of tires might cost $200-$300, but that hasincreased exponentially. The days of accepted levels of NVH (noise,vibration and harshness) are over. According to safercar.gov, consumersare more interested than ever before in their tire’s performance. Atire’s temperature, treadwear and traction are often researched by theconsumer, and thanks to the Internet and UTQG, consumers can learn justwhat their tire can, and can’t, do.  

Upcoming labeling regulations – fuel economy, treadwear and “safety” –will allow consumers to make more inform­ed judgments on theperformance pot­ential of the tire they are considering.  

Temperature grades are an indication of a tire’s resistance to heat andare relative to a tire’s wear rate. Sustained high temperature (forexample, driving long distances in hot weather) can cause a tire todeteriorate, leading to blowouts and tread separation.

From highest to lowest, a tire’s resistance to heat is graded as “A,”“B” or “C.” HP/UHP tires have a greater resistance to the effects ofheat, and as such, are an attractive alternative for OEMs looking foradded safety.  

Treadwear grades indicate a tire’s relative wear rate. The higher thetreadwear number, the longer it should take for the tread to wear. Intesting for treadwear ratings, a control tire is assigned a grade of100. Other tires are compared to the control tire. For example, a tiregrade of 200 should wear twice as long as the control tire.  

Of current tires: 15% are rated below 200, 25% are rated 201 – 300, 32%are rated 301 – 400, 20% are rated 401 – 500, 6% are rated 501 – 600,and just 2% are rated above 600.

Traction is also graded, and measures a tire’s ability to stop on wetpavement. A higher graded tire should allow a car to stop on wet roadsin a shorter distance than a tire with a lower grade. Traction isgraded from highest to lowest as “AA,” “A,” “B” and “C.”

Of current tires: 3% are rated “AA,” 75% are rated “A,” 22% are rated “B,” and only one line of tires is rated “C.”

What does this all mean? By and large, most of the tires on the markettoday are performers – and not just in terms of definition.

Today, we have the best possible mix of performance from tires and ourcars, and consumer education is key to serviceability and replacement.They are doing it.

No longer are a car’s sporting intentions advertised only by whiteletter tires, but by the tiny letters and numbers coded on eachsidewall to ensure the next group of unruly teenagers has everypossible advantage when plodding along in their family carhand-me-downs.

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