Best car tyres: evo performance tyre test

This year we put the most popular 19-inch performance tyre, the 235/35 R19, through evo’s uniquely demanding test regime

It’s the turn of the 19-inch Ultra High Performance (UHP) tyre this year, in the best-selling 235/35 R19 size, a size that’s the most popular partly because it’s used by many of today’s high performance hatchbacks.

Most of the premium tyre brands are represented in our test, including Goodyear with its all-new Eagle F1 SuperSport, the notable exception being Bridgestone, which has a new Potenza set for launch in 2021. Of the other absentees, Yokohama couldn’t meet our request in time due to Covid-19 related staff layoffs, Hankook, Toyo and Falken all have revised tyres on the way, and Maxxis, which we included unofficially in last year’s test of 18-inch UHP tyres, unfortunately did not have any stock for this test. 

As always in the evo test, the results are decided in part by objective testing and in part subjective. A tyre that delivers good numbers doesn’t necessarily feel good beneath you, and the reverse can also be true, so we rate them all for steering feel and feedback, for the confidence they inspire on track, and how refined and responsive they are in a general driving environment too. In this way we aim to provide a full and rounded view of each tyre to better inform your next purchase.

The car

Once again, test car duties were ably filled by the Volkswagen Golf GTI, in this instance a Mk7.5 Performance version, with 242bhp and, more pertinently, a solid 273lb ft of torque from just 1600rpm, sent through the front wheels via a seven-speed DSG gearbox. As ever, the GTI provides a consistent and feelsome platform that can exploit a tyre’s ability to the full, wet or dry, but equally will expose any weakness, whether it’s lack of traction or grip, poor balance or vague feedback. Helping to ensure the required consistency are supportive seats, air conditioning and durable brakes. 

The track

Covid-19 travel restrictions demanded a different approach this year but one that still gave excellent results. Objective tests such as wet and dry braking and aquaplaning were carried out, as they normally would be, by Continental staff at Continental’s Hannover test track. The difference is that subjective testing was carried out in the UK, at the MIRA proving ground, with the support of Continental UK staff and facilities on site. So the wet and dry handling tests, lap timing and subjective assessments, and the road route, were carried out by evo here in the UK. 

The tyres

Wet handling

We chose a relatively short but challenging lap on the MIRA wet handling circuit. The sprinkler-fed circuit is quite narrow, demanding accuracy, and throws a couple of transitions into the mix, plus a trailing-throttle cresting corner and a long, large-diameter circle that leads onto the longest straight. 

The Pirelli was the star turn here, almost a second faster than the next best and subjectively head and shoulders above the rest too. The Pirelli offers the best of everything, with a strong sense of grip and a very secure balance, so you can push the very grippy and decisive front end and carry speed without the risk of the rear getting loose. Fast and secure, it was in a different league to everything else. 

Fifth on lap time but second subjectively was the Dunlop, which also offered good bite and a good feeling of grip on the slick surface. It was a little more willing to move the back end to help decisive turn-in, but this never developed into anything more and so was exploitable, while traction was superb. A confidence-inspiring tyre. 

The Nokian and Goodyear were equal second fastest but of the pair the Nokian was preferred subjectively, impressing with its turn-in grip and stable balance. It offered great traction, just needing a moment longer to get straight on corner exits compared with the Pirelli. The Goodyear also offered good traction, carried speed well and gave better feedback through the wheel, but felt more delicately balanced, the front and rear feeling on tip-toe at the limit. 

Slowest by a significant margin was the Continental, which was at odds with how it felt, with good turn-in aided by an exploitable rear that would slip a little but not go too far. However, it had poor traction out of corners, needing to be almost straight before it would take power. 

Sixth fastest and sixth subjectively was the Vredestein. An overly tactile and noisy tyre even on the wet surface, it was nonetheless effective, offering good traction and turn-in and a stable feel in the tricky transitions. On lap time, the Michelin was fourth fastest, just a tenth behind the Nokian and Goodyear. It offered stability under braking, sharp turn-in and excellent traction, but was least well rated subjectively because while the front end was hooked up the rear couldn’t keep up; it felt lightly loaded and loose at crucial points, giving the car a nervous feel. 

Wet handling - lap time

TyreSeconds%
Pirelli46.0100
Goodyear46.798.5
Nokian46.798.5
Michelin46.898.3
Dunlop47.297.4
Vredestein48.095.8
Continental48.594.8

Wet handling - subjective

TyreScore%
Pirelli62.0100
Dunlop58.594.4
Nokian56.591.1
Continental56.090.3
Goodyear55.589.5
Vredestein55.088.7
Michelin54.587.9

Wet circle

The closely matched top three here were also in the top four on the wet handling circuit. On a wetted asphalt surface with an inner diameter just short of 70m, the Michelin generated the highest lateral G, lapping in 12.39sec. This put it fractionally ahead of the Pirelli and Goodyear, which were tied on 12.42sec. There was then a step to the Dunlop and Nokian, tied on 12.54sec, and then came the Continental on 12.60sec. Slowest of all was the Vredestein, trailing the Continental by more than a tenth of a second.

TyreSeconds%
Michelin12.39100
Goodyear12.4299.7
Pirelli12.4299.7
Dunlop12.5498.8
Nokian12.5498.8
Continental12.6098.3
Vredestein12.7197.5

Braking and rolling resistance

Full anti-lock stops reveal A tyre’s ultimate performance in the crucial braking tests, stopping in a straight line from 80kph (50mph) in the wet, and from 100kph (62mph) in the dry. Having set the benchmark on the wet circle, the Michelin topped the table in wet braking and did the same in the dry too. In the wet it stopped in 26m dead, a significant 1.7m better than the next tyre, the Continental. In the dry, it stopped in 33.6m, this time just a fraction (0.2m) ahead of the next best, which was again the Continental. 

A close third in the wet was the Goodyear, 0.3m beyond the second-placed Continental, with the Pirelli in fourth with a further 0.7m. The Pirelli and Goodyear swapped places in the dry, stopping 0.5m and 1.1m after the standard-setting Michelin respectively. 

The Nokian finished fifth in both the wet and the dry tests, off the pace by 2.8m in the former and 1.9m in the latter. Lower ranking in both tests was the Vredestein, which took 3.6m longer to stop than the Michelin in the wet, and 2.5m more in the dry. However, it was the Dunlop that took longest to stop in the wet, a full car length more than the Michelin. It was sixth in the dry.  

Since 2012 all new tyres have come with a rolling resistance rating, from A (best) through to G (worst), the difference in fuel economy between these bookends being 0.5 litres per 100km. Independent testing doesn’t always correlate to the stated rating, however, and here we see the Continental, which is rated E, outperforming our C-rated tyres – the Dunlop, Michelin and Nokian. The rest are rated E, though the Goodyear generates appreciably less rolling resistance than the last-placed Pirelli.

Wet braking

TyreMetres%
Michelin26.0100
Continental 27.793.9
Goodyear28.092.9
Pirelli28.790.6
Nokian28.890.3
Vredestein29.687.8
Dunlop30.186.4

Dry braking

TyreMetres%
Michelin33.6100
Continental33.899.4
Pirelli34.198.5
Goodyear34.796.8
Nokian35.594.6
Dunlop35.694.4
Vredestein36.193.0

Rolling resistance

TyreCoefficient%
Continental0.831100
Dunlop0.84098.9
Michelin0.87395.2
Nokian0.89593.0
Goodyear0.91790.6
Vredestein0.97785.1
Pirelli1.01781.7

Aquaplaning

Few driving experiences leave you feeling as helpless as aquaplaning. When a tyre can no longer clear the water beneath it, it loses contact with the asphalt, taking your braking and steering control with it. We test aquaplaning resistance in both a straight line and in cornering. In the straight-line test we measure the maximum speed a tyre can attain in 9mm of water before it overspeeds by 15 per cent, and in the curved test we measure the average residual lateral acceleration generated in 5mm of water tackled at a number of speeds between 60 and 90kph (37 and 56mph). 

The Dunlop was by far the best performer in both disciplines, achieving a best of 74.4kph in the straight-line test, with the next best, the Pirelli, over 2kph slower at the head of a tight-knit pack; the rest, from Michelin down to Continental, were covered by just 0.5kph.

The Dunlop was out front by a strong margin in the curved test too, with Pirelli again the best of the rest and Nokian and Vredestein close behind. Goodyear and Michelin were noticeably further off the pace this time, with Continental again trailing in last place.

Straight-line aquaplaning

TyreMax kph%
Dunlop74.4100
Pirelli72.297.0
Michelin72.096.8
Nokian71.896.5
Vredestein71.796.4
Goodyear71.696.2
Continental71.596.1

Curved aquaplaning

TyreLat acc m/s2%
Dunlop3.38100
Pirelli3.0891.1
Nokian3.0389.6
Vredestein3.0189.1
Goodyear2.8885.2
Michelin2.7380.8
Continental2.6478.1

Dry handling

The dry handling lap we fashioned on the handling circuit at MIRA was short but demanding. It started off slightly uphill, the flying start leading into a slight kink left at speed and then immediately into a long right, the left-right testing stability in transition, the right-hander with its 75m radius testing outright grip and balance. A short straight then led into a shallow right and the braking zone for a tight right-left chicane, testing turn-in and poise, and traction on the exit. The final leg was a gradually tightening, 80m-radius right-hander with a late, slightly downhill apex. 

Equal fastest were the Michelin and Pirelli on 52.15sec. As usual, all the tyres were close on time but quite different in feel, so although the seven tyres were covered by just one second, subjectively they scored very differently. The Pirelli matched the Michelin’s time but subjectively was rated fourth while the Michelin was rated best. The Michelin felt so keyed in to the surface, so grippy and stable, that it made the lap feel easy. It carried speed with confidence everywhere but especially into the first sequence, the left kink into the long right, which it rolled into with just a slight lift while some others needed a dab of brake. It was a positive, inspiring performance. 

No other tyre quite matched it but the Continental came closest, despite being a half second off its pace and fifth fastest. It too had great traction and carried speed into the first curve, and bolstered confidence with its positive response and very mild scrub in the faster turns. A great dry-road tyre. Third on lap time and third subjectively, the Goodyear felt like a tyre that wanted to be the Michelin, giving even crisper steering response and delivering great turn-in and traction. It just lacked the Michelin’s stability at the limit. 

The Pirelli made the speed and felt great on its first lap, matching the Michelin’s crisp transition, traction and stability, but it seemed to lose its edge quickly, its keenness softening noticeably on the second lap. The Nokian was sixth on lap time and equal fifth subjectively. It felt stable and calm, springing no surprises, but it felt rather woolly in feel and precision. 

The Dunlop was the slowest of the seven but equal fifth subjectively. It didn’t have the grip or positivity of the best, scrubbing wide and feeling imprecise and sounding a bit hard-pressed too. The Vredestein was equal third fastest with the Goodyear but lowest rated subjectively. It was a bit noisy and made everything seem like hard work. 

Dry handling - lap time

TyreSeconds%
Michelin52.15100
Pirelli52.15100
Goodyear52.5099.3
Vredestein52.5099.3
Continental52.9599.1
Nokian52.9598.5
Dunlop53.1098.2

Dry handling - subjective

TyreScore%
Michelin63100
Continental61.597.6
Goodyear59.093.7
Pirelli57.090
Dunlop56.088.9
Nokian56.088.9
Vredestein52.584.9

Road route

Our five-mile ‘road route’ was fashioned entirely within MIRA, which offers a huge variety of surface finishes, along with features such as expansion joints and raised and sunken manhole covers.

The Michelin was our favourite, giving steering with a wonderful sense of connection with lots of feedback. It wasn’t as crisp on centre at higher speeds and was reasonably loud on coarse surfaces, but it dealt well with sharp impacts. Close behind was the Continental, which wasn’t quite as connected or tactile at lower speeds but felt calm and more direct at higher speeds. It also had obvious noise on coarse surfaces but was able to smooth off abrupt inputs.

The Nokian put in a good performance too, taking the sting out of ridges and being reasonably quiet on all but the poorest surfaces, but its steering felt a little light at low speed and lacked feedback. So too did the Dunlop, and its ride was rather hit and miss, smoothing some impacts but wrong-footed by others. The Pirelli scored the same as the Dunlop, being impressively quiet on highly textured surfaces but noisy elsewhere, while its steering was softer in response than the best.

The Golf’s steering felt light and glassy on the Vredestein but improved with speed, while there was an underlying noise and it felt clumsy over some bumps. The Goodyear had great steering feedback but was noisy and tough over many of the surfaces.

TyreScore%
Michelin25100
Continental24.598.0
Nokian23.594.0
Dunlop22.590.0
Pirelli22.590.0
Vredestein22.088.0
Goodyear22.088.0

Results

7th Vredestein - 89.1

The Ultra Vorti is a decent tyre that showed well in the aquaplaning tests and set a good lap time on the dry circuit too. It was at or near the bottom of the table in many tests, though, and subjectively was noisy and lacked the connection of the best. It’s worth noting that an updated version is due in the new year.

Blackcircles says… Despite not scoring highly on tyre label scores for fuel efficiency, customers have overall been happy when buying this tyre. Positive reviews often comment on road holding and braking performance.

6th Dunlop - 93.0

By far the best in aquaplaning, the Sport Maxx RT2 was also highly rated on the wet handling circuit. It wasn’t as impressive in the dry though, being marginally the slowest on track and middle-ranked subjectively, and also marked down on the road for a lack of feel and refinement. 

Blackcircles says… With an overall review score of 4.6/5 on Blackcircles.com, over 1900 motorists have been impressed with the Dunlop, many commenting on its low noise and reliable grip.

5th Goodyear - 93.7

The Eagle F1 SuperSport had steering feel and feedback as good as the best, helping it achieve strong dry results. It delivered good objective wet performances too, but while its steering was outstanding its refinement was less good: on poor surfaces it was noisy and bumpy.  

Blackcircles says… Released last year, the Goodyear is a tyre that has impressed customers at Blackcircles.com, leading to a 4.7/5 overall review score. Excellent grip and handling are often cited.

4th Nokian - 94.4

A great result for the Powerproof. It’s not the most tactile or the sharpest steering here but it delivered strong performances in the wet, including equal second fastest on the wet track and good aquaplaning resistance. This it combines with decent everyday refinement and good value. 

Blackcircles says… The Nokian is not a tyre that we sell. As such we are unfortunately unable to provide any insight into its popularity with our customers.

3rd Pirelli - 95.0

The ‘PZ4’ P Zero was outstanding in the wet, setting the fastest time and feeling the most connected and grippy on the wet circuit, which it backed up with strong aquaplaning performances. It lacked the steering feel and feedback of the best but was good in the dry too, setting the equal fastest lap time. 

Blackcircles says… A new model, this latest P Zero is already gaining good reviews amongst our customers, with a score of 4.6/5. Positive reviews have highlighted excellent grip and wet performance.

2nd Continental - 95.6

The SportContact 6 lacked corner traction in the wet, as is reflected in its slowest wet handling time and bottom-of-the-table aquaplaning results, but it was good elsewhere and subjectively was highly rated in the dry and on the road route for its steering feel, calm poise and decent refinement. 

Blackcircles says… The Continental consistently scores well amongst our customers, with an overall rating of 4.6/5. Reviews regularly focus on the tyre’s good levels of grip, handling and performance.

1st Michelin - 96.5

The Pilot Sport 4 S was good in the wet and outstanding in the dry, setting the fastest dry lap time and topping our subjective ratings on track and on the road route, where it impressed with superb steering feel and feedback and ride comfort. A great tyre that will improve the feel of your performance car. 

Blackcircles says… This tyre is a firm favourite with our customers, over 1700 reviews resulting in an overall score of 4.7/5. Frequently praised are the tyre’s grip, comfort and handling performance.

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