I’ve got this friend, let’s call him Chris. Chris is a car guy. He is actually the editor of one of my favorite automotive websites. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of modern cars as well as ones stretching back to at least the 1960s. He drives a 2008 Cadillac CTS with the upgraded 3.6 liter DI V6, providing 304 HP to move the rear-wheel drive sport sedan. I knew Chris would be shopping for an all-season tire to replace worn OEM tires. Still, I was surprised when I recently read a post on his Facebook wall stating that he was going to choose replacement tires based on a Consumer Reports ranking of tires. The magazine which ranks household appliances and their automotive equivalents is a fine choice for selecting transportation appliances and tires for them, but is hardly the place to start when shopping for enthusiast products of any type.
I was even more surprised when I followed his link to a description of the tire he was considering, and found that it was a Grand Touring tire… and that the tire’s name included the word “eco”. I’ll start by saying I’m sure there is nothing wrong with the Continental PureContact with EcoPlus Technology. At $172/tire on tirerack.com, it is by no means a cheap tire. Still, the “EcoPlus Technology” offers lower rolling resistance- not a quality that is synonymous with great handling. While it might be a great choice for upgrading the rubber on a family sedan, this didn’t sound to me like a suitable tire for a CTS driven by the editor of an automotive website, who has to live with his car whenever he is not behind the wheel of a press vehicle. I wanted to keep Chris from making a mistake he’d be living with for a few years (and I also wanted to give him a bit of a hard time), so I jumped in to tire research mode.
Passenger car tires are available in different “grades”: Passenger, Grand Touring, High Performance, and Ultra High Performance. According to information gleaned from Tire Rack’s site, Passenger (All-Season) tires provide “all-season versatility (including light snow traction) along with dependable tires that provide good wear and ride comfort.” Grand Touring tires provide “all-season versatility (including light snow traction) and responsive handling along with noise and ride comfort.” OK, so the Grand Touring adds some responsive handling and ride comfort. High Performance tires take it a step further, offering “all-season versatility (including light snow traction) to drive your sports coupe or sedan in all weather conditions.” Finally, Ultra High Performance tires are described as having “all-season versatility (including light snow traction) and are willing to trade some dry and wet traction and handling to get it.”
Reading those definitions, I’d put the CTS in the Sport Sedan category, and would select a High Performance tire. That said, I’ve gone through tire selection on my own cars, and have chosen lemons more than once, and have learned what I like. It turns out that although I’m only a moderately aggressive driver, I like tires with above-average roadholding and response, even if that means they don’t last more than 40,000 miles. I want crisp turn-in, and I don’t want the tires squealing for mercy every time I go around a corner or step on the gas. After having suffered through several sets of poorly-chosen Grand Touring tires on my 1995 and 2001 Saabs, I finally fell in love with Ultra High Performance (All-Season) tires when I replaced the OEM tires on my Volvo V70R. One drive in another R owner’s car with high quality tires (Michelin Pilot Sport A/S in that case) and I was sold. When my first set wore out after about 40,000 miles, I happily ordered up another set. Despite the Volvo’s heavy curb weight and front-heavy weight distribution, those UHP tires transformed the V70R into the sportwagon I still dream about.
All of my tire history, the good and the bad, flashed back to me when I read of Chris’ tentative choice to fit Grand Touring tires to his car. I had to do something, so I sent him a text message, and left him a long comment on his Facebook post. After chiding him for selecting tires based on a Consumer Reports ranking (after all, would he select a Camry just because it’s their top pick?), I reminded Chris that he selected his CTS (at least in part) for its performance (as is evidenced by the fact he chose the more powerful, optional engine), and that putting non-performance tires on his sport sedan would really handicap it. Would he really want to get in the car every day and have to put up with disappointing tires that detract from the overall level of performance rather than maintaining it (let alone enhancing it), just because he’d chosen tires based on low price, or too little research? My guess was no.
I suggested the Michelin Pilot Sport All-Season Plus which I’d loved on my Volvo. That got Chris back to the Tire Rack website, where he looked at that expensive ($233) tire and compared it to other comparable UHP A/S choices.
Happily, Chris ended up doing some additional research and ended up with a different Continental tire – the ExtremeContact DWS, an Ultra High Peformance All-Season tire. At $181/corner, the price difference is less than $10/corner compared to the Grand Touring tires he’d originally identified.
I took the time to type this up to demonstrate that even car guys don’t know everything. Having even a little bit of knowledge about tire terminology when it’s time to replace tires can help you make an informed decision. That’s important, because most people will have a set of tires on their car for between three and six years. With a car being a big investment, it pays dividends in driving pleasure to choose a tire that is suited to your car and to your driving style.
And now that Chris has been educated on tire selection, we can share some of that knowledge with our readers.
No promotional consideration of any kind was paid by the companies mentioned in this post.