Friends Don’t Let Friends Put Lousy Tires On Nice Cars

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.

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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10 Comments

  1. Thanks to Kevin (and Michael Karesh of TrueDelta.com) for helping me with the tire-selection process. I was embarrassed to admit my ignorance of tires, considering their importance in the handling, economy, and safety of your car.

    In my defense, I believe that this is the first set of tires I have ever purchased for a vehicle that wasn’t just an identical match of the OEM tires. The OEM Michelin MXM4 all-seasons were just too expensive to me for what they were (they lasted just over 40,000 miles). I’m looking forward to installing my new tires next week.

  2. Congrats, Chris and
    kudos, Kevin, for keeping a friend SAFE! as well as preserving the CTS’s character.

  3. I agree 100% with the intent of the article. Selecting the “right” tires for the desired attributes and basic character of the car is very important and best not to be left to a simple scoring system. I researched the replacement tires for my car to death before I settled on the same Continental Extreme Contact DWS for my 2008 Ford Fusion. Having lived with them for the last 15k miles I have to say I made a mistake.

    While the Fusion is not sport sedan I do find the V-6 engine and chassis to perform nicely for a family car and it did admirably with the OEM Michelin all seasons (I think they were the MXM4s as well). Yes, they were too expensive to put on again after 35k miles but they held the road well and did not give the feeling that the sidewall was about to fall over like the Contis do on off ramp corners. While the ride is a little smoother on great roads with the Contis at the OEM level of 34 pounds, I have to pump it up about 6 -7 pounds more to get some solid handling around little off ramp curves. When I do that I get a pretty hard ride over some of our suburban streets with horizontal cracks.

    Long story short, if I had to do it over again I would go for summer high performance tires and just throw some Blizzaks on for our Colorado winters. A bit more cost overall but with the summer tires on for most of the year, I suspect it might be a lot more satisfying.

  4. I agree that tire selection can affect handling, but you did miss the bet in pricing. A high performance tire will have much less tread life thus requiring replacement about twice as often as the other tire mentioned. Therefore the cost difference is not $10 but more like $180 per tire. All tire buying requires a lot of compromises to arrive at the tire best suited for the individual. I move in different directions with respect to tires for my Jag as for my HHR or my Kia Optima Turbo (which I find extremely pleasing so far). Your discussion leaves out the real costs, a sad oversight.

  5. I would clarify that the tire performance categories you mention in the post are all under All-Season. An actual High Performance or Ultra-High Performance tire should not be driven under 45 degrees F, let alone on snow. A CTS owned by a car guy should have actual High Performance tires on from April to November, and Winters on from December to March. A rear wheel drive car drives much better in snow with Winter tires on in my opinion.

    I feel All Season tires are lousy no matter the sub-category.

  6. Greg, while I agree with you for the most part, a big consideration is where and how a car is driven. I am a car guy and I drive a sport sedan. But 99% of my driving is on the highway where I don’t need the poor treadwear and excellent grip of a high performance summer tire. Conversely, in the past five winters I’ve owned my CTS, I have had only one or two occasions where I wished I had snow tires. It just doesn’t snow all that often where I live in Pennsylvania.

    Good snow tires are awesome in winter, though! Thanks for the comment.

  7. The Conti PureContact, while a Grand Touring tire, is available in H or V performance rating (the V is just a few $ more).

    I have the V rated on my Audi TT and they are great tires… better than the OEMs imho. GT tag or not (they’re designed to fit in between the Pro Contact GT and the Extreme DWS Ultra Performance) this is very much a fine, performance All Season tire.

  8. Friends don’t give friends lousy advice, and I think you did here.

    It is never one type fits all, or that one type is always better, especially with tires. Some tire types are best suited for certain vehicles and chassis dynamics. On a Volvo R or other HP sports sedan with wheels and suspensions tuned for them, a UHP or max performance summer-only tire can be optimal. But on a chassis tuned for a more comfortable or balanced ride, or where the anticipated roads are less than ideal, such a tire can be a clear mismatch.

    The PureContact is hardly “lousy”. It is an excellent, high-quality tire (on par with the Michelin MXV4, which itself is better than many “HP” tires), and offers superior comfort and NVH characteristics that a UHP tire cannot. Some owners in fact prefer it over the ExtremeContact line as a more balanced product. The PureContact is a good choice on that Caddy, perhaps a better overall choice than the Michelin PS or ExtremeContact you were touting.

    All tires are a compromise. For most vehicles, on average roads with average families and drivers, a GT tire is a better overall balance of virtues. Don’t be so quick to knock them. I ran a “lousy” GT tire on our Volvo 855 for years (the Michelin MXV4), and it was a better real world fit than “higher performance” rubber, which performed only marginally better, but with unacceptable NVH (and effective service life) in return.

    FWIW, I’ve driven on all the tires you mentioned, and I’ve owned several P2 Volvo Rs as well. This IS a car that can make the most of an UHP design. For that vehicle, on 18″ pegs, we ran Pilot Sport A/S on them from delivery, and they were excellent to the very end, with little of the tramlining that can plague this car. I’ve also ran the original ExtremeContact on it, and it was a more comfortable but less precise tire, but far superior in the snow. Right now, it runs on RE970s, which is also an excellent overall UHP A/S tire.

    But I would never consider any of these higher-strung UHP tires for our 855 or my wife’s TDI . . . or for a plain-jane CTS for that matter. A top-rated GT tire is just the better choice on those vehicles.

    The better advice is to buy a QUALITY, well-regarded tire matched to the vehicle, and that choice is independent of the performance grade it happens to be tagged with. And other concerns, such as how easy a tire is to set and maintain balance, and how well does the tire ride with 20 or 25,000 miles on it (and many UHP tires don’t), are important factors as well.

  9. Hi ,
    I am writing from Dubai UAE about my Cadillac CTS 3.6 l 2008

    my car is due for 160 k service.I have been doing all my services with agency till date though it was very expensive because of the high labor charges.Every little work was done with agency including AC.

    I hear a noise from rear wheel also for the past 2 months. Suspected wheel bearing problem though im not sure.

    checked with agency and they doubt noise can be from the tires.

    I have changed OEM continental tires with Falken after a kerb hit about an year back(both rear tires)-OEM conti tires was not available at that time in short notice and I had to go for cheap Falken’s,bcos I was running on spare tires.

    tried swapping falken tires to front today to monitor the same.

    noise is still there.think its the tires

    what do you recommend

    please help

  10. Steve is right! Ha ha ha! The Conti-Extreme Contact DWS actually has softer side wall than the Conti-PureContact H rated. I have been researching for a new tires and came across a lot of complains from car forums that the Extreme Contact DWS tends to have that soft sidewall when you turn hard. This makes sense bec. this tire has a better winter handling capabilities than the Conti-Purecontact with Ecoplus. That means it has a softer thread compound than the Purecontact. I end up ordering a 235/55/17 99H Conti PureContact w/ Eco plus. This thing weighs only 23IBS, though the DWS is only around 22Ibs.

    The Conti PureContact has a UTQG rating of 700AA vs the Conti Extreme UTQG rating of 540AA. Chris, sometimes, don’t let your lousy friend choose your tires. ha ha ha!

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