Tire Performance Categories Explained

A selection of different tires
Tup Wanders / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

Tire performance categories can be confusing. There are touring tires and performance tires, summer tires and winter tires. When it comes time to buy new ones, no doubt you'll want to know a few things, like the difference between UHP and grand touring, extreme and ultra performance, and even if max performance is something you should consider.

These are important considerations, because you want a tire that fits your car and driving style. You don't want to be conned into buying a more expensive tire when all you really need is something with a smooth ride that will get you to the store and back.

To help alleviate your confusion, here are some of the different types of tires you're likely to encounter. One thing to keep in mind is that although tires tend to fall into certain categories, sometimes there isn't a huge difference between, say, a low-end extreme performance tire and a high-end max performance tire.

Extreme Performance

Extreme-performance tires offer the highest level of street performance. What they lack in comfort and wet condition handling, they more than make up for with maximum dry-grip performance. While these are not specifically track tires, they are best used in situations where competition-level performance is needed. Using them for everyday short-trip driving is like using dynamite to kill flies.

This category includes: 

  • Bridgestone Potenza RE-11
  • Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec
  • Hankook Ventus R-S3

Max Performance

Max-performance tires provide high-speed handling, superior performance, and a somewhat better ride than extreme-performance tires, along with some good grip in wet conditions and resistance against hydroplaning. As with extreme-performance tires, these are not the best daily drivers.

This category includes:

  • Michelin Pilot Super Sport
  • Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position
  • Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT

Ultra High Performance for Summer Driving

The highest level of performance many street drivers will ever need, UHP summer tires are generally low-profile, high-steering, response monsters made for cornering the hottest cars at the hottest speeds. They will almost always carry “V” or higher speed ratings. Their wet conditions capabilities will be more toward the useless side.

This category includes:

Ultra High Performance for All-Season Driving

These tires are much the same as UHP summer tires, but with siping or other technologies added to enhance wet grip and hydroplaning resistance. Despite the all-season label, with the notable exception of the Conti DWS, these are not usually tires to be trusted in any kind of snow or ice.

This category includes:

High-Performance Summer

A slight step down from UHP tires, these are built for good performance and predictable handling at high speed, and provide good ride quality. Many OE tires, except for those on very high-performance cars, will fall into this category. HP tires are much more likely to carry “H” speed ratings.

This category includes:

  • Pirelli P6000
  • Yokohama ADVAN A680

High-Performance All-Season

These particular all-season tires are made for good performance, while adding in wet capabilities. As with most tires labeled “All-Season” they should not actually be trusted in any kind of real winter conditions.

This category includes:

Performance All-Season

These tires are generally designed for decent handling and good looks, along with somewhat upgraded ride quality.

This category includes:

  • BFGoodrich Radial T/A
  • Goodyear Eagle GT II

Grand-Touring Summer

Grand-touring tires are primarily designed for ride quality and fuel efficiency rather than pure performance and handling—although most will have good to acceptable levels of performance in that area. These tires will give you a smooth and sometimes even pillowy ride, and generally make for great daily-driver and road-trip tires. They are also almost always less expensive than their higher-performance cousins.

This category includes:

  • Michelin Primacy HP
  • Bridgestone Turanza ER30
  • Continental ContiPremiumContact 2

Grand-Touring All-Season

These tires feature substantially more gripping power in wet conditions, along with the smooth ride and low rolling resistance of their summer counterparts. Although many do have somewhat more light winter capability than UHP all-seasons, for example, most of them are still not winter-capable in any real sense.

This category includes:

Standard-Touring All-Season

These perform similarly to grand-touring tires but with higher aspect ratios, lower speed ratings, and lower prices.

This category includes:

  • Michelin Defender
  • Continental ProContact with EcoPlus Technology
  • Pirelli P4 Four Seasons
  • General Altimax RT
  • Bridgestone Turanza EL42

Passenger All-Season

These tires are generally lower in price and, hence, performance. On the other hand, passenger all-season tires also tend to be slightly more winter-capable.

This category includes:

  • Goodyear Assurance TripleTred All-Season
  • Michelin Harmony
  • Continental ContiEcoContact EP

Winter

Designed for cold temps and deeper snow, winter tires should be put on as soon as you can see your breath in the air and taken off again when you can't.

This category includes: