Tires have come a long way in the last couple of decades, and it is mind-blowing how much all-season tires have improved. Remember the days when they were just "meh" in every situation? Yeah, those days are long gone. Today, it's tough to find a truly bad all-season tire from a reputable manufacturer.
However, even with these advancements, summer tires still hold the crown when it comes to performance in warm, sunny conditions. Why? Because Mother Nature's laws can't be fooled! Summer tires have fewer grooves and no sipes on their tread patterns, resulting in a larger contact area and more grip. No matter how much you soup up an all-season tire, it'll never outshine a summer tire on a hot day.
The catch? In North America, summer tires are as elusive as a yeti riding a unicorn. Thanks to the USA and Canada's diverse climates and weather conditions, many drivers play it safe with all-season tires. And who can blame them? It's like having a Swiss Army knife for your wheels.
This shift in demand has left the summer touring and grand-touring tire market gasping for air. Sure, you might find some at your local tire store, but they're likely older models with technology from way back when flip phones were cool. On the other hand, across the pond in Europe, touring and grand-touring summer tires reign supreme because they simply work better on those old, twisty roads.
But fear not, fellow summer tire enthusiasts! If you're determined to get the most out of your driving experience and leave all-season tires in your rearview mirror, I've got your back. I've compiled a list of the 10 best summer tires available in North America that'll make your car feel like it's dancing in the sunshine.
This list focuses exclusively on performance tires since, let's be honest, the touring and grand-touring options on the market just don't cut it. So, buckle up, and let's dive into the world of summer tires that'll put a big, fat grin on your face!
- In-Depth Reviews of the Best Summer Tires Available in 2023
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
In-Depth Reviews of the Best Summer Tires Available in 2023
Best Max-Performance Summer Tires
1. Continental ExtremeContact Sport 02
Continental recently updated its max-performance offering with the ExtremeContact Sport 02. It wasn't a particularly important update, as the previous tire was already at the top of the chain, but nice to see it nonetheless.
As a result, the upgrades this tire brings weren't immediately noticeable after I tried the new model for the first time. Right from the get-go, it provided the familiar linear steering that made it easy to position the car precisely where I wanted. It's a bit less responsive than other offerings, like the Bridgestone Potenza Sport, but that makes it a tad easier to navigate on the highway. Either way, I think you won't be disappointed with how this tire steers and communicates with you.
And you'll certainly be delighted with the grip on offer. Although a road-focused tire, the ExtremeContact Sport 02 provides almost as much grip as a track-focused tire. I really needed to be at my A-game to bring the tires past their limit, as the lateral grip was tremendous. And when I did that, the ExtremeContact Sport 02 was easy to control at the limit and very enjoyable. The braking performance was also very impressive, and I never thought there wasn't enough acceleration traction.
But what about the rain? Well, this is a Continental tire, so it's also outstanding on wet tarmac. Here the upgrades over the predecessor are more noticeable, meaning the ExtremeContact Sport 02 opened up the gap to its closest competitors even more.
With a set of these tires on your sports car, you can continue to enjoy your ride in the rain, as the traction it offers is incredible. The stopping distances are also among the shortest in the category, and you'll have no problem controlling your vehicle at the limit.
Although I was impressed by ExtremeContact Sport 02's athletic abilities, the tire left me wanting more when it came to comfort. The ride is generally good, as the tires ate small road imperfections, and I never felt them in the cabin.
However, the ExtremeContact Sport 02 isn't as smooth over potholes, and the high-pitched noise is noticeable on the highway. Still, considering all other qualities of the tire, it's really not too bad – there are far worse offenders in the category.
Finally, Continental now provides a 30,000-mile treadwear warranty on the ExtremeContact Sport 02. This is great news, as Michelin was the only company to provide a treadwear warranty on its max-performance summer tires, and I hope other manufacturers will soon join. Moreover, since the predecessor was so durable, I expect this tire to have a very long real-life treadlife.
- Outstanding lateral grip and exceptional braking on dry tarmac
- Best-in-class performance in rainy conditions, with strong braking and balanced handling
- Natural steering that strikes a good balance between responsiveness and linearity
- Reasonably comfortable on most road surfaces
- First Continental summer performance tire that comes with a treadwear warranty
- Treadlife should be excellent (though it's too early to tell)
- Noticeable high-pitched noise on the highway
- Unsettled ride over sharp and deep road imperfections
2. Bridgestone Potenza Sport
Although the ExtremeContact Sport 02 is overall a better tire, as it's slightly more comfortable and comes with a treadwear warranty, I still prefer the Bridgestone Potenza Sport behind the wheel.
When I first tried it, I thought that this was how a performance tire should feel – very quick to react but never twitchy. The steering of the Potenza Sport is very enjoyable and always puts a smile on my face, especially on twisty roads.
And the great news is that the sweet steering is accompanied by an exceptionally high lateral grip. You can really push the Potenza Sport hard, and it will still stick to the road, almost like you are driving on rails.
I was also impressed with the stability under braking, which is exceptional, and the stopping distances were also very short. And if you go too fast into a corner, Bridgestone's max-performance summer tire gives you time to react and correct your mistake.
The Potenza Sport is also an excellent rain tire, though it ultimately falls behind its closest rivals in braking distances. Still, I was only able to notice this on a closed course – in daily driving, the Potenza Sport is plenty capable. You can again push it hard in the corners, and it will not complain and it also remains stable when you apply more power. What's more, the stopping distances are still very short, and the tire feels very balanced at the limit.
There is a price to pay for the sharp responses of the Potenza Sport, though, and that's worse comfort. Bridgestone's model is noisier and harsher than its closest rivals, especially on rough roads. It also doesn't come with a treadwear warranty.
Nonetheless, if you are an enthusiast like me and want the best driving experience around, the Potenza Sport is perhaps the best choice in the category!
- Quick steering off-center that's also linear precise
- Exceptional lateral grip in dry conditions near a dedicated track tire
- Short stopping distances and great stability under braking on dry tarmac
- Excellent overall performance in wet conditions
- Balanced handling in dry and wet conditions
- Unsettled ride over repetitive impacts
- Noisy on the highway
3. Michelin Pilot Sport 4S
The Pilot Sport 4S is as easy to recommend as ice cream on a hot summer day. Although older than its direct premium competitors, Michelin's max-performance summer tire still impresses with the grip on offer but also with how comfortable it is.
I tried this tire on numerous vehicles, and it never ceased to impress me with its comfort qualities. It's a very quiet tire, even on the highway, and provides a smooth ride on every road you'll encounter. This took some sharpness of the steering, though – the Pilot Sport 4S isn't as enjoyable to drive on a twisty road as the Potenza Sport or ExtremeContact Sport 02.
There is no shortage of grip on offer, though. The Pilot Sport 4S offers exceptional lateral grip, meaning you can attack corners at very high speeds without worrying about losing stability. At the limit, you can also easily catch the slide in a very natural and progressive way. Moreover, the stopping distances are among the shortest in the category, and I never had problems with slipping during hard acceleration.
The Pilot Sport 4S is especially good in rainy conditions. I never felt like driving fast on a wet tarmac was dangerous with this tire, as it always provided exceptional traction. It also has excellent hydroplaning resistance, meaning its qualities remain intact in very heavy rain. Like on dry tarmac, you can easily catch the slide and make corrections thanks to the gradual loss of traction of the Pilot Sport 4S.
But perhaps the best thing about this tire is its treadlife. I have many friends that have these tires, and not one of them is dissatisfied with how long they last. People are easily getting 30,000+ miles of these tires, which is impressive for the category. Michelin also provides a class-leading 30,000-mile treadwear warranty for peace of mind.
- Exceptional lateral grip on dry tarmac
- Short stopping distances and excellent acceleration traction in dry conditions
- Balanced handling on wet tarmac and excellent overall traction
- The smoothest ride of any max-performance summer tire
- Not too noisy on the highway
- Longest treadlife in the category
- The only max-performance summer tire that comes with a treadwear warranty
- The steering feels a bit dull and slow to react
4. Pirelli P Zero (PZ4)
Pirelli's take on a max-performance summer tire is similar to Michelin's, as the P Zero (PZ4) feels similar behind the wheel to the Pilot Sport 4S. So, the steering feels a bit dull and unresponsive for a max-performance tire, though at least it's linear and progressive.
But as a result of that, the P Zero (PZ4) is a very smooth performance tire. I found that it glides over good roads without transmitting vibrations in the cabin, but more importantly, it also rides well on broken tarmac, handling repetitive impact like a champ. The lack of tread noise also impressed me, even at highway speeds.
However, what stunned me the most was the wet traction. With a set of these tires on your car, you'll almost not feel how slippery roads are when it rains. The lateral grip on a wet tarmac is exceptional – you really need to push the P Zero (PZ4) hard to get it to lose traction. The braking distances are also among the shortest in the category, and the tires progressively lose traction at the limit.
It's the same story on dry tarmac, where Pirelli's max-performance summer tire again impresses with its outstanding lateral grip and strong braking. The handling is also very balanced, and the P Zero (PZ4) always feels poised in the corners.
Unfortunately, Pirelli doesn't offer a treadwear warranty on the P Zero (PZ4), though owners are generally satisfied with the treadlife.
- Outstanding lateral grip and balanced handling on wet tarmac
- Excellent braking in the rain
- Natural handling and good behavior at the limit (dry conditions)
- Outstanding lateral grip on dry tarmac
- Short stopping distances in the dry
- Very smooth ride on every type of road
- Pretty quiet on the highway
- The steering could be more responsive
Best Extreme-Performance Summer Tires
5. Bridgestone Potenza RE-71RS
Want uncompromised performance on the road in a track-ready tire? Look no further than the Potenza RE-71RS. A successor to the tremendously popular RE-71R, Bridgestone's brand-new extreme-performance summer tire sets new benchmarks in the category when it comes to the overall abilities on the track.
I was astonished at how much grip the Potenza RE-71RS offers on the track. I tried it on a Mazda MX-5 Miata with stock suspension, and there was more traction than the car could handle. This tire has so much grip that you'll also need to upgrade your car so that it doesn't bottom out under hard cornering or braking, which would hurt the performance.
No, really, you need to readjust your thinking for the Potenza RE-71RS. The tire simply sticks to the road at corner entry, mid-corner, and corner exit and is very controllable at the limit – if you ever reach it. It's also tremendously good on damp roads, which again provides best-in-class grip and drivability. And unlike most extreme-performance summer tires, it doesn't need a lot of heat to give you the best possible traction.
Still, due to its minimal tread pattern, the Potenza RE-71RS suffers from hydroplaning in heavy rain. That's no different than its rivals, though, as most of them are prone to the issue. So, I suggest driving more slowly during heavy rain.
Also, don't expect this tire to be comfortable – the sidewalls are stiff to give you a better steering response, and the sticky compound produces noise. Again, no worse than the competition, but important to mention it nonetheless.
A very important part of any extreme-performance summer tire is the steering, and the Potenza RE-71RS nails it. Although not as quick as the previous model, the Potenza RE-71RS is still lightning fast compared to most tires, and more importantly, the steering is nicely-weighted, linear, and very precise. Oh, and unlike most of its rivals, it doesn't wear very fast when you push it on the track.
So, overall, the Potenza RE-71RS is the best track tire on this list, but one that you can also enjoy on the street.
- Class-leading lateral grip on dry tarmac
- Exceptional stopping power and stability under braking
- Outstanding acceleration traction on the corner exit
- Excellent grip on damp roads
- Responsive and linear steering
- Noisy and uncomfortable over bumps
- Hydroplaning is an issue in very heavy rain
6. Falken Azenis RT660
The Azenis RT660 is Falken's latest track-focused but still road-legal performance summer tire, and it's pretty outstanding. It's even more responsive to the driver's input than the Potenza RE-71RS, though the steering isn't as precise and might sometimes feel twitchy.
Still, the Azenis RT660 is the closest extreme-performance summer tire to the Potenza RE-71RS in terms of lateral grip. The Bridgestone tire might be a tad better, but you'll not be disappointed by Falken's offering. Moreover, I found that the stability under braking is outstanding, and the stopping distances are similar to its closest rival.
However, you definitely need to put heat into these tires to maximize grip – I struggled to keep the vehicle in line when the tires were cold.
The Falken Azenis RT660 is also great on damp roads, where it matches the competition. However, the traction quickly diminishes in heavy rain due to hydroplaning issues. Still, as I already said, this is similar to all other rivals, as these tires are designed to work in hot and dry environments.
As for comfort, expect a harsher ride than your OEM tires and more noise on the highway. In my tests, the Azenis RT660 wasn't very uncomfortable, and you can definitely live with it, but it's also not very plush, either.
One area where perhaps the Azenis RT660 is worse than the Potenza RE-71RS is tread wear, as it wears slightly faster on the track. Still, it's also cheaper, so that's to be expected.
- Immense lateral grip on dry roads
- Strong braking and excellent acceleration traction
- Super-quick steering response
- Outstanding stability under braking
- Excellent performance on damp tracks
- It needs heat to provide maximum grip
- Not very capable in heavy rain due to hydroplaning
- Harsh and noisy
7. Continental ExtremeContact Force
The ExtremeContact Force didn't match the Potenza RE-71RS and Azenis RT660 in outright traction in my testing. Regardless of that, though, it's by far the most enjoyable extreme-performance summer tire to drive.
I was very satisfied with how the ExtremeContact Force feels on the track – it's agile, playful, and very balanced, letting you push your sports car to the limit. Besides, the steering is super-precise, and the tires always let you know when they lose traction. This is the tire you'll definitely want to drive – it's communicative and agile.
However, it might not be the best option for competitive track days, as the lateral and longitudinal grip it offers is a hair behind its rivals. Again, I only discovered this on the track – you'll be more than satisfied with the grip on offer if you only drive on the street.
Besides, the ExtremeContact Force works great on damp roads, and it's slightly better than its rivals in rainy conditions. Still, it suffers from hydroplaning in heavy rain, just like any other extreme-performance summer tire. As for comfort, the ride is pretty good for the category, though noise is still an issue on the highway.
What impressed me the most about the ExtremeContact Force is that it doesn't wear very fast, especially when you push it hard on the track. This is similar to what other people are saying about Continental's latest extreme-performance summer tire, meaning you are getting more for the money in terms of long-term investment.
- Very balanced and playful handling
- Natural and quick steering that communicates with the driver
- Excellent lateral and longitudinal grip on dry roads
- Outstanding grip on damp tarmac
- Good wear performance
- Not very uncomfortable for an extreme-performance summer tire
- Lower dry grip than the class-leading tires
- Suffers from hydroplaning in heavy rain
- Noisy at higher speeds
8. Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 Connect (240)
The Pilot Sport Cup 2 is so ubiquitous on sports cars and supercars today that many enthusiasts take it for granted that it's the best performance tire out there.
However, the competition has caught up lately, and although still impressive, Michelin's extreme-performance summer tire can't compete in outright grip. Its handling balance is also too safe and doesn't encourage oversteer – in my hands, it felt less playful than the Potenza RE-71RS, for example. Still, it's super sharp and direct on the street, where it will probably spend most of its time.
As for grip, it has more of it than you probably need, but it's short of its rivals. That's especially true for its braking traction, which is lower, but the tires are also less stable than the direct competition. Unlike most of its rivals, though, the Pilot Sport Cup 2 Connect (240) doesn't need a lot of heat to provide maximum grip.
Also, the Pilot Sport Cup 2 Connect (240) is one of the best performers in rainy conditions in its category, with performance that exceeds what you might expect from an extreme-performance summer tire. Michelin's offering not only works excellently on damp roads, but I also found it has better hydroplaning resistance than its rivals.
I was also impressed by how comfortable it is, as the Pilot Sport Cup 2 Connect (240) is not too harsh over bumps and doesn't produce a lot of noise on the highway. Sure, it will be less comfortable than a max-performance summer tire, but pretty good for the category.
Finally, the Pilot Sport Cup 2 Connect (240) has an exceptional treadlife that few other extreme-performance summer tires can match. In my testing, the tires wore down only slightly after a day of extreme track driving, where some cheaper tires would probably lose chunks of the tread.
- Best-in-class traction in rainy conditions
- Strong grip on dry tarmac
- Excellent grip on damp roads
- Smooth and quiet ride (for an extreme-performance summer tire)
- Class-leading treadlife
- Lower grip than the class-leading tires
- Understeers at the limit
- Stability under braking is not as good as the class-leading tires
9. Dunlop Direzza ZIII
The Dunlop Direzza ZIII is one of the oldest tires in the extreme-performance summer category, but I couldn't tell that from my driving experience. I enjoyed my time behind the wheel, as the Direzza ZIII communicates well through the steering wheel and feels responsive and direct. The steering is also very linear and nicely weighted.
As for grip, it can't compete with the newer tires in the category, but it still provides more than enough to give you a good time on the track. It also works on damp roads, though I had issues with hydroplaning in heavy rain.
The biggest issue, though, is that the Direzza ZIII doesn't want to be pushed beyond its limit, where the grip deteriorates in a non-gradual way. Most drivers will probably never reach it since the Direzza ZIII offers so much grip, but if you are an experienced track driver, that's important to note.
Also, the Direzza ZIII can be uncomfortable and noisy on the street, though that's to be expected from such an extreme tire. Crucially, the Dunlop Direzza ZIII is known to have good treadlife, and it's not too expensive for the performance it offers.
- Sweet steering with a lot of feel and urgency
- Balanced handling
- Good overall grip on the track
- Excellent traction on damp tarmac
- Fair price for the performance you get
- Doesn't want to be pushed beyond the limit
- Issues with hydroplaning in heavy rain
- Slightly lower grip than its newer rivals
- Noisy on the street
Best Performance Summer Tires for SUVs
10. Michelin Pilot Sport 4 SUV
Michelin's street/sport SUV and truck summer tire plays perfectly well with any modern performance SUV. And the reason for that is not the way it drives – it's actually very civilized, with steering that doesn't feel as sharp or as communicative as its rivals.
But since SUVs and trucks aren't very responsive in the first place, other qualities of the Pilot Sport 4 SUV emerge as more important. For instance, this is probably the most comfortable performance tire for SUVs, as it glides well over bumps and never becomes noisy, even at higher speeds.
Moreover, it provides exceptional grip and traction, both on dry and wet tarmac. So, whether it rains or not, you can rely on the Pilot Sport 4 SUV to provide you with short stopping distances, high lateral grip, and excellent acceleration traction. In that sense, it's much better than any all-season tire for an SUV, especially in warmer conditions.
Overall, I am always impressed with the Pilot Sport 4 SUV, which I tried on multiple vehicles. It's a tire that doesn't put a big grin on my face, but then I remember that I drive an SUV and start to appreciate all the other qualities of the tire. Oh, and did I mention that it's the only model in its category that comes with a 30,000-mile treadwear warranty?
- Excellent lateral and longitudinal grip in dry conditions
- Balanced handling and exceptional grip in rainy conditions
- Very comfortable and quiet for a street/sport SUV summer tire
- Best-in-class treadlife and durability
- The only tire in its category with a treadwear warranty
- The steering feels a bit dull
- It might be expensive for some
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- When should I switch to summer tires?
Summer tires are designed to work in warm-to-hot climates. Although this depends on the category and model, it's generally accepted that you should switch to summer tires if the average daily temperature consistently stays above 45°F (7°C).
In those temperatures, summer tires will give you the most optimal performance, with strong traction on dry and wet surfaces. Below that, the rubber compound would become harder and less flexible, which limits grip and shortens the lifespan.
However, although many people discard summer tires in cold and dry weather, they aren't that bad in those conditions, actually. Although the differences will be smaller, a summer tire might still grip the road better than an all-season one at 32°F (0°C), provided the surface is dry. It will struggle in rainy conditions, though, and you'll have some very serious traction issues if snow falls.
But the real issue with very low temperatures is that they can damage the summer rubber compound and introduce cracking. This would make the tire unsafe to drive, as the material would lose its elasticity and traction properties. Hence, it's recommended to keep your summer tires stored at room temperature in dry areas, and that's especially true for performance tires.
- Can I use summer tires all year round?
Summer tires are not recommended for use in cold conditions, but thankfully, many of us don't experience below-freezing winter weather. So, if you live in an area where it never snows during the winter, and the temperature stays around 32°F (0°C), you might not need to replace your summer tires in the winter.
Still, for most drivers in the USA, and especially Canada, switching to winter tires is crucial for safety. A winter tire might not be as exciting to drive, but it will give you a much, much better grip on wet and snow-covered roads.
Now, switching between summer and winter tires is expensive and not very practical, which is why most people in North America don't bother doing that. But let me remind you that by doing this, you'll always get the best possible traction, regardless of the weather conditions outside. An all-season tire might be convenient, but it's also a compromise.
Also, by switching between two sets of tires, they will last longer, as you'll be sharing the load between both. So, it's not like you are paying double the price!
- What are the main differences between summer tires and all-season tires?
Summer tires are specifically designed to give you maximum grip in warm and hot conditions. They feature a harder and stickier tread compound, which is pliable in hot temperatures and gives an outstanding grip. Thanks to their tread pattern, they also tend to be quieter, particularly when you compare tires from the same category, i.e., touring all-season vs. touring summer tires.
Meanwhile, all-season tires are designed to work throughout the year, from hot summer days to freezing winter days. As such, they must compromise on one aspect to improve on the other. The result is that on the North American market, you'll find some milder all-season tires which work better in hot climates and more aggressive models (also called all-weather tires), which sacrifice dry grip for higher snow traction.
Interestingly, all-season tires are made from a harder compound, but one that stays more pliable in freezing conditions; because of that, all-season tires usually last longer. The sticky compound on summer tires usually wears out more quickly, and you'll get comparatively worse treadlife.
Due to that, manufacturers rarely give treadwear warranties on their summer tires, and that's true even for touring and grand-touring models. Meanwhile, almost every all-season tire currently available comes with a treadwear warranty.
- Are summer tires noisier than other tire types?
Although the popular opinion is that summer tires are noisier, that's because people in North America are comparing apples to oranges, i.e., touring all-season tires with performance summer tires. In that case, of course, the performance tire would be slightly noisier.
However, if you actually compare apples to apples, a summer tire will always be quieter. A quick look at the tread pattern of these tires will show you that they have fewer grooves and cuts, which reduces pattern noise.
And I can tell you this from experience – once I installed summer touring tires (Continental PremiumContact 7) on my Corolla Hatchback (I live in Europe), the car got immediately quieter when compared to the Michelin CrossClimates I had on before. Not to mention, the difference in grip is just night and day – the summer tire accelerates, brakes, and steers way better!
- How do summer tires perform in the rain?
You might've thought that thanks to the higher number of slits and grooves on the tread pattern, an all-season tire would perform better, but that's not the case. Sure, an all-season tire might dissipate more water, but the stickier compound on summer tires will still give you a better grip on wet roads.
See, summer tires today come with the common four circumferential grooves and multiple lateral grooves, which are more than enough to keep hydroplaning at bay. This leaves the duties to the tread compound, which in summer tires grips the surface better, and hence you'll get better rain traction.
The difference will be smaller in near-freezing temperatures, as the summer tire's compound would become harder and less sticky. So, if you live in an area where it rains frequently, a summer tire would be the best option by far!
- Are high-performance tires the same as summer tires?
High-performance tires are often summer tires, but not all summer tires are high-performance tires. Today, especially in North America, you can find more performance all-season tires than performance summer tires.
Performance summer tires come in many different classes, with ultra-high-performance and max-performance models aimed at road driving and extreme-performance tires aimed at track driving. You can even find track and competition models that are road-legal and track tires that are not road legal.
Meanwhile, performance all-season tires are almost exclusively designed for road use and are not intended for very hard driving on the track.
Although they are a dying breed in North America, summer tires will remain the best option for people who enjoy driving. Put simply, these tires provide the best possible performance in 8-9 months of the year and are safer overall than all-season tires.
After a short flirt with all-season tires, I went back to a summer/winter combo and will never come back. And if you are an enthusiast like me, I think you should opt for that combo, too. The tires I listed here are a great place to start, as they are all tested and proven on the track.
But, even if you don't find a model that fits your driving mojo, be sure to always purchase tires from reputable manufacturers. Tiremakers like Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental, and Pirelli spend significant sums on research and development, but also testing, which leads to superior products.
Also, it would really help if you purchase through our website, as we’ll earn a small commission. You are still getting the same price, yet it will help us produce excellent content in the future and give others advice on purchasing high-quality tires!
I’m Ivo Gievski, the content writer for Tireer. We built our website with over 15 years of experience and extensive research in the automotive and technology sectors. My dedication to delivering high-quality content is unwavering, and I strive to continuously hone my skills to stay ahead of industry trends and provide readers with informative, engaging, and valuable insights.