Shop Smart: Michelin, Continental lead the way in all-season tires

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When it comes to Consumer Reports' tests of all-season and winter tires, Michelin and Continental lead the way. However, worthy tires were not difficult to find and many provided good overall performance.

In total, Consumer Reports tested 78 models of all-season and winter tires: 20 T-speed-rated (118 mph) all-season tires, 20 H-speed-rated (130 mph) and 22 V-speed-rated (149 mph) performance all-season tires, and 16 winter tires.

The Michelin Defender led all T-speed-rated all-season tires tested. It has excellent tread life and scores highly in three-season driving tests (dry braking, wet braking, handling and hydroplaning). It was followed closely by the Continental ProContact EcoPlus. These tires are well-suited for many older cars, minivans and small SUVs.

A number of newer vehicles come with H- and V-speed-rated all-season tires, which Consumer Reports categorizes as performance all-season tires. In the performance all-season H-speed-rated category, the Michelin Primacy MXV4 was its top-rated model with the Continental PureContact close behind. The Michelin performed well in most weather tests, offers a comfortable, quiet ride and has low rolling resistance. The Continental was impressive in the wet-braking test and has a good balance of all-weather performance and tread life.

Another Continental PureContact model led the performance all-season V-speed-rated group, followed closely by the Pirelli Cinturato P7 All Season. The Continental is an all-around good performer. The Pirelli gets top marks for handling, but its tread-life score was just fair.

Almost all of the winter tires proved excellent at snow traction, and most were good to excellent at ice braking. Winter tires are desirable in places with moderate to severe snow and ice conditions. Michelin's X-Ice Xi3 and Xi2 tied for the lead in Consumer Reports' test of 16 winter tire models. The Xi3's excellent rolling resistance set it apart, but the similar Xi2 performed better in handling.

Consumer Reports tests each tire for the following: wet, dry and ice braking; handling; hydroplaning; snow traction; ride comfort; noise; rolling resistance; and tread life to determine an overall score. All tires tested were size P215/60R16 to fit the test car, a Chevrolet Cruze. Consumer Reports expects that other sizes of the same tires would provide similar performance.

Consumer Reports offers the following advice:

• Buy only the best. Investing in better tires can give you a wider margin of safety when driving.

• Stick with the speed rating. T-speed-rated tires are made to sustain a maximum speed of up to 118 mph, and H- and V-speed-rated tires are designed to withstand 130 and 149 mph, respectively. For the typical driver, such speeds might seem outlandish, but speed ratings also reflect how well a tire dissipates heat, which affects overall quality and durability.

• All-season tires are the best choice for year-round traction, long tread life, and a comfortable ride. But they often lack the precise cornering grip and handling of performance all-season tires.

• Performance all-season tires are the best choice for improved handling and cornering grip, compared with standard all-season tires, without giving up too much comfort and wear. But many have lower tread-wear warranties.

• Winter tires are the best choice for those who need maximum traction on ice and snow, particularly where winters are severe. But fast tread wear and less wet and dry traction limit them to winter use only.

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Consumer Reports: www.consumerreports.org


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