Best car tyres to buy 2021
If you need new tyres, our test reveals which are the safest and most efficient
Tyres; they’re easy to overlook but they are arguably the most important part of any car. They not only help to keep you safe but they affect your car’s fuel consumption and the level of refinement inside the cabin. That’s why it’s vital to know which are the safest, which are the best at improving fuel economy and which give the most comfortable ride.
Our annual tyre test aims to answer all of the above questions for you.
We chose the popular 205/55R16 tyre size as the most representative because it’s popular across a wide range of family cars. This size was last tested in 2017 and only one of them returned - the Dunlop. Tyre designs from well-known brands such as Michelin and Bridgestone went head-to-head with relative newcomers including Laufenn, a new brand from Hankook. Continental took victory the last time we tested this best-selling tyre size, so which has replaced it as a worthy winner?
The wet and dry handling sections of the test were carried out at the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) proving ground in Warwickshire, using our own drivers; this is where most leading tyre makers carry out their own tests, so we were definitely in the right to place to carry out this year’s test. Other elements of the test, meanwhile, including braking, aquaplaning and cabin noise, were carried out by research centre staff at Goodyear’s own test facilities in France and Luxembourg.
To ensure the test was fair, we asked each manufacturer to nominate their tyre design of choice before buying them ourselves from a wholesaler, as if we were a customer.
How we tested them
Each tyre was put through its paces while being subjected to various tests, in wet and dry conditions, including interior noise and rolling-resistance measurements that were also factored into the results. The scores were then compiled and equally weighted across the categories to ensure a fair conclusion was reached.
It’s not uncommon to experience an abrupt stop in traffic flow on a rain-soaked motorway, and that’s why it’s crucial to be confident that your car will stop promptly and safely should you need to. Of course, motorways aren’t the only place you need competent performance from your tyres, which is why we also found out how each tyre behaved while cornering on wet tarmac and when faced with shallow and deep water - similar to what you might experience on an A-road or while travelling on a country lane.
Our braking test at Mireval in France was measured from 50-12mph to eliminate any variations from ABS braking as the car came to a halt, and the average of several runs was taken.
Aquaplaning tests in deep water require the car to be driven with two tyres in water and two on tarmac, with recordings taken when the wheels in deep water are travelling 15% faster than those on firmer ground. Aquaplaning is also tested through a bend to measure lateral g-force, with gradually faster runs until all four wheels slide.
To test torrential weather handling we headed to MIRA’s wet handling circuit which loops around two circles, with fast direction changes and tight turns. Here, average lap times were used for the final results.
We used MIRA’s dry handling track to test the tyres’ performance in dry conditions, which includes plenty of long sweeping corners where tyre behaviour can be compared and weaknesses highlighted. It is designed to test a car and its tyres behaviour to the limit, and we again measured the average lap time after several attempts.
Braking tests were carried out on a huge expanse of flat tarmac at Bridgestone’s facility, with multiple stops from 62-0mph.
Unlike the mandatory EU tests that measure a tyre’s noise as it passes you, we instead measure noise inside the car - cabin noise, after all, is more relevant to most car buyers. To do this, microphones are placed either side of the driver’s headrest and readings are taken as the car coasts from 50-43mph over a coarse tarmac surface.
The amount of fuel consumed by your car is affected by the effort needed to turn the tyres, so rolling resistance is key to achieving low fuel consumption figures. We test two tyres and average the results, and as a general rule, a 5% increase in rolling resistance can result in roughly a 1% change in fuel efficiency.
Read on for our round-up of the 10 best car tyres
1st: Goodyear EfficientGrip Performance 2
The EfficientGrip Performance 2 tyre was introduced earlier this year, and at its launch Goodyear boldly claimed its newcomer was 50% more durable than the tyre it replaced.
It was a close result but the EfficientGrip clinched this year’s title with excellent scores on the dry handling circuit where it demonstrated good turn-in and high reserves of grip. The tyre also provided confidence-inspiring driver feel, and notably good traction as throttle was applied in corners.
Performance was almost as strong on the braking tests, while the best score for noise and low rolling resistance – in other words fuel economy – saw the Goodyear garner enough points to put it ahead of all its rivals in this year’s test.
The only slightly disappointing result was the wet tests, where the EfficientGrip came fifth. Even then, it produced scores that were close to the leaders – a very worthy winner.
2nd: Michelin Primacy 4
Last year we tested the Primacy 4 in an SUV size and were frankly disappointed to see it come in joint seventh place at the bottom of the table. This time we’re back to car-sized tyres, and the Primacy 4 has come into its own with an excellent runner-up result.
The Primacy did especially well in the wet tests, with the best overall performance, despite not winning any of the individual assessment categories. On the track the tyres developed high grip at the front during turns, seeming to pull the car through, although turn-in was so strong at the front that care was required not to lose touch with the rear.
However, once settled into a corner, power could be applied early and hard. The dry circuit work didn’t favour the Michelin quite so well, and ninth place in the braking tests was a disappointment – although the leader stopped only 2m shorter. Good economy results also helped the Primacy 4 to clinch its second place.
3rd: Nokian Wetproof
The Nokian Wetproof hails from Finland, where it is known for its specialist winter tyres. It’s a lesser-known brand here, so it was something of a surprise when the Wetproof topped the tables last year in our SUV test.
Still, we were forewarned to expect a good performance this year, and the Nokian delivered. As expected, its best performances were in the wet sections of the test, and although bested by the Michelin in that regard, the Wetproof did its Finnish designers proud.
In the wet handling test, the Wetproof produced a valiant second place, fractionally behind the leader. It was particularly strong for traction on partial lock while accelerating through longer turns. Wet braking brought fifth place, but only 1m behind the best stopping distance.
The Nokian Wetproof performed well in the dry handling tests too, although its initial sharpness faded if you kept pushing. Fuel economy/rolling resistance was competitive too, giving the Finns their second year on the podium.
4th: Maxxis Premitra 5HP5
The Maxxis brand used to appear regularly in our tests a few years ago but the last time was in 2010, when it didn’t achieve anything very remarkable. Things have advanced rapidly in the intervening decade, and this year the Maxxis Premitra was chasing a podium finish – not bad for a four year-old design that beat several newer rivals on its way to fourth place.
The Premitra had a wide range of results though, so there’s still room for improvement in areas like cabin noise and fuel economy, where its performance was among the least impressive. However a first overall in the wet curved aquaplaning test, plus a strong fourth in both the wet and dry handling test, cemented the Premitra’s place as a genuine contender for honours. As with many of its rivals, front-end grip was the limiting factor, but the Maxxis provided a sense of front/rear balance that was among the very best.
5th: Bridgestone Turanza TOO5
The Turanza is one of Bridgestone’s staples and a tyre designed for what it calls the touring market. It delivers on that promise too, with a strong mid-range performance across most test categories, but an excellent second-place finish in the rolling resistance test. That translates to potential fuel savings of around 4% compared to the Premitra, which makes the already popular Turanza a convincing contender for your money if you drive high annual mileages.
To be fair, and given the closeness of the results between the rivals in fourth to sixth places in this year’s test, most of the Turanza’s other assessment results are pretty convincing too. It fared especially well on the wet handling circuit, where it clinched the top spot but sadly could only manage seventh and eighth on the straight and curved aquaplaning tests respectively. It came a disappointing 10th in wet braking. Cabin noise was relatively high too.
6th: Laufenn S Fit EQ+
Laufenn is a brand so new that even the MIRA proving ground tyre experts hadn’t heard of it before we showed up. They know its parent brand Hankook though, and although the Laufenn is a budget offering there are signs that some of the Hankook development experience shines through.
The tyre’s best result was the highest score in the dry braking test, although it only just beat the Maxxis. It did well with a third place in the wet braking test, but it managed only seventh and eighth in the two aquaplaning tests, and eighth in both wet and dry handling tests.
Rolling resistance scores weren’t brilliant, but the Laufenn did very well on the cabin noise score where it placed second overall.
On the handling tests, there was a relative lack of grip up front that meant the tyres lacked sharpness and required plenty of steering lock in longer turns. Front end grip was also lacking in the wet but the Laufenn tyres did feel stable at the rear, which inspired more confidence.
7th: Continental PremiumContact 6
The Conti PremiumContact 6 has given us a rollercoaster of results in recent tests. In 2018 the tyre came out as overall test champion but a year later the SUV version could only manage fifth place, demonstrating little of the wet weather ability that we’d come to think of as the tyre’s trademark but majoring on economy instead.
This time around we got something different again. With a 16-inch tyre on test (we had tried the 17-incher in 2018), we got wet weather improvements in braking but not the confidence inspiring grip we’d hoped for on the wet handling circuit. In particular, the aquaplaning test results were further behind the best rivals than we’d anticipated.
Then in the dry handling tests the PremiumContact 6 was the class of the field, with our testers declaring it head and shoulders ahead of rivals for driving dynamics and sporting feel. The result? Only seventh overall.
8th: Dunlop Sport BluResponse
The Sport BluResponse is something of an old-stager, having been around largely unmodified since 2013. It was pretty hot stuff back then, and actually won our tyre test outright in 2014, but times have moved on and the BluResponse hasn’t.
Perhaps it’s telling that this year’s winner Goodyear is the owner and licensee of the Dunlop brand, and the success of the Goodyear EfficientGrip reveals where the development dollars are being spent. Not on the Dunlop BluResponse, which although still a star performer when it comes to aquaplaning resistance, is now too far off the pace on wet and dry handling, and too far behind on braking distances, to have a chance of beating newer rivals.
That said, the handling felt quite sporty on a dry track but performance faded as the tyre heated up. In the wet, a relative lack of front end grip means the tyre keeps you waiting before it is possible to feed in the power and hold your line.
9th: Falken Ziex ZE310 Ecorun and Pirelli Cinturato P7
Despite almost clinching a win in last year’s tyre test with the FK510 SUV, the Falken ZE310 we tried this year performed less impressively compared to rivals. However, it scored exactly the same points overall as the much-better known, and dare we say renowned, Pirelli Cinturato P7. The latter’s result was even more surprising as it’s virtually a brand new tyre, even though the Cinturato name has been around for years.
Before we get too despondent, it must be pointed out that this was one of the closest tests for years, and joint ninth doesn’t mean these are terrible tyres – they’re just not as good as the best in class.
The Falken’s best performances were top-three finishes in the aquaplaning tests, but limited grip made the wet handling more challenging. It performed pretty well in the dry handling tests but a poor showing on economy dropped the tyre down the rankings.
Economy scores also didn’t help the Cinturato but truth be told the Italian tyre didn’t really impress in any areas. It was marginally more rewarding in the wet handling tests than the dry, and had decent aquaplaning results. It was surprisingly inefficient though, given the fact it’s a new tyre and the industry is currently so eco-focused.