Best car tyres to buy 2020
If you need new tyres, our test reveals which are the best at keeping you safe, improving handling and even saving fuel
Tyres are the most important part of any car, so it’s vital to know which are the safest, which are the best at improving fuel economy and which give the most comfortable drive. Our annual tyre test aims to answer all of the above questions and in 2020 it was our most comprehensive shootout ever.
We chose the popular 205/55R16 tyre size as being most representative, because this fitment is popular across a wide range of family cars. Tyre designs from well known brands went head-to-head with newcomers to the test from Nankang and Syron, while Bridgestone entered a new model of tyre. Michelin’s absence was due to a new tyre arriving soon.
In total, over 100 tyres arrived at Bridgestone’s advanced proving ground just south of Rome, Italy, for our battery of tests.
For consistency, each test remained the same as before, with nine elements instead of the three covered by mandatory EU tyre ratings. Carbuyer drivers were behind the wheel during every test except for deep water aquaplaning, which requires specific training for safety. Figures for rolling resistance were obtained by Bridgestone at its nearby test laboratory.
To make sure the test was as fair as possible, we asked each manufacturer to nominate their tyre design of choice, before buying them ourselves from a wholesaler as if we were a customer – the only exception being the Kumho, which was a late entry.
How we tested them
Each tyre was subjected to nine tests, in wet and dry conditions, including interior noise and rolling-resistance measurements that were also factored into the results. Scores were then compiled and equally weighted across the categories to ensure a fair conclusion was reached.
We’ve all experienced a sudden slowdown in traffic on a sodden motorway, and it’s crucial to be confident your car will stop just as you expect in a situation like that. For good measure, we also found out how each tyre behaved while cornering on wet tarmac and when faced with shallow and deep water.
Our braking test 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. Cornering grip was tested by driving around a circle measuring 80 metres in diameter, then accelerating with a fixed amount of steering lock until the car began to run wide, and timing each lap in the process.
A wet handling circuit 1,555 metres long combined all the elements above, but also introduced factors like gradients, direction changes and a sweeping 270-degree corner. Here, average lap times were also used for the final results.
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.
For dry testing, we headed over to Bridgestone’s 1,888-metre dry handling track, which includes a wide variety of corners, from tight hairpins to sweeping corners and sudden changes in direction. All are 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, which is more relevant to most buyers. 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 five per cent increase in rolling resistance can result in roughly a 1% change in fuel efficiency.
Read on for our round-up of the 11 best car tyres
1st: Continental ContiPremiumContact 5
We tested the ContiPremiumContact in 2014, but Continental must have radically changed its design since then, because previously it only managed an unremarkable fifth place. It’s a remarkable turnaround, particularly as this design has already been replaced in some larger fitments by the PremiumContact 6.
Its only real weakness was exposed in our rolling-resistance test, where fuel economy could be 3% worse than the best tyres in this category. Elsewhere, the Continental has clearly upped its game to the point where it took top spot on both handling tracks (level-pegging with the Hankook on the dry circuit). Our testers were particularly impressed with the car’s agility and direct responses, that made the car feel quite sporty with the Continentals fitted.
On the wet track, it was possible to accelerate harder out of corners and the steering still felt sharp. It exhibited an impressive three-metre lead in the wet braking test and wasn’t far off the class winner in the tyre noise assessment.
2nd: Dunlop Sport BluResponse
The BluResponse won outright in 2014 and a second place in 2017 shows that it’s still a great choice. It’s also an impressive result for a tyre first launched back in 2013, and it proved especially talented in the dry.
In these conditions, it won the braking test and came third on the handling track. The steering didn’t feel quite as sharp as when the Continental tyres were fitted, but agility and balance were excellent and the lap time was just a few tenths behind.
Despite having lots of grip, the Dunlop was one of the most frugal designs, coming second in the rolling-resistance test, beaten only by the P7 Blue. Newer tyres outperformed it in our aquaplaning tests, but results weren’t too far behind the best.
But the wet handling track was where it lost most ground to the best-in-class. Here, it lacked the outright grip of the Continental and Bridgestone and our testers needed to input more steering lock and be cautious with the throttle. It’s a great all-rounder, though, and the best choice if increasing fuel economy is your top priority.
3rd: Bridgestone Turanza T001
The Turanza T001 replaces the T100, which failed to impress both times it appeared in previous tyre tests. Third place represents a big improvement for the brand; sources indicate there have been significant changes in the way its tyres are developed.
This new philosophy has also been apparent in sub-brand Firestone's Roadhawk, with more focus on optimising the structure and compound of a tyre to improve wet-weather performance.
Excellent results were recorded across the disciplines and the Bridgestone was second to just the Continental in wet handling and braking. It also performed well in aquaplaning tests, and on the sodden test track, the T001-shod car felt balanced and precise.
The results in the dry were good, too, while the Bridgestone also proved second-quietest for interior noise. It could only manage a middling result for rolling resistance, though.
4th: Kumho Ecsta HS51
After an eight-year hiatus, Kumho has returned to our tests in impressive fashion. Fourth place is a notable improvement from the ninth spot recorded back then and the Kumho proves itself as the best of the mid-range brands, just ahead of Hankook.
Its success was mainly down to an impressive wet-weather performance, with first place for wet cornering and third overall behind Continental and Bridgestone. It felt good from behind the wheel, too, with reassuring balance through long sweeping corners. Even when pushing wide in tight corners, the Kumho tyre felt progressive, and its third-spot in the wet braking tests mean it’s a safe choice. Aquaplaning results were more middling, but tight margins meant it still wasn’t too far off the leaders.
Stopping in the dry took around three metres longer than the winner, while the tyres felt a little soft on the dry handling track, with a less positive feel than the winners. This supple construction helped in the noise tests where the Kumho came second, but rolling resistance was only average.
5th: Hankook Ventus Prime3
The Prime3 was one of the newest tyres in our test, launched in 2016 to replace the Ventus Prime2. Following its debut, we compared it with the Goodyear EfficientGrip and found them hard to separate, and the same was true in our latest tests.
Results were nearly identical in wet conditions, while the Prime3 was just ahead in the dry and for comfort and cost. It was joint first around the dry handling circuit and also managed second place in the dry braking test. It felt the sharpest, too, reducing the amount of steering input required in corners.
It was more prone to aquaplaning, though, particularly when turning a corner, and a relative lack of balance meant the back of the car could begin to slide. A wet braking distance of around five metres separated the Hankook from the winning tyre, while tyre noise was middling and it came ninth for fuel-efficiency.
6th: Goodyear EfficientGrip Performance
Coming second in our 2014 test, the Goodyear has now been pushed down to sixth by newer tyres. As before, it performed best for rolling resistance and interior noise, where it came third and first respectively. Its engineers also seem to have found the recipe for improving fuel economy without sacrificing grip in the rain, as the Goodyear came second in the straight aquaplaning test.
Elsewhere, the Goodyear tended to sit in the middle of the pack, with a dry-circuit lap less than a second behind the winner and a stopping distance within three metres of the top result. Like the Kumho, the EfficientGrip felt slightly soft on dry roads, lacking the sharp feedback of the Continental or Hankook, but grip still seemed strong.
Wet handling was tackled with a good balance between the front and rear tyres, but more steering lock was required than some contenders.
7th: Falken Ziex ZE914 Ecorun
One of the biggest challenges when designing a new tyre is the need to improve fuel economy through low rolling resistance without compromising grip in wet weather – no easy feat.
Here, Falken appears to have focused too much on green driving, with the ZE914 posting the slowest time around Bridgestone’s wet handling track and coming last in the wet cornering test. The Falken also struggled for traction in wet conditions, but performed better in aquaplaning tests and the crucial wet braking test, where it came fifth.
On the dry handling track, the Falken felt soft and required more pronounced steering inputs, but it was just two metres behind the leader in the dry braking test. Rolling resistance was the lowest of the mid-range tyres, but the Falken is quite loud, coming 10th for interior noise.
8th: Pirelli Cinturato P7 Blue
When it launched back in 2012, the P7 Blue became the first tyre to achieve an A rating for both fuel economy and wet grip on official tyre rating labels. This meant its design achieved the holy grail of managing low rolling resistance without sacrificing too much grip in wet weather.
But in our various tests, the P7 Blue found itself behind the top tyres, with poor results in aquaplaning tests. Hitting the brakes in the wet, the P7 Blue needed an extra six metres to come to a stop compared to the leading Continental.
The margins were smaller in dry conditions, with a lap time half-a-second behind the winner around the handling track and a four-metre longer braking distance. There was a sporty impression from behind the wheel, with responsive steering feel and good traction during acceleration. The P7 Blue came first for improved fuel economy, but this focus means it’s less accomplished elsewhere.
9th: Toyo Proxes CF2
Like some of the other tyres tested, the Toyo Proxes CF2 is now a few years old, but while several have stuck close to the winners, the Proxes is in need of an update. It has most obviously been surpassed in wet-weather performance, but was closer in the dry, where it came fourth around the handling track.
That was despite it feeling a bit soft in comparison to most others, needing a bit more steering lock when committing to corners. This lack of response was also felt in wet tests, where patience was required before accelerating out of a corner and the car’s tail could be felt starting to slide. In the wet braking test, the Toyo took over eight metres further to stop than the top performer.
10th: Nankang AS-2+
Tyre brands from the Far East aren’t too far behind well established makes and the Nankang’s results showed it was impressively close to more expensive tyres in some areas. Around the wet handling course, the AS-2+ felt balanced and secure, only noticeably struggling for traction out of corners. Its lap time was less than a couple of seconds behind the best, but it needed seven metres further to stop in the wet braking test.
Wide grooves helped in the straight aquaplaning test, where it came sixth, but interior noise and rolling resistance were both poor, which is bad news for comfort and fuel economy. The latter could be around 6% worse than the same car with the Dunlop tyres fitted.
11th: Syron BlueTech
Not too long ago, budget tyres could be borderline scary to test around a wet handling track. That’s rarely the case today, and the German-designed Syron feels safe and predictable, even if it needed more steering input and a light foot on the throttle.
Its best result was first place in the straight aqua test, but its design may have compromised it elsewhere, because it came last for wet and dry braking – taking over 10 metres longer to stop in the rain than the Continental.
Its disadvantage was less apparent in our dry handling test, but the Syron was quite noisy and also posted the worst rolling-resistance figure. That means, despite it being the cheapest tyre we tested, the cost of using around 7% more fuel than the Dunlop could outweigh any saving quite quickly.
The good news for consumers is that the gap between the best and worst tyres is getting smaller, no doubt spurred on somewhat by mandatory tyre labelling. Syron will be pleased its tyre won in the aquaplaning test, but will need to iron out some issues elsewhere. The Nankang was a better all-rounder, but also needs improvements.
Pirelli appears to have prioritised fuel economy at the cost of outright wet grip, while Falken and Toyo also struggled with the delicate balancing act between the two.
The Goodyear and Hankook were closely matched, with the EfficientGrip better for saving fuel and the Prime3 working well in the dry. Kumho should also be happy with improved results on its return to our test.
Not much separated our top three, particularly the Dunlop and Bridgestone runners-up. The latter illustrated something of a turning point in its tyre design, while the Dunlop continues to impress despite being first launched four years ago. Continental is on winning form again, achieving its dominance with strong results across the board.