How bad can tyres make a car? Premium VS budget tyres tested

With budget tyres getting ever closer to premiums in raw performance, we take a look at how a cheap set of tyres can alter the subjective balance and behaviour of a powerful car like the Mercedes C63 AMG.

The tyres on test? The extremely well regarded Continental Sport Contact 6, and the "rather good for a budget" Rotalla RU01 S-Pace.

Watch the video of the test, or read below for our what we found.

 

Braking

Premium vs budget braking

As promised, the Rotalla budget tyre wasn't a million miles away from the performance of the Continental during wet and dry braking tests, differing by just one EU label wet braking score (A vs B). Even with this small overall different in stopping distances, the residual speed of the budget tyre was still high , at the point the premium tyre would have safely stopped the car, you'd still be doing 20 km/h on the budget tyre.

Avg Distance (m) Premium Budget
Wet (80-0 km/h) 26.5 27.6
Dry (100-0 km/h) 33.7 35.4

 

How has the budget tyre managed to get so close to the premium? While we didn't get the chance to do extensive wear testing, the shore hardness of the rubber, which was much softer than the Continentals, is a good tell. Softer rubber generally means more grip, especially in the wet, but at the expensive of wear. This theory was almost certainly confirmed during the "camera driving" at the end of the proper test, which resulted in the budget tyre tearing into chunks and appearing to wear much more quickly than the premium.

Wet Handling

Premium vs budget wet

When testing the premium vs budget tyre in the wet, the gap was again around 5%, which is impressive.

What the 5% doesn't tell you, is just how difficult the car was to drive quickly. Where the Continental was balanced, predictable and fun, the budget Rotalla was unpredictable, had huge amounts of understeer, yet would snap into oversteer unexpectedly. It also provided much less feedback and precision through the steering wheel, meaning even when you weren't sliding, you were second guessing where the limit was, and when you'd start to slide.

Dry Handling

Premium vs budget dry

As with most tyre testing, we found the gap between the tyres closer in the dry than in the wet. The grip on the budget was largely there, and objectively the budget once again finished just 5% down on the premium.

As we found in the wet, the Mercedes had a more controllable and predictable balance on the premium Continental, but the gap was closer. If you tried to push to a second lap, the budget tyre became noticeably slower, with the feedback and controllability of the tyre dropping further.

Wear

Premium vs budget wear

Unfortunately we didn't have the time to do objective wear testing, however after the testing program the budget tyres looked distinctly worse for wear. Where the Continentals tyres had worn evenly and smoothly, the budget tyre had chunks of rubber missing throughout the tread. Admittedly, these tyres were treated in a way you never should on the road, but it highlights the softer nature of the cheaper option.

Purchase Price

No competition here, with a set of the budgets costing £329.76 VS a set of the premiums costing £613.84, even with the apparent wear disadvantage of the budget tyres they're still better value for money.

Conclusion

Premium vs budget conclusion

Are budget tyres getting better? If you just look at the numbers you'd be forgiven for assuming a tyre which stops within 5% of a tyre which costs 40% more is amazing value, but when you drive them side by side, you realise the extra effort premium manufacturers make when developing tyres, and the resulting all-encompassing ability.

Tyres, especially on performance cars, are so much more than just figures. They affect how the car is balanced, how the car reacts to inputs, and the enjoyment you get from driving. In this example, the premium tyre was leagues ahead.

One other thing to keep in mind is not all budget tyres are created equally. These were exceptional budget tyres, usually the gap in tests such as wet braking is over 15%, not just 5%.

Further Tyre Information




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