When it comes time to purchase new tyres for your vehicle, most often, we’re tempted to get whatever fits, or a new set of whatever was fitted to the car already. But shopping for new tyres is the best time to consider your specific needs, driving style, budget and your vehicle.
If you’re the kind of driver who prioritises high performance, good handling, and spirited driving and finds yourself taking windy back roads instead of the open freeways, it’s probably time to consider an Ultra-High-Performance (UHP) or, taking things a step further, street legal semi-slick tyre upgrade to transform your driving experience.
‘Slicks’ as they’re called are tyres with no discernable tread pattern, think of dry tyres for Formula 1. Semi-slicks are tyres with a bare minimum amount of tread in order to be able to handle some wet conditions. In this article, the semi-slick tyres we’ll be referring to are all street-legal, but it’s important to note that there are some semi-slick tyres that are designed for track-use only.
Street Legal Semi-Slick vs Standard Tyres
Unless you’ve got a factory high-performance model such as a Ferrari, Lamborghini, BMW M car, Porsche GT, a high-end AMG or something similar, your car is likely equipped with a touring or all-season performance tyre.
Standard touring and sports tyres work well and provide reliable performance over long distances, but street-legal semi-slick tyres take things to the next level. Because these two categories are aimed at very different types of customers, let's look at the key differences between your standard tyres and semi-slick replacements.
Semi-slick tyres are designed for one purpose. Superior traction, handling and response.
Even above and beyond UHP tyres, they offer supreme levels of grip, steering wheel response, and mid-corner control.
Semi-slick tyres are favoured by drivers who consider themselves automotive enthusiasts, drivers with high-performance vehicles and are more often suited for vehicles that don’t get driven every day.
Semi-slick tyres often feature the bare minimum amount of tread required to gain certification for use on public roads. Since these tyres aren’t designed for cold and wet conditions, things like aquaplaning and wet weather grip aren’t typically design priorities that the engineers consider when designing these tyres.
When it comes to outright dry performance, having less tread means that more rubber is in contact with the road surface at all times, leading to that dry-weather performance that semi-slick tyres are known for.
Standard high-performance tyres, on the other hand, have a more conservative tread pattern that prioritises driveability and predictable performance in all weather conditions. Wet weather performance is often less than expected, so vehicles that get driven in all weather conditions, all-year-round should probably consider a UHP or sports segment tyre.
Semi slick tyres not only look visually different from standard performance tyres thanks to the tread, they’re also made of different materials and compounds that are specifically designed to perform well under high speed and high temperature conditions. Many semi slicks have an impressive level of performance when ‘cold’, but as the driving gets more enthusiastic and the tyre heats up, they actually provide more grip.
Since outright grip is a priority, oftentimes durability takes a back seat. Most semi slicks have a much shorter expected lifespan than standard road tyres. Lifespans of between 5,000 and 30,000kms aren’t uncommon to hear, with some of the more dedicated track drivers burning through a set of tyres in just a few weekends, obviously this is wildly unsuitable for most street cars.
Because of their performance characteristics, semi-slicks have higher speed ratings than standard tyres. The speed rating is the maximum speed at which a tyre can carry its’ recommended maximum load. Semi slicks are often rated at speeds of 240kph or more, whereas standard road tyres will have maximum speed ratings far less.
If you’re in the market for an ultra-high-performance street-legal semi-slick tyre, chances are that you consider things like road noise and lack of comfort to be part of the experience.
A side effect of the ultra-sharp steering feel found on semi slicks is that the stiffer shoulders and lower profile sidewalls tend to produce more noise and a stiffer ride quality than even street sports tyres and especially touring and eco-friendly options.
Semi Slicks Available At Tyrepower
Street-legal semi-slick tyres offer the most hardcore experience when it comes to traction and performance, all in a package that means you can still legally drive on the road. In Australia, there are several choices for automotive enthusiasts who want a hardcore street tyre, but depending on where you are in the country, some options might be hard to find.
Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R:
The P Zero Trofeo R is a street-legal semi-slick tire designed for high-performance applications. It offers excellent dry grip, precise steering response, and enhanced traction, making it suitable for both street and occasional track use.
Kumho Ecsta V730
In Kumhos’ own words, the V730 is designed for performance cars and enthusiast drivers. This tyre is somewhat more optimised for wet weather conditions than other tyres on this list, potentially making it a more tempting choice for people who drive their cars on the street.
Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2:
The Pilot Sport Cup 2 is a street-legal track tire that offers exceptional performance in dry conditions. It delivers excellent grip, precise handling, and high levels of feedback, making it a popular choice for enthusiasts and track day events.
Yokohama Advan Neova AD08R:
The Advan Neova AD08 (no R) is a highly praised tyre that provides excellent grip in both wet and dry conditions. On the updated AD08R tyre, cold performance has been improved, ensuring more suitability for cars that are driven on the street. The AD08R is widely available, and with a 180 treadwear rating, they’re expected to last a reasonable period of time when used on public roads.
Yokohama Advan A050:
If you’re leaning towards a vehicle that sees much more track use than street use, the A050 is one of the tyres mandated for use in the World Time Attack Championship, held at SMP.
Yokohama touts faster warm-up times, more consistency and durability across repeated heat cycles as reasons why the A050 is such a popular option.
Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R:
The Potenza RE-71R is a high-performance street tire known for its exceptional dry grip and responsive handling. It offers impressive traction on both the street and the track, making it popular among enthusiasts.
There are more options available, but what suits you best will depend on your vehicle, any modifications you have made, as well as your local tracks. Tyres that work well on high speed tracks might not work as well on tighter, more technical tracks for example.
Remember that these aren’t a very common category of tyres, relatively speaking, and you’re not likely to find every option at every location, or you may potentially need to wait for them to be ordered in for you.
Who Buys Semi-Slick Tyres?
So these tyres cost more, are more uncomfortable, don’t last as long and require special care and maintenance, so who are these tyres for?
At the end of the day, tyres in this category don’t do much for regular street use, you’ll be far exceeding any speed limits and responsible driving etiquette if you come close to finding the limits of these tyres on the streets, so understandably, these aren’t a common tyre.
High-Performance Vehicle Owners
Drivers in sports cars, luxury vehicles, exotics and modified vehicles often opt for semi-slick tyres to maximise and complement the levels of performance their vehicles are capable of.
Many of the vehicles in this category are owned by enthusiasts who love and care for their vehicles, and the increased cost of these tyres is just part and parcel of high-performance vehicle ownership.
Most of the time, drivers who take their vehicles to local tracks, and participate in entry-level driving events such as track days, hill climbs and autocross will look to outfit their vehicles with semi-slick tyres. While some of the drivers will tow their cars to and from events, you’ll always find a few that drive their cars on the public roads to and from the track, so having an ultra performance tyre that can get you there, set a great lap time, and get you home at the end of the day is always a favourable option.
Stepping up a tier to semi-professional and professional racing, there are some classes of motorsport that require a street-legal tyre to be fitted, such as the World Time Attack, held each year at Sydney Motorsports Park. Semi-slick tyres are found in all kinds of racing disciplines, ranging from hill climbs, time attack, circuit racing, manufacturer cups and more.
Get Race Tyres for your Street Car!
All across the country, you’ll find Tyrepower stores that can help you find the perfect tyre for your application. As we mentioned earlier, your local tyrepower store might not have a full range of track-ready ultra performance tyres on hand, and not all brands are available at all locations.
Whether you’re after a budget-friendly option for your commuter or family vehicle, or you’re looking for something higher performing for a classic or weekend cruiser, we’ll be able to sort you out with the tyres to get the job done!
Working with your local Tyrepower store and discussing your vehicle and your tyre needs will always result in expert advice, high quality products and outstanding customer service.
Pop on into your local Tyrepower and GET THE POWER of Australias’ largest independent tyre retailer today!