There are three types of tyre on the market: budget, intermediate and premium. The two at either end of the price bracket are the most popular. While you might think it’d be easy to pick between them, it can be quite a headache.
Sure, there are huge differences in performance. But for some — especially those who do a lot of short-distance urban driving — it’s not that simple.
With that said, we’re here to give you a complete rundown on budget and premium tyres. We’ll look at their performance, safety and efficiency, before giving you our final verdict on which you should choose.
Let’s go, shall we?
What are budget tyres?
Budget tyres are the cheapest option on the market. Unlike premium tyres, which get put through rigorous testing, budget tyres do not. Though by UK law, all tyres have to meet a certain safety standard to go on sale, so they are hardly a risky purchase.
The low-grade materials reflect the low cost, which, as you’d expect, aren’t up to the standard of premium tyres. Because of this, grip levels are worse in the wet, and they wear out quicker too.
What are premium tyres?
Premium tyres are the Rolls Royce of the tyre industry. They’re manufactured by top brands with a strong reputation using the best materials. And the cost reflects this.
But that’s not all. Every single premium tyre will undergo rigorous testing before it goes on sale. That’s right. Brands like Bridgestone invest a lot in research, development, formulating and testing to find the best combination of compound (rubber), tread pattern and structure.
And the result? Well, a tyre that’s safer, more efficient, longer-lasting with a better performance. What's more, they are the most popular too. And the proof is in the pudding. Almost 50% of all tyre sales fall in the premium category, with just 20% going to budget tyres.
Budget vs premium tyres: head-to-head
Let’s look at the basic fundamentals and see how the two tyres compare.
Truth is, premium tyres are by far the safest. As we’ve learned, budget tyres are made from low-grade rubber compositions. In the wet, these are less effective at gripping the road.
Most budget tyres are rated F on the EU Tyre Label for wet grip. Premium tyres are rated A — for reference. This means that in the wet, budget tyres have a longer stopping distance. But how much longer? Well, it can be up to a whopping 18 metres longer when braking at 50mph in the wet. The average car length is 4.2 to 4.9 metres, so that’s an extra three and a bit car lengths to come to a complete stop.
Despite looking the same, the two tyres are worlds apart performance-wise. All-round, premium tyres offer the best performance. This is particularly true in the wet, where the higher quality materials really come into their own. And all that research and testing we spoke about earlier? Thanks to this, premium tyres are levels above the industry standard for aquaplaning, braking and steering.
As for budget tyres, for short-distance urban driving, they’re great. But when the heavens open, grip levels suffer. It’s a similar story for long journeys too. Here, they’ll wear out much quicker than premium tyres, and the money you saved initially will soon start to eat away at your wallet.
Fuel efficiency and noise
A tyre’s material quality doesn’t just affect its performance. No. Your car’s fuel efficiency and how much CO2 it lets out are also affected positively. And thanks to the EU Tyre Label, you can find all this info at a glance.
Typically, an “A” grade tyre will save a staggering 80 litres of fuel in a year. This translates to around £110 at current fuel prices. Not only can premium tyres save you money, but they can also reduce your carbon footprint and greenhouse emissions.
And then there’s the noise. Remember when we said budget tyres aren’t the best for long-distance driving? This is one of the reasons. Premium tyres are specifically designed to keep external noise as low as possible to keep you within the current (and future) noise limits. They’re also less noisy inside the cabin, which makes them more pleasant to daily.
Tyre longevity (and ultimately, cost)
Many motorists choose budget tyres because of their price. They see them as a cost-effective option. And while there’s no harm in this, you have to consider how quickly they wear out.
Yes, budget tyres will cost you less initially. About £15-30 less per tyre for a small car, and anywhere from £50-70 for a family estate. But because of their low-grade materials, they naturally wear out quicker than premium tyres. This means you’ll need to replace them sooner. When you consider this, the initial saving isn’t as big as it first appears.
In a nutshell, if you cover a lot of miles through long-distance driving, premium tyres are the one for you.
Budget vs premium tyres: the verdict
When talking between the only contact point between you and the road, it’s hard to look past safety and performance. And for both of these, you want premium tyres. The rigorous testing these tyres get put through makes them the only feasible option for the average driver. As well as giving you a shorter stopping distance, they also give you the best grip in the wet too — especially important in the UK.
Ultimately, it comes down to what you want from the tyre that’ll determine which one is right for you. While we’re in camp premium, not everyone will reap the benefits. Like if you only use your car a couple of times a week for short journeys. Think nipping to the supermarket and back. For this, budget tyres are apt.
Having said that, you will be limited. Because if you suddenly start venturing further afield and covering more miles, your tyres will take the brunt and start to wear out rapidly.
It’s important to remember that no matter which tyre you choose, you can improve your road safety and tyre life with regular maintenance. If you need help finding your next tyre, head down to your local First Stop garage.