Ah yes, that time again, tire time. Some think it’s fun to look for their car’s new boots, while for others it is an expensive hassle. No matter what kind of tire shopper you are, your first question is probably: Which brand should I pick? Well, if age is anything to go by, why not pick one of the two oldest tire companies in the world?
Pirelli and Continental are the world’s two oldest tire companies, separated by only one year between their founding, the companies are 150 and 151 years old, respectively. Over the years, each company provides excellent reliability, they have each specialized in a different tire field, high-performance, and luxury in all conditions.
What's In This Guide?
Pirelli Tires History
With 150 years of experience, Pirelli has a studious background. The 1872 company was founded by Giovanni Battista Pirelli in Milan, Italy, and is the world’s second-oldest tire company, with the only tire company older than Pirelli being Continental.
Today Pirelli is the sixth-largest tire company in the world, bringing in a net income of 42.7 million euros in 2020. One of the testaments to Pirelli’s success is the Pirelli tower which is a skyscraper that Alberto Pirelli commissioned in the 1950s.
A stand-out invention of Pirelli’s was the “wide radial tire.” The design was created at the request of the Lancia rally racing team as there were no racing tires on the market which could fulfill their needs. The tire was so successful that the same tires were soon used on the Porsche 911 Turbo.
Currently, Pirelli carries on its success in the motorsports world as they are the exclusive tire supplier for not only the FIM World Superbike Championship but also the pinacol of motorsports, the Formula One World Championship.
There are however some concerns on the horizon for Pirelli. In 2015 the China National Chemical Corp. Ltd. (ChemChina) became the majority shareholder of the Pirelli company. Though ChemChina did not change the company’s ownership structure right away, they only promised not to change it until 2023.
As ChemChina is a Chinese state-owned company, there are many concerns as to the future of Pirelli as a whole. For the moment, however, Pirelli is a trusted brand that delivers some excellent high-performance tires.
Pirelli Tire Families
With 150 years of experience, it is no surprise that Pirelli offers a large selection of tires for all kinds of vehicles and conditions. The six Pirelli tire families help you choose the tire that is the best pick for you. Though they have many options, their high-performance options are the ones that stand out the most.
The P Zero is Probably Pirelli’s most well-known line and has a total of eleven different tires. It is Pirelli’s high-performance tire line designed for both passenger vehicles and SUVs. Only five of the tires will fit SUVs whereas all eleven tires will fit on cars.
Just about all the tires have the common rating from Pirelli’s of “sport” or “performance,” apart from the P Zero Nero M+S. Though all these tires are classed as high-performance, there is a wide variety to pick from. For the majority, the differences come in the form of manageable conditions such as winter, all-season, and summer conditions.
All nine Cinturato tires are high-performance tires designed to give your passenger vehicle the best fuel economy possible from Pirelli. The majority of these tires are designed for all seasons while giving you a touring tire style quality. Some of these tires will also help you save fuel during the winter and in urban environments.
In recent years the explosion in popularity of SUVs and crossovers has been felt throughout the world, and Pirelli has responded. All fifteen tires in the Scorpion line are designed for SUVs and crossovers and as is custom for Pirelli, they are all classed as High-performance tires, no matter the application they are built for.
As one would expect for fifteen tires in one line, there is a huge variety of applications for which the tires are designed. From touring tires to all-terrain tires, to full winter tires with the three peaks symbol, you will find what you need for your SUV in this tire line.
The Sottozero is Pirelli’s high-performance winter tire line designed for cars. All three tires have around the same price and are different from each other in the severity of the winter condition they can handle.
With currently only one tire in this line it is Pirelli’s smallest tire line along with the stand-alone P4™ Four Seasons Plus. As you can probably tell by the name, this is also a winter tire, though it is in a much higher class than the Sottozero tire line. The Ice Zero FR is built to handle extreme weather conditions such as the Nordic winters and as the name suggests, it provides maximum stability on ice.
P4™ Four Seasons Plus
The P4™ Four Seasons Plus is less a tire family and more like a stand-alone tire. The reason for this is that it takes a step back from what the norm is when it comes to Pirelli. The P4™ Four Seasons Plus is designed as a longer-lasting tire with fuel-saving performance, all the while fulfilling the budget tire category as the cheapest tire from Pirelli.
Continental is one year older than Pirelli, making it the world’s oldest tire company. As with most things German, you can expect good quality tires from the Hanover-based company. As with most tire companies, Continental started out as a rubber manufacturer, but after a few years, the company became widely known as a tire brand.
The company achieved notoriety from its continental plain tread tire which performed better than most other tires at the time, which was a big step into the tire world. A few years later in 1904, Continental took another major step when they were the first company in the world to produce grooved tires.
Continental was very successful for many years, but this would prove to be a problem. Between the years of 2004 and 2008, the company overextended with a massive expansion campaign. The overextension left the company vulnerable to a hostile takeover.
A competing company by the name of Schaeffler AG bought out the majority of shares in Continental and the company was restructured. Today, Schaeffler AG still holds the majority of shares at 46%. Though this was bad for some of the higher-ups at Continental, there have been some improvements.
Continental is now one of the leading companies when it comes to tire technology. Not only does Continental focus on quiet and comfortable tires, but they are also dedicated to a cleaner and greener tire industry. As a testament to this goal, Continental is the first company to have developed and tested a new form of tread polymer.
The tread polymer is made from all–natural dandelion rubber, which completely eliminates the need for rubber trees. Dandelion rubber is a massive leap forward because rubber trees are a difficult crop to grow. They need a very specific tropical climate which is limited. Thus, many native species are at risk due to deforestation to make room for rubber trees.
Dandelions on the other hand can grow in areas where pretty much nothing else can grow. Dandelion crops can also be harvested quickly, as opposed to rubber trees which take years to grow before they can be harvested.
Though Continental is still in the early stages of the dandelion experiment, there is great potential to change the tire and rubber industry as a whole.
Continental’s Tire Families
Continental’s main focus is luxury and comfort coupled with all-season performance and long-lasting tires and all of their tire families have these traits. With Continental being the oldest Tire company in the world, they have many options to pick from.
Rather than tire families, Continental categorizes its tires into four groups, sometimes with a little overlap: ultra-high-performance, touring, all-terrain, and winter.
There are twelve tires in the Ultra-High-Performance line. These tires deliver maximum performance for your needs and your vehicle, whatever that may be. These tires can be fitted to sports cars and passenger vehicles, to SUVs and light trucks.
these tires are also made for different weather situations from summer tires to all seasons. No winter tires here and it should be noted that there are three all-season tires out of the twelve. Most of these tires have four stars or higher.
This tire has a cool-looking tread and a five-star rating. The ExtremeContac DWS06 Plus can be used on passenger cars, crossovers, and SUVs all year round with responsive handling, better grip on wet roads, and extended tread life.
The ExtremeContact Sport is designed for sport and passenger cars, and summertime usage only. It gives more responsive handling, and better grip on wet and dry roads, but due to the tire compound, the mileage for the limited warranty is lower.
Touring tires are Continental’s main target market. Their touring tires are designed to provide an exceptionally comfortable ride while also delivering reliable all-season traction, superior responsive handling, and improved roll resistance.
Continental’s touring tires also have a higher speed rating than most other tires and will more than likely have an asymmetrical tread pattern. If you want the best day to day tire for all-seasons, continental is the right place to go.
The CrossContact LX25 is one of Continental’s premium all-season touring tires which can be fitted on Crossovers, light trucks, and SUVs. The tire also comes with two of Continental’s technologies, the EcoPlus for fuel savings and the quickview indicators.
The PureContact LS is similar to the CrossContact LX25 but with an emphasis on luxury. Fitting passenger cars and crossovers, the PureContact LS has the EcoPlus and QuickView Indicator technologies. This tire is a bit quieter than the PureContact so if you have a crossover this might be a better option.
Though the TrueContact Tour might seem like a copy of the above two it is not. It has the same two base technologies however it is built to last even longer.
The tier is available on all vehicles that sport rims ranging from 15 to 19 inches. Because the tire compound is a little tougher and the side wall a little taller, the handling is a little less responsive than the Cross and Pure Contacts, however, this is a worthwhile trade for the extra mileage.
Continental only has two all-terrain tires, the TerrainContact A/T being their flagship all-terrain tire. Though there is a limited selection, there is no lack of quality.
Designed for crossovers, SUVs and light trucks the TerrainContact™ A/T is a premium all-season all-terrain tire. The tire features TractionPlus™ Technology, which provides improved traction and durability, better grip on wet roads, and quiet road noise, all the while having the durability to conquer dirt, gravel, and grass.
When it comes to winter conditions, tires are crucial. After all, they are the only thing keeping you attached to the road and facing the right direction. There are three tires to pick from when it comes to winter tires in the Continental brand, the VikingContact 7, however, takes the cake.
The VikingContact™ 7 is a premium winter tire for passenger cars, crossovers, SUVs, and light trucks. Featuring Continental’s PolarPlus Technology, the tire provides flexible tread in cold temperatures, better grip in winter conditions, and shorter stopping distances on snow and ice-covered roads.
Officially the tire sports the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol for severe winter conditions which means it has been tested by an outside governing body.
Differences Between Pirelli Tires and Continental
As the world’s two oldest tire companies, Pirelli and Continental are very closely matched. To better compare the two companies, let’s have a look at some key characteristics of each tire company, Performance, tread life, comfort, and the all-important price.
Performance wise the two are almost matched on shear ratings, however, there is a deeper story here. In wet weather Continental is the victor, however, when it comes to dry weather handling, the victor would depend on what kind of performance you are looking for.
Pirelli generally has stiffer side walls which means that corner handling is superior. Continental’s softer side walls on the other hand provide a much more balanced performance, especially in urban environments where the road condition is not always perfect.
Tread life is also quite closely matched with Continental ever so slightly ahead, with one exception. Pirelli’s P4™ Four Seasons Plus can last up to 90,000 miles depending on the speed rating. Next, we have comfort and for the first time, we have a clear winner.
Continental is by far the more comfortable ride. Customers have reported almost zero road noise from select tire models. For this reason, many luxury car brands pick continental tires as their OM tires. This isn’t to say that Pirelli has noisy tires, they simply have a normal amount of road noise.
Finally, we come to price. As with most of our other comparisons between these two companies, they are very closely matched. Both companies are cheaper than other big brands like Michelin or Goodyear, however, for the most part, continental is a little cheaper than Pirelli, but Pirelli’s budget tire really ties them up for me.
Advantages of Pirelli Tires
- Excellent high-performance tires
- Wide variety of options
- Excellent handing as high speeds and cornering
- Good budget choice
Advantages of Continental
- Excellent day to day tires
- Superior levels of comfort
- Superior levels of noise reduction
- Superior all-weather handling
Which Brand to Choose
With two such closely matched tires it is really up to what you need from your tires. If you are looking for a high-performance tire that is good at cornering, then Pirelli is probably going to be your best choice.
If you are looking for exceptional comfort and amazing all-season tires, then Continental has what you are looking for. At the end of the day, you are probably going to be happy with either brand, my best advice is to look at current reviews of the tires you are considering as the tire world is forever changing and growing.