Nitto’s New Summer Performance Tire – The NT05

When it comes to driving styles for enthusiasts on the road, there are two main types. There are those that run skinny tires up front and ultra wide drag radials in the rear for the maximum traction in a straight line with the least resistance. Then on the flip side are those that enjoy traction through turns more than a straight line. While tire design between the two driving types are completely different, one aspect they have in common is that a grippy tire doesn’t come cheap – that is until Nitto released their summer performance tire, the NT05.

The Evolution of the Budget Summer Performance Tire

Through the 1990s there was a shift in what first-time car buyer enthusiasts wanted out of their budget performance vehicle. There was a shift from a mostly drag racing centric market to people that cared more about speed through the corners. Up until the late 1990s, if you wanted a sticky summer performance handling tire, you were going to pay an arm and a leg for them. Used tire depots became a popular place to try to find lightly used sets for a bargain, because most couldn’t afford $1000+ for a medium sized 17-inch set that were new.

Tire manufactures realized this and the younger companies began to introduce budget performance tires in the late 1990s, while more prominent names were too proud to create a Casio version of their Rolex tires. For the smaller companies, the budget performance summer tire served as the heartbeat that made them grow larger as this trend grew fast. Now young enthusiasts had the ability to buy brand new performance tires for pennies on the dollar.

These tires offered stiff side walls to reduce flex under cornering, decent water grooves for light rain driving, and a soft compound that did not require warm up to work well. Before anyone knew it, these budget tires became the choice of autocross classes like STS and STX that were street tire only classes, and were nearly banned for performing so well. The problem with early generation versions, is that they would have a narrow operating temperature and would get greasy if they were run hard for an extended period of time – the polar opposite of an R-compound.

Procedure Nitto Takes on Designing a New Tire

The NT555 has been a flagship tire amongst Mustang enthusiasts especially for years, but Nitto new this design was dated and needed an update. When it comes to developing a new tire line, the first measure Nitto takes is to make sure that it does not directly compete with any other of their tire lines. Taking from their mantra, “Fueled by Enthusiasts”, Nitto gets feedback from shops and manufactures on their new idea, analyze current popular vehicles for sizes, analysis on competing brand designs, going to new car shows, and take surveys at various races or events.

Nitto's Miyazaki test course in Japan

For a design concept, Nitto uses a team of designers to draw up possible tread designs that unique, but that can also be functional. The Japan head office then has the technology to analyze the designs to find out which ones will be the most suitable, along with the tread compound. “We use proprietary software that allows us to analyze on pattern noises and make adjustments in the software to compensate for that,” Stephen Leu of Nitto remarked. Once this is done, a hand cut tire prototype is made and reviewed before final design is agreed upon. This even includes the font and logo designs on the sidewall of the tire. From there, prototypes are developed and testing is underway.

Nitto relies mainly on their test facilities (two facilities that include off road and high performance driving) and their sponsored motorsports drivers when it comes to feedback before the final compound and construction is locked in. When it comes to developing different sizes, a new mold has to be purchased. “Similar sizes can be covered by one mold is some cases”, Leu says. “It isn’t labor intensive when introducing a new size, but there is a large monetary investment by having to buy a new mold.” During this whole process, which can take over a year, the team at Nitto is constantly monitoring market trends to make any adjustments before final production takes place.

Nitto’s New High Performance Summer Tire – The NT05

The design of the NT05 stems back to 2007 from when the first ideas were conceived. Working through nearly two years, Nitto released the NT05 at the 2009 SEMA Show. They now currently offer about 25 different sizes. “With our initial sizes developed for the NT05, we went after the current popular vehicles like the Challenger, Mustang (1994 to current), 2010 Camaro, WRX, Evos, BMW series, to name a few.” Nitto prides themselves in being one of the few (if only) that offers a summer performance tire in this range for 20-inch wheel equipped vehicles.

Features of the NT05

At first look at the NT05 you can see how square the tire is. This helps push the maximum amount of traction down to the concrete, including the minimized rain grooves for added rubber

  • Reinforced shoulder tread blocks and three ply sidewall construction provide exceptional rigidity and stability
  • The continuous center rib consistently provides optimum tread contact with the road to maximize dry performance
  • The specifically engineered silica-infused (silica is what helps the tires stick to the road) and reinforced internal construction enhance construction, handling and high speed capabilities.
  • High tensile steel belts increase tread stiffness
  • Spiral wound cap ply provide stable high speed performance and improved uniformity

Hard Core Driving Characteristics

The one concept Nitto knew they wanted with the NT05 was its consistency. They wanted a tire that will constantly perform through its heat cycle and not become plagued from overheating while running them hard. Even though the NT05 is a great street tire, it’s built perform on the race track.

Talking with Nitto Engineer Alan Ngo, he told us a little about the NT05. “The operating temperature of NT05 is 160 to 220 degrees,” said Ngo. “Given that there are a lot of variables in play to heat up a tire to optimal temperature, like the weight of vehicle, the camber, and length of track, the average laps required for the NT05 to heat up will be 1-2 laps.”

Even during its limited time to market, the NT05 in motorsports has been used by Matt Dennison during 2009 time attack events under the Stock Class AWD. In the 2008 Super Lap Battle, Ryan Gates used the production sample of the NT05 (before the product release) and received second place. This is the first time the NT05 was used for competition purposes.

Mounting our NT05s is just like mounting any other tire, though when it comes to plus sizing, putting the tire onto the rim becomes more challenging. Select a reputable installation shop for mounting tires onto new wheels. If care isn't taken when mounting them, you could end up with scrapes on the lips of your new wheels

Testing the NT05 with Forgeline Wheels on our G8

One of more popular projects lately has been our Pontiac G8 GXP. Equipped with factory 19-inch wheels and tires, and a performance-tuned suspension, it has been called a 4-door Corvette. We decided to up the ante and perform testing with Nitto NT05 tires, 245/40/19 and 285/35/19. To fit the extra size rear tires, we went to our friends atForgeline Wheels and had them whip us up some custom GXP sizes that will perfectly fill the wheelwells and give the GXP a wicked stance.

We spoke with Forgeline executive David Schardt who designed a set of S03P wheels with some custom design flairs. Gloss black powdercoat with what Forgeline calls their “Diamond-edge” finish – which is the diamond-cut effect you see on the edge of each spoke.

Forgeline is one the best custom wheel makers in the business – building light, high-performance racing wheels that can be driven daily on the street. But the real magic is the Forgeline sauce is the custom offsets – you see Forgeline has their own in-house CNC equipment, so they can custom made almost every single offset known to man, even as tight as 1/8-th of an inch.

Although Forgeline won’t give away the information on the G8 offsets they made for us, rest assured, they will build you a set, and you can fit perfectly the 19 x 10 and 19 x 9.5 wheels that we chose. The only thing worth mentioning – with this wide tire we chose, we did need to roll the fenderlips!

Driving Impressions

Unlike many competition tires, the Nitto NT05’s were fairly sticky from minute 1 of our testing driving. The stiffer sidewalls gave the car a firmer side than the O.E. rubber, but not so firm that driving, potholes, and speed bumps were uncomfortable. The tire felt more stable under cornering and that confidence extended to the driving experience. After about 5 minutes of hard driving, we did feel the tires get a little more grippy, especially when pushed to the edge. Straight line traction was impressive — full throttle in first gear with the traction control disengaged did produce some moderate wheel spin, but an impressive amount of stick for a 390 rwhp car on regular street radials with a 5-speed.

In terms of comparing this to Nitto’s existing line, the NT05 occupies a very nice niche for the late model Muscle car. The NT555 is a great tire – less expensive and certainly a slightly older design, but it doesn’t provide the performance of the NT05 with dry traction. The Drag Radial works fantastic for straight line power, but doesn’t offer the handling flexibility or wet handling that the NT05 brings to the table.

All in all, the Nitto NT05 is a perfect upgrade to the NT555. If our words don’t do the trick, you should see our smile behind the wheel.

About the author

Mark Gearhart

In 1995 Mark started photographing drag races at his once local track, Bradenton Motorsports Park. He became hooked and shot virtually every series at the track until 2007 until he moved to California and began working as a writer for Power Automedia. He was the founding editor for its first online magazines, and transitioned into the role of editorial director role in 2014. Retiring from the company in 2016, Mark continues to expand his career as a car builder, automotive enthusiast, and freelance journalist to provide featured content and technical expertise.
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