Nitto Tire unleashes an ultra-high-performance tire for modern muscle cars
By Steve Turner
Photos courtesy of Nitto Tire
The original Nitto Tire NT555 hit the streets in the late ’90s, and soon enough it had become the most popular tire for street-going Mustangs. It remains popular to this day, but it is outside the norm for a tire to remain on the market unchanged for almost 20 years. It was time for a new Ultra High Performance summer tire, and Nitto Tire has developed a worthy successor.
That successor is the all-new Nitto NT555 G2, and it embodies the spirit of the first-gen 555 and pushes it forward for today’s modern muscle cars. When the 555 debuted, 400-horsepower muscle cars were a rarity, and today it takes over 700 horsepower to have street cred. To keep up with that progression, Nitto engineers developed the G2.
“As soon as the project kicked off it was agreed that, no matter how difficult, the NT555 G2 has to grip harder, corner faster and stop shorter than the NT555 in every driving condition. The phrase ‘Rush Forward’ was also the theme for the project—whether that means a Mustang launching down a quarter mile for the lowest e.t. possible, a linebacker blitzing the offensive line, or a bull in a china shop—it really help set the tone for what Nitto was out to achieve,” Andy W. Frank, Staff Engineer at Nitto Tire USA, explained. “We viewed the NT555 G2 as a bolt-on performance upgrade for the muscle car, same as a cold-air intake, exhaust, or big brake kit. And on top of all of this we needed a radical new design that was distinctly recognized as a Nitto tire, but still paid tribute to the predecessor NT555.”
When you think about it, a tire is one of the most important bolt-on performance enhancers that you can add to your performance Ford, so the news that there is a successor to the NT555 is pretty exciting. Fortunately, Nitto invited your author out to Palm Beach International Raceway in Jupiter, Florida, to participate in a video introducing its new tire. There we were able to see the NT555 G2 in action, and it definitely impressed—especially in the wet—with Steeda Vice President Glen Vitale behind the wheel.
“The G2 feels light years ahead of the older NT555. Going from a NT555 to the newer G2 is like getting a new computer; everything you do seems faster,” he elaborated. “The G2 delivers a lot more feedback to what the car is doing underneath versus the NT555. Because of this better connection you feel to the road, the confidence of driving the car harder goes up, as you now can feel the limits of adhesion much clearer than you could with the NT555.”
A seasoned racer, Glen definitely knows what he is talking about and you can watch him do work on the new NT555 G2 right here…
“The NT555 G2 is the grown-up version of the NT555. We (Nitto) didn’t want to mess with the formula that the NT555 created that made it successful, we simply wanted to tweak that formula to make the NT555 G2 more relevant to the modern-day muscle car,” Andy said. “That meant focusing on performance and style, both of which are extremely important with today’s muscle car owners, as you obviously know by walking around any muscle car gathering or show. I personally like to think of the NT555 G2 as the NT555 given a heavy dose of steroids… it’s stronger, meaner and much more aggressive.”
To develop this new tire, Nitto actually used modified Mustangs with plus-size and staggered tire fitments. This is an anomaly in the tire industry, but Nitto engineers are in tune with their customers. In fact, Andy even picked up a supercharged 2014 Mustang as his daily driver so he could get an even better idea what modern performance enthusiasts would look for in a tire while he developed the NT555 G2.
“We do things a little bit differently at Nitto than a lot of tire manufacturers do in the industry. We kind of go against the grain as far as how we test and what we test on. It is pretty common in the industry to test on either a Toyota Corolla or a BMW 328…” Andy explained. “We actually used Steeda Q Mustangs to develop the tire. We used a 20-inch tire. We used a 255/35-20 on the front and a 275/35-20 on the rear… No one does that. It’s kind of neat, because we know that the results that we are getting from a performance standpoint are true to the market. We don’t have to extrapolate out, ‘oh the BMW performed this way so we think a Mustang will perform this way.’”
Of course the original Triple Five was known for balancing performance with a manageable tread-wear rating; a combination that made it so popular. The challenge for the NT555 G2 was adding performance without sacrificing too much longevity. Part of that package is its directional tread pattern and unique compound, but some of the credit goes to the ATOM process that Nitto employs at its manufacturing plant in White, Georgia.
“In today’s age in the auto and tire industry with supercomputers and advancements in material science, both really helped out in developing a compound perfectly suitable for this project. Nitto wanted a rubber compound that would result in the performance demanded by the modern muscle car owner, without needing to have their local tire shop on speed dial,” Andy said. “A new compound coupled with our proprietary tire production process, Advanced Tire Operation Module, we were able to achieve a substantial gain in performance without having to sacrifice hardly any tread life…”
It goes without saying that the G2 bests the original 555 on dry pavement, but one area of focus for the NT555 G2 team was improving its wet traction. Due to the weather during our video shoot, the back-to-back testing was limited to a wet track, but the improvement was dramatic. Where the NT555 felt skittish and slippery in the wet, the NT555 G2 inspired a lot of confidence, whether the Steeda mustang was carving up the corners or braking in a straight line.
While we didn’t get to experience its dry traction, suffice it to say that Nitto Tire performed plenty of dry testing on the tire. Using a stock 2014 Mustang GT, the NT555 G2 was .8 seconds quicker around the dry road course (101.7 versus 102.5 seconds). Likewise the company tested the G2’s dry braking using a stock, base 2015 Mustang GT on an asphalt surface. On average, the G2 out-braked the 555 by 1.54 feet (117.8 versus 119.34 feet).
“When people come out with a new tire, it’s pretty much assumed that you better do your homework to make it better in the dry—lap times, drag strip numbers, etc.—what we wanted to focus on was the wet,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize you have to drive this car year ’round, in wet conditions or you take it out to a wet track and go autocrossing. It is also a safety feature. Muscle cars are heavy, so if we can knock back the stopping distance 15, 20, 25 feet, that’s the difference between stopping in the intersection or stopping at the white line.”
For street-going performance cars, the importance of that performance in the wet can’t be understated. However, as we mentioned before, dry traction was also improved on the NT555 G2 and to bolster that effort, Nitto engineers took a unique approach on the wider versions of the G2, which harkens back to the large contact patch that was a cornerstone of the original 555 design.
“What we did with the 555 G2 is any tire size 275 and larger we actually made the tread blocks larger, and any tire 265 and narrower, we made the tread blocks smaller… Knowing that we really wanted to capture the dynamics as far as what the tire does on a muscle car, front versus rear. We all know the power is coming to the rear tires because it is a rear-wheel-drive vehicle,” Andy elaborated. “What if we kind of make a pseudo drag radial by keeping the same compound and same tread, but just make the blocks bigger so you increase your traction? Then on the front tires let’s make the blocks smaller so it improves your handling, improves your stopping distances, and improves your ride comfort.”
As you can see, Nitto Tire really took the cars we love to heart when designing the NT555 G2, and it looks like a great new option for your modern performance Ford. While the full lineup of sizes isn’t released just yet, the company is building the G2 in 17- to 20-inch diameters and widths from 225mm to 315mm, and they assure us there will be staggered fitments for all the popular configurations.
Nitto Tire NT555 G2 Gallery