June 10, 2009
Most often, developing the next big thing is easy. Designers learn from past efforts and technology moves forward, helping new product designs to easily surpass the performance of their predecessor. For some, though, it might not be so easy. Consider the occasional vehicle redesign that loses some of the original car's excitement as the second generation model debuts. Or the new music group that breaks onto the scene with chart-topping hits, but struggles with their second release. The sophomore blues. So, too, for tire companies as they work to improve on their successful designs. Many are able to improve, but not all.
Continental hit a home run with the ContiExtremeContact Ultra High Performance All-Season tire. This tire delivered appropriate levels of performance handling on dry and wet roads along with category-leading wintertime traction. A true performance tire for all seasons. Conti's challenge, improve dry road handling and road manners without sacrificing winter traction. Their solution - the new ExtremeContact DWS (Dry Wet Snow).
Pirelli faced a similar challenge with the popular P Zero Nero M+S - improve winter and wet traction without diminishing the dry handling and comfortable road manners this tire was known for. Pirelli engineers had already successfully developed Original Equipment Ultra High Performance All-Season fitments on a number of performance vehicles and used the knowledge gained during that development to expand the offering into a full line of replacement sizes - the P Zero Nero All Season.
We wanted to find out how well Continental and Pirelli hit their marks in developing their next generation Ultra High Performance All-Season tires. And while we didn't have winter conditions at our northern Indiana headquarters in early June to test the snow traction of these new tires, the Tire Rack team did conduct a Real World Road Ride and Performance Track Drive to evaluate the road manners and wet/dry handling characteristics of each tire. We compared the Continental ExtremeContact DWS and Pirelli's P Zero Nero All Season tires to the BFGoodrich g-Force Super Sport A/S and Michelin Pilot Sport A/S Plus, both popular in the Ultra High Performance All-Season tire category. Our evaluation used 2008 BMW E92 328i coupes with new, full tread depth 225/45R17 tires mounted on 17x8.0" wheels.
Did Continental and Pirelli succeed in raising the bar? Yes, they did! Read on to learn how.
Our 6.6-mile loop of expressway, state highway and county roads provides a great variety of road conditions that include city and highway speeds, smooth and coarse concrete, as well as new and patched asphalt. This route allows our team to experience noise comfort, ride quality and everyday handling, just as you would during your drive to school or work.
Out on the road, the Pirelli P Zero Nero All Season delivered the most comfortable ride of the group, doing a nice job absorbing the harsher impacts and patched asphalt sections of our route. The Continental ExtremeContact DWS was close behind, limiting how much of the jarring ride made its way to the driver. The Michelin Pilot Sport A/S Plus felt modestly firmer than the Pirelli or Continental tires, particularly over the expansion joints along the expressway. The BFGoodrich g-Force Super Sport A/S provided ride quality appropriate for the category, but our team found it delivered the firmest ride of the four tires tested.
However, the firm ride of the g-Force Super Sport A/S paid back with the most responsive steering feel of the group along with stable on-road handling around the sweeping expressway ramps and faster corners. The P Zero Nero All Season and Pilot Sport A/S Plus also drove very nicely and felt quite similar from behind the wheel with steering response that was completely in-sync with driver inputs - not too slow or too fast. The ExtremeContact DWS also drove well, but displayed a small numb spot when driving straight on the expressway that required small and constant inputs to keep the vehicle going straight ahead.
The P Zero Nero All Season was found to be the quietest of the group, producing only modest tread noise as it rolled over the variety of surfaces along our test route. Tread noise from the Pilot Sport A/S Plus was modest, too, but this tire did produce a noticeable ring or pinging noise when encountering the sharper impacts of patched potholes and expansion joints. The ExtremeContact DWS was found to be very similar to the Pilot Sport A/S Plus for its tread noise (a nice improvement over its predecessor the ContiExtremeContact) and without the ringing sound as it absorbed harsh impacts. Rounding out the group was the sporty g-Force Super Sport A/S which produced a slight growl at certain speeds, and also produced a ringing sound when it encountered sharp impacts.
Our 1/3-mile per lap test track course includes 90-degree street corners, lane changes and simulated expressway ramps. Run in both dry and wet conditions, the test track allows our team to experience the traction, responsiveness, handling and drivability normally only encountered during abrupt emergency avoidance maneuvers or competition events.
The sporty feel of the g-Force Super Sport A/S found on the road carried over to the track, as this tire displayed crisp steering response and stable cornering that carried it to the fastest overall lap time of the test. The P Zero Nero All Season delivered plenty of ultimate grip as it tied the g-Force Super Sport A/S for the highest lateral g-forces, but seemed to allow the vehicle to engage the ABS sooner than expected during threshold braking. The Pilot Sport A/S Plus felt predictable when pressed hard with just a hint of stable understeer as it approached the traction limit. And the ExtremeContact DWS felt well-balanced, but with subtly slower steering response than the others.
In wet conditions the similarities ended as responsiveness, balance and overall grip varied noticeably among the test group. The ExtremeContact DWS was clearly superior to the other three, behaving as if there was hardly any water on the track at all, posting the quickest slalom time, highest lateral g-forces around the skidpad and the fastest lap time of this test. Our team praised this tire for its predictable feel and confidence-inspiring handling. Some distance back was the second place P Zero Nero All Season, which also handled well but didn't have the ultimate grip of the ExtremeContact DWS. The Pilot Sport A/S Plus ended up right behind the P Zero Nero All Season, providing stable handling that was limited by the traction of the front tires, often resulting in gentle understeer at the limit. The sporty feel of the g-Force Super Sport A/S found in the dry was absent in the wet, as this tire just did not have the poise or ultimate wet grip of the other tires in the test, and once the limit was exceeded took a little longer to regain traction.
BFGoodrich g-Force Super Sport A/S (W-Speed Rated) (Ultra High Performance All-Season): The g-Force Super Sport A/S is BFGoodrich's Ultra High Performance All-Season tire developed for the drivers of sports cars, sporty coupes and performance sedans. The g-Force Super Sport A/S was developed to be three tires in one to prevent a little bad weather from spoiling the fun. The tire is designed to thrill even the most passionate driving enthusiast while providing year-round traction, including in light snow.
Continental ExtremeContact DWS (Ultra High Performance All-Season): The ExtremeContact DWS (DWS for Dry, Wet & Snow) is Continental's Ultra High Performance All-Season radial developed for drivers of sports cars, sports coupes, performance sedans and sport trucks. The ExtremeContact DWS is designed to satisfy their year-round driving needs by blending dry and wet road performance with light snow and slush traction. Read more.
Michelin Pilot Sport A/S Plus (Ultra High Performance All-Season): The Pilot Sport A/S Plus is the Ultra High Performance All-Season tire member of Michelin's Pilot family of low profile, high-speed tires that represents the evolution of the Pilot Sport A/S. Developed for the drivers of high-end sports cars, sporty coupes and performance sedans, the Pilot Sport A/S Plus is designed to combine enhanced all-weather performance, wet grip and treadwear along with year-round traction, including in light snow.
Pirelli P Zero Nero All Season (Ultra High Performance All-Season): The P Zero Nero All Season is Pirelli's Ultra High Performance All-Season tire designed to provide all-season traction and handling. It was developed for drivers who operate their vehicles in America's various weather conditions, including in light snow. Read more.
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