Tire Test Results

Target: Ultra High Performance Summer. Does the New Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 Hit the Mark?

June 24, 2016

Tires Tested

BFGoodrich g-Force Sport COMP-2 (Ultra High Performance Summer 245/40R18 93W)
  • What We Liked: Comparison-leading steering feel, reliable wet performance.
  • What We'd Improve: The most noticeable tread and impact noise of the group.
  • Conclusion: Still a top-tier performer, but starting to show its age.
Dunlop Direzza DZ102 (Ultra High Performance Summer 245/40R18 97W)
  • What We Liked: Performs at a reasonably high level in almost every area.
  • What We'd Improve: Needs a big improvement in wet traction.
  • Conclusion: An otherwise promising entry that is held back by its score in the wet.
Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 (Ultra High Performance Summer 245/40R18 97W)
  • What We Liked: Aggressive looks backed up by impressive levels of dry grip and sharp reflexes.
  • What We'd Improve: The firmest ride in this test and very light steering effort.
  • Conclusion: Hits the bull's eye for an Ultra High Performance tire.
Kumho Ecsta PS31 (Ultra High Performance Summer 245/40R18 97W)
  • What We Liked: Pleasant to drive on the street, balanced wet performance.
  • What We'd Improve: Dry performance falls short of "Ultra High," rubbery steering feel.
  • Conclusion: Pretty good at most things, but not a tire for the driving enthusiast.

Vehicles Used

2014 BMW F30 328i Sedan

Ultra High Performance Summer: You want an outstanding blend of dry and wet street traction and handling.

The target for Ultra High Performance Summer tires is specific and relatively narrow in scope. Compared to their All-Season counterparts, Ultra High Performance Summer tires seem to have an easy job. Designing a tire that is good in the warm, wet and dry conditions must be like hitting the proverbial broad side of a barn with today's technology. There is one word, though, that indicates the bull's eye isn't as vast as you may think.

Outstanding: Marked by superiority or distinction; excellent; distinguished.

Ultra High Performance Summer tires aren't simply expected to be good in the dry and wet, they need to be excellent. Of course, since these are street tires, they can't sacrifice on-road manners in the quest for outright performance, either. So much for an easy target.

To gauge the accuracy of Firestone's aim with the new-for-2016 Firehawk Indy 500, the Tire Rack team conducted a Real World Road Ride and Performance Track Drive comparing it with Kumho's brand new Ecsta PS31, the popular Dunlop Direzza DZ102, and BFGoodrich's g-Force Sport COMP-2, the long-standing class leader. Our evaluation used 2014 BMW F30 328i sedans fitted with new, full tread depth 245/40R18 tires mounted on 18x8 wheels.

What We Learned on the Road

Our 6.0-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.

While all four tires were satisfying on the road, their distinct personalities and varying degrees of sportiness meant some found more favor than others with our drivers. The on-road handling crown was hotly contested, with the g-Force Sport COMP-2 relying on its solid feel, reassuring feedback and practically ideal build-up of steering effort to edge out the Firestone. The Firehawk Indy 500 delivered the most immediate and responsive steering of the comparison. Drivers looking for a tire with sharp reflexes to really brighten up their vehicle's handling need look no further, but what ultimately kept the Firehawk Indy 500 from the top spot was its lack of feedback. The right-now steering was very precise, making it easy to place the car through turns, but with minimal resistance and no communication through the steering wheel, it was more akin to a computer simulation of driving than an actual path from the steering wheel to the road. Occupying the middle ground was Dunlop's Direzza DZ102, which wasn't as sharp as the Firestone and became a little light at higher speeds, but fared better than the Ecsta PS31, whose delayed reactions to steering input made for a rubbery steering feel unbefitting an Ultra High Performance Summer tire.

Summertime driving involves more than attacking back road curves, so comfort and refinement are important as well. Here all four tires returned similar results, with the Firestone delivering the quietest, but also the firmest ride. The Dunlop and Kumho both provided respectable impact isolation and relative quiet, and the BFGoodrich did the best job of smoothing over bumps, but had noticeable tread slap over imperfections and the tread emitted a growl at most speeds.

What We Learned on the Test Track

Our 1/3-mile per lap test track course includes 90-degree street corners, a five-cone slalom 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.

Even though they are dedicated street tires, Ultra High Performance Summer tires may occasionally end up at a local autocross or SCCA Track Night In America event, so it's important that they can hold their own in those situations. During our dry track testing, the Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 backed up its aggressive appearance with the fastest average lap time and by pulling .91g on our skidpad. The Dunlop and BFGoodrich tires were around half a second behind the Firestone and proved themselves willing and capable. The Kumho Ecsta PS31 was not at home on the track, and in addition to receiving multiple negative comments concerning its mushy feel and general lack of responsiveness, it also posted the lowest objective numbers in every category.

Turning on the sprinklers did little to shuffle the finishing order of these four, but it did reveal more differences in their personalities. The Firehawk Indy 500 once again set the pace for lap times and lateral grip, but proved to be just a little edgy at the limits of adhesion. The g-Force Sport COMP-2 was a close second and many found it easier to drive, if ultimately not quite as capable. The Ecsta PS31 delivered reasonably high levels of grip that were a few steps back from the leaders, and its soft nature led to gentle breakaway at the limit, making for a very balanced and approachable performance. Comparatively, the Direzza DZ102 struggled. In addition to lower levels of traction in all areas than the rest of the group, cornering traction was a little better than braking, making it rather challenging for the driver to judge the ultimate traction level.

Fuel Consumption Results

Our Real World Road Ride features a relatively flat 6.0-mile loop of 65 mph expressway, 55 mph state highway and 40 mph county roads along with three stop signs every lap. Our team drove each tire approximately 500 miles over the course of several days. Since we wanted to compare fuel consumption results that typical drivers would experience, our drivers were instructed to maintain the flow of traffic by running at the posted speed limits and sustain the vehicle's speed using cruise control whenever possible. They did not use hypermiling techniques to influence vehicle fuel economy.

Tire Test MPG* Gallons/Year
@ 15,000 Miles
% vs. Most Efficient
BFGoodrich g-Force Sport COMP-2 27.8 539.6 -.7%
Dunlop Direzza DZ102 27.6 543.5 -1.5%
Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 27.2 551.5 -2.9%
Kumho Ecsta PS31 28.0 535.7 --
*Our evaluation used Race Technology DL1 data loggers to record true distance travelled.

None of the tires in this test were designed with low rolling resistance as a high priority, and as a result we found a negligible difference in observed vehicle fuel economy across the group. The .8 mile per gallon difference between our lowest and highest observed fuel economy would result in an annual difference of around 16 gallons of premium gasoline. At the current cost of $3.00/gallon, it would amount to an annual difference of $47.40 for drivers driving 15,000 miles per year.

It's important to note our test's fuel consumption measurements follow consistent procedures designed to minimize variables that could influence the results, however they do not represent an exhaustive long-range fuel consumption study. While our procedures require the test vehicles in each convoy to run under the same prevailing conditions, the week-to-week differences in ambient temperatures, barometric pressures and wind speeds that we experience over a season of testing can influence vehicle fuel consumption and prevent the absolute mpg values of this test from being compared directly against those of others.

Larger differences in consumption between tires may indicate a difference that might be experienced on the road, while smaller differences should be considered equivalent. As they say, your mileage may vary.

Summary

The outstanding blend of dry and wet street traction and handling delivered by Ultra High Performance Summer tires makes them a popular choice for drivers of sporty coupes and sedans looking to add some pep to their cars' step. Despite its very light steering effort and firm ride, the Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 hits the mark for an Ultra High Performance Summer tire with its bold good looks, nearly telepathic steering response, and strong performance in the dry or wet. The BFGoodrich g-Force Sport COMP-2 is a perennial favorite and always a solid choice, but is being surpassed by the newest generation on the market. Kumho's Ecsta PS31 fails to deliver on its Ultra High Performance Summer promise, but managed to narrowly secure a third place finish thanks to the Dunlop Direzza DZ102's underwhelming display in the wet.

Product Details

BFGoodrich g-Force Sport COMP-2 (Ultra High Performance Summer): As BFGoodrich's Ultra High Performance Summer tire developed for the drivers of sports cars, sporty coupes, performance sedans and modern muscle cars looking for the next level of control and fun, the g-Force Sport COMP-2 is designed to accelerate faster, corner harder and brake shorter in dry and wet conditions. However, like all summer tires, it is not intended to be driven in near freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice. Read more.

Dunlop Direzza DZ102 (Ultra High Performance Summer): The Direzza DZ102 is Dunlop's Ultra High Performance Summer tire developed for sports car, sports coupe and performance sedan driving enthusiasts. Designed to combine sleek styling and impressive handling, the Direzza DZ102 delivers head-turning performance in warm, dry and wet conditions, however it is not intended to be driven in near-freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice. Read more.

Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 (Ultra High Performance Summer): The Firehawk Indy 500 is Firestone's Ultra High Performance Summer tire developed for drivers of sports cars, sporty coupes and performance sedans who want to maximize sport driving pleasure through racing-inspired technology. The Firehawk Indy 500 is designed to deliver impressive performance in wet and dry conditions. Like all summer tires, Firehawk Indy 500 tires are not intended to be driven in near-freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice. Read more.

Kumho Ecsta PS31 (Ultra High Performance Summer): The Ecsta PS31 is Kumho's Ultra High Performance Summer tire developed for drivers who emphasize handling and performance in dry and wet conditions for their sports cars, sporty coupes and performance sedans. Like all summer tires, the Ecsta PS31 is not intended to be driven in near freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice. Read more.

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