June 9, 2017
When two titans of the tire industry release successors to their top-rated products, drivers need to be ready and armed to choose which tire is right for them. Fortunately for those enthusiastic consumers, Tire Rack specializes in product comparisons to reveal everything from obvious disparities to fine nuances between multiple products. Through our extensive testing program, we help drivers make the smarter choice for their vehicles, and in this test took an in-depth look at the newest in Max Performance Summer.
Continental recently announced the replacement for their venerable ExtremeContact DW, a tire that has found wide acceptance in the marketplace thanks to its category-leading wet traction and comfortable characteristics on the road, but doesn't feel quite as athletic as the best on the market. To step up the performance without making any sacrifices along the way, the new ExtremeContact Sport features an advanced tread compound to maximize wet grip, along with an internal construction designed to improve response and handling with minimal impact on ride quality.
Replacing a category benchmark is notably more difficult; how do you improve a tire that has been consistently ranked #1 since its debut? This is the task faced by Michelin, as their new Pilot Sport 4S is the successor to the Pilot Super Sport, the Max Performance Summer tire that has been the darling of consumers, the media and vehicle manufacturers alike, in addition to winning every Tire Rack comparison test in which it participated.
To see how these two new releases stack up against each other and one of the best existing entrants, the Tire Rack team conducted a Real World Road Ride and Performance Track Drive comparing the Continental ExtremeContact Sport, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S and Pirelli P Zero (PZ4). Our evaluation used 2017 BMW F36 430i sedans fitted with new, full tread depth 245/40R18 tires mounted on 18x8 wheels.
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.
Out on the road, our team found a lot to compliment with the tires in this test. As we have come to expect from premium Max Performance Summer tires, their civilized behavior on the road belies the impressive performance capability they possess. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S received the highest subjective score from our testers in every criterion, but was particularly favored for its handling. The weight and build-up of steering effort felt perfectly natural, and response to inputs was millimeter-precise without being overly sensitive. Ride quality and relatively low noise were also strong points for the Pilot Sport 4S, with a firm, composed ride that reduced impacts to a single event and no intrusive tones over the varied surfaces of our route. Pirelli's P Zero (PZ4) also scored favorably in handling, though its on-center feel may have hindered the ratings somewhat before being redeemed by the progressive increase in heft and feedback as input was added. The P Zero (PZ4) was as quiet as we expect from a tire of this caliber over most surfaces, with a distinct resonance over grooved concrete that was noticeable, but not overly intrusive. The Pirelli's ability to isolate the driver from small impacts was unparalleled in this test, but repetitive bumps created a resonance that continued after the initial impact, making it feel a little unsettled. Continental's ExtremeContact Sport featured light and eager handling, with little resistance or weight to the steering. This made the tire feel the most willing to change directions, and resulted in light handling scores that were a close third in the test. Ride and noise qualities were both appropriate for a Max Performance Summer tire, and the Continental isolated the driver less than the other two tires here, allowing more detail of the road surface to make its way into the cabin.
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.
As the outright abilities of Max Performance Summer tires continually advance, we have to remind ourselves that these are street tires, and while they are capable of producing some remarkably fast times, extensive lapping at a driver's school or HPDE event isn't in their mission statement. Despite that, our team was impressed with the on-track performance of all three tires here. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S presented a remarkable package, with steering that was immediate and precise combined with balanced and neutral handling. Longitudinal traction was very strong, allowing the driver to confidently power out of turns and providing authoritative braking. The Continental ExtremeContact Sport was a small but noticeable step behind in average lap times, and delivered its own blend of attributes. Its taut nature provided very responsive steering, with some movement in the rear end through rapid transitions that made the car feel a little unsettled. Longitudinal grip felt especially strong under braking, with slight wheelspin perceptible exiting corners. Pirelli's P Zero (PZ4) provided an excellent example of being greater than the sum of its parts. While it was apparent the Pirelli had less outright grip than the Continental or the Michelin, when pushed it delivers such a friendly and balanced package that it was easy to maximize every ounce of available performance. As a result, average laps times for the P Zero (PZ4) were only six hundredths of a second behind the Continental.
For a picture of how much tire technology advances with time, look no further than the wet track performance of the tires in this test. The Pirelli P Zero (PZ4) posted the fastest average lap times from our most recent Max Performance Summer tire test, yet was a second off the pace this time around. The Pilot Sport 4S was barely edged out by the Continental in our objective 50-0mph braking and skidpad tests, but has such a broad plateau of available traction that it is easy to maximize, providing average lap times that were a quarter of a second faster than the ExtremeContact Sport. Conversely, the Continental displayed higher ultimate grip, but was peaky in its delivery, so it was more difficult to access its full range of performance. The P Zero (PZ4) performed in the wet much the same as it did in the dry. It was friendly, balanced and easy to drive, but did not have the available traction of the other two tires, and as a result posted commensurately slower lap times.
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.
@ 15,000 Miles
|% vs. Most Efficient|
|Continental ExtremeContact Sport||25.6||585.9||-5.8%|
|Michelin Pilot Sport 4S||26.4||568.2||-3.0%|
|Pirelli P Zero (PZ4)||27.2||551.5||-|
|*Our evaluation used Race Technology DL1 data loggers to record true distance travelled.|
Low rolling resistance is not necessarily a priority for Max Performance Summer tires, but within this group we found a noticeable difference in observed vehicle fuel economy, with a 1.6 mile per gallon disparity between our lowest and highest observed fuel economy. This difference would result in an additional 34.4 gallons of premium gasoline used per year. At the current cost of $3.00/gallon, it would amount to an annual difference of $103.20 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.
With tire manufacturers' varying product cycles, a matchup as exciting as this is a rare occurrence, and these three tires did not disappoint. While access to the latest technology meant the two newest tires had the advantage in some respects, all of them are sure to satisfy enthusiast drivers of high performance vehicles.
The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S performs all the tasks expected of a Max Performance Summer tire at a very high level. From its athletic and composed nature on the road, to its best-in-test dry track figures, to its easily accessible performance in the wet, the Pilot Sport 4S really is the complete package. Continental's ExtremeContact Sport presents a compelling option, as well. Its behavior on the road is eager and lively, if not quite as refined as the other two tires. Objective wet cornering and stopping figures for the Continental are top-notch, but with a relatively narrow window that makes it a little harder to wring out every last drop of performance on the track. The Pirelli P Zero (PZ4) delivers a luxuriously sporty experience on the road coupled with a balanced and easy-to-drive nature in the wet or dry on the track, with traction levels that are slightly behind the Michelin and Continental in both aspects.
Continental ExtremeContact Sport (Max Performance Summer): The ExtremeContact Sport is Continental's Max Performance Summer tire developed for the drivers of sports cars, performance sedans and powerful luxury vehicles looking to combine serious performance in the dry and wet with refined ride and noise comfort. Like all summer tires, the ExtremeContact Sport is not intended to be serviced, stored nor driven in near- and below-freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice. Read more.
Michelin Pilot Sport 4S (Max Performance Summer): The Pilot Sport 4S is Michelin's Max Performance Summer tire developed in cooperation with some of the most demanding vehicle manufacturers, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche to utilize key technologies engineered during competition in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was designed for serious drivers looking to maximize the performance potential of their sports cars, performance sedans and powerful luxury vehicles. The Pilot Sport 4S excels in warm, dry and wet conditions, so like all Max Performance Summer tires, is not intended to be serviced, stored nor driven in near- and below-freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice. Read more.
Pirelli P Zero (PZ4) (Max Performance Summer): Pirelli P Zero (PZ4) tires are Max Performance Summer tires derived from Pirelli's Formula 1 experience and developed for some of the most exclusive and highest-performing vehicles available. Initially introduced as Original Equipment on the Audi A3 and S3, Lamborghini Huracan LP 580-2 and the Porsche Boxster, Cayman and 911, the P Zero (PZ4) includes replacement tire sizes as well as Original Equipment fitments. Pirelli's warranty does not cover tires that develop compound cracking due to use in ambient temperatures below 45° Fahrenheit (7° Celsius), so the P Zero (PZ4), like all summer tires, is not intended to be driven in near-freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice. Read more.
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