July 14, 2017
What defines a good value? Is it strictly based on price, or does it have more to do with what you get for your money? Since its debut, the General AltiMAX RT43 has been one of the best bang-for-your-buck touring tires on the market, and we often use it as the benchmark for value-oriented products. But what if we look at tires with entry-level prices? What personalities do these tires have, and is there value to be found at this price point, or are we venturing into the realm of strictly round and black?
To gauge the performance of some entry-level tires from our lineup compared to our value benchmark, we rounded up the General AltiMAX RT43, Kumho Ecsta LX Platinum, Laufenn G FIT AS and RIKEN Raptor HR for a Real World Road Ride and Performance Track Drive. Our evaluation used 2017 BMW F36 430i sedans fitted with new, full tread depth 215/60R16 tires mounted on 16x7 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.
The differing personalities of the four tires in our test group made themselves apparent immediately during the road ride portion of our testing, and while they all scored reasonably well with our testers, some found more favor than others. The General AltiMAX RT43 was praised for its composed and substantial feel over road imperfections, along with linear steering response, athletic handling and relatively quiet operation. There was some noticeable, but not intrusive, tread growl and a firmness to the ride that could become slightly jarring over large bumps. Kumho's Ecsta LX Platinum earned scores in all categories that were just a few tenths of a point behind the General. The Kumho created some noticeable tones over various road surfaces, and its slower steering response made it feel somewhat dull during light handling maneuvers, but otherwise proved itself a competent on-road companion. The Laufenn G FIT AS exhibited traits that were appropriate for the category, but not exemplary. Noise suppression and impact isolation were relative high points, but the response to steering inputs built in an unnatural and non-linear fashion that contributed to a handling score at the back of the pack. The ride of the RIKEN Raptor HR featured very little damping, which did a good job absorbing impacts, but also felt slightly unstable during abrupt maneuvers. A lack of resistance at low speeds and light on-center feel meant the steering was vague, and while not what we would consider noisy, the RIKEN's score for noise comfort trailed the rest of the group.
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.
Around the dry track, the average lap times of the four tires in our comparison were separated by a little more than four tenths of a second, and less than four feet separated the average stopping distances from 50 mph. Despite the similarities in objective figures, the on-track behavior of these four tires was very different.
The AltiMAX RT43 felt locked to the track surface and stable. It always did what was asked of it, but didn't like to be rushed and certainly didn't feel playful. The Ecsta LX Platinum exhibited strong front-end authority with a slight handling imbalance, and the rear axle felt just loose enough that the driver could use it to point the vehicle and rotate through corners, but ultimately the Kumho's lateral grip wasn't quite as strong as the rest of the group. The Raptor HR lapped the track with a lot of movement at both the front and rear, making it feel on the edge of control and leading to its relatively low subjective scores. With just the right amount of slip angle, the G FIT AS would come together and glide around the track almost instinctively, but if the driver asked too much or too little, the results felt much less satisfying.
Wet track testing didn't change the finishing order of the group, but it did reveal incredible differences in their capabilities. The AltiMAX RT43 was head and shoulders above the rest, lapping our track nearly a second and a half faster than the next-fastest Kumho, and stopping from 50 mph 20 feet shorter, as well. The outright abilities of the Ecsta LX Platinum were acceptable, but with front end grip that noticeably dominated the rear, this tire required some attention to keep the back end of the vehicle in line. Taking another noticeable step back brings us to the Raptor HR, which took some care to avoid overstepping the tire's modest limits. Front-end grip was just strong enough that it could overpower the rear tires during some maneuvers, so inputs needed to be slow and smooth to keep the car as balanced as possible. Trailing by a significant margin was the G FIT AS, a tire whose 180.8-foot 50-0 mph braking distance holds the dubious honor of being the longest of any tire we have tested, requiring almost 44 feet more than the General to perform the same feat. Whether braking, accelerating or turning on our test track, when driving on the Laufenn tires, the driver had to tiptoe and gently explore the meager capabilities.
Winter weather is often unpredictable, and snow-covered roads change with every passing vehicle as they churn snow into slush or pack it down to polished ice. A constantly changing test surface makes side-by-side comparisons difficult, so we use a dedicated winter testing facility in Northern Sweden with acres of groomed snow that provides the consistency we need to get reliable acceleration and braking comparisons. This facility also has a prepared snow-handling course where we evaluate the stability and control of each tire during abrupt maneuvers. To simulate the icy conditions found at intersections or the black ice experienced out on the highway, we use ice at a local hockey rink and measure acceleration and braking traction.
In snow, the General AltiMAX RT43 led the group, delivering solid acceleration and braking traction combined with confident handling. The Laufenn and RIKEN tires performed reasonably well, but at a level that was a step down from the General tire. Trailing the others by a significant margin was the Kumho Ecsta LX Platinum, which took 50% longer to stop than the AltiMAX RT43.
On ice, the Raptor HR, G FIT AS and AltiMAX RT43 displayed similar traction levels to start and stop our test car, with the Ecsta LX Platinum at a noticeably lower level. As is typical for all-season tires on ice, none of the tires in this group could come close to providing the traction of a dedicated winter tire.
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 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.
Low rolling resistance is often a consideration for consumers looking for Grand Touring All-Season tires, and within this group we found a noticeable difference in observed vehicle fuel economy, with a one mile per gallon disparity between our lowest and highest observed fuel economy. This difference would result in an additional 17.4 gallons of premium gasoline used per year. At the current cost of $3.00/gallon, it would amount to an annual difference of $52.20 for drivers driving 15,000 miles per year.
@ 15,000 Miles
|% vs. Most Efficient|
|General AltiMAX RT43||29.6||506.8||-.7%|
|Kumho Ecsta LX Platinum||29.1||515.5||-2.4%|
|Laufenn G FIT AS||29.8||503.4||--|
|RIKEN Raptor HR||28.8||520.8||-3.5%|
|*Our evaluation used Race Technology DL1 data loggers to record true distance travelled.|
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.
In the search for the best value, it's often tempting to immediately look for the least expensive option, but sometimes a better deal can be realized by increasing the initial investment slightly in order to obtain a superior performing product.
The General AltiMAX RT43 is one of the best bang-for-your-buck touring tire options currently on the market. It provides a quiet and comfortable ride, responsive handling on the street and impressive traction in the wet. Kumho's Ecsta LX Platinum has on-road manners that are appropriate for a Grand Touring All-Season tire, and its wet grip is acceptable for relaxed driving. The RIKEN Raptor HR has a spongy ride that takes the edge off large bumps, but feels unsettled over repetitive impacts and unstable during abrupt maneuvers. It struggles in the wet, with traction limits that could likely be encountered during normal driving. The Laufenn G FIT AS is comfortable on the road and surprisingly capable around our dry track, but can only be considered a value if it is not going to be used in the rain, as its wet performance is unfortunately the weakest we have tested.
General AltiMAX RT43 (H- or V-Speed Rated) (Grand Touring All-Season): AltiMAX RT43 (Road Touring) tires featuring H- or V-speed ratings are General's Grand Touring All-Season tire members of their AltiMAX family of flagship tires. Designed to deliver impressive consumer value through even treadwear and long treadlife, the AltiMAX RT43 combines a quiet, comfortable ride with year-round, all-season traction, even in light snow. Read more.
Kumho Ecsta LX Platinum (Grand Touring All-Season): The Ecsta LX Platinum (KU27) is Kumho's Grand Touring All-Season tire developed to meet the needs of sporty coupe and luxury performance sedan drivers. It is designed to blend responsive handling, long wear and a quiet ride with year-round traction including in light snow. Read more.
Laufenn G FIT AS (Grand Touring All-Season): The G FIT AS is Laufenn's Grand Touring All-Season tire developed for the drivers of coupes, sedans, family minivans and small crossover vehicles looking for year-round capability and comfort. G FIT AS tires are designed to blend impressive treadwear, a quiet and comfortable ride and all-season traction on dry and wet roads, as well as in light snow. Read more.
RIKEN Raptor HR (Grand Touring All-Season): The Raptor HR is RIKEN's H-speed rated Grand Touring All-Season tire developed for the drivers of sedans, coupes, minivans and crossover vehicles. Designed as a sport-touring tire, the Raptor HR combines good handling performance with year-round traction in dry, wet and wintry conditions, including light snow. Read more.
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