September 8, 2017
The landscape for Ultra High Performance All-Season tires is constantly changing, and consumers continually expect more and more from the tires in the most performance-oriented all-season category. Not long ago, an Ultra High Performance All-Season tire could focus heavily on wet and dry performance, with all-season capability as something of an afterthought. From there, the marketplace shifted toward the all-season side of the equation, and tires could rely on best-in-class light snow traction to secure their place at the top of the consumer rankings charts, as long as they were reasonably sporty and didn't have any glaring deficiencies in other areas. In today's world, though, drivers demand more. Especially from the premium brands, consumers expect Ultra High Performance All-Season tires to deliver in every aspect, with sporty dry handling, a quiet and comfortable ride, confident wet traction and sure-footed performance in light snow.
It is into this increasingly demanding segment Bridgestone launches its Potenza RE980AS, the long-awaited replacement for the Potenza RE970AS Pole Position. Bridgestone knows the stakes and the requirements to be successful in the category, and they weren't content with incremental gains when designing their new tire. Claimed improvements over the outgoing product are significant in every category, with the highlight being an incredible 50% increase in snow traction. And lest we have concerns these gains were realized at the expense of tread wear, Bridgestone also claims a 25% improvement in tire life, as well.
To see if the Potenza RE980AS has what it takes to succeed in the upper echelon of Ultra High Performance All-Season products, we're comparing it to some of the best in the category, the Continental ExtremeContact DWS 06, Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3+ and Pirelli P Zero All Season Plus. 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.
Despite their Ultra High Performance label, all four tires in this test proved well-mannered and agreeable on the road, with a slim .2-point spread across the group's overall road rating. The Pirelli P Zero All Season Plus emerged as our testers' favorite, owing to its excellent balance of attributes. The steering was weighty without being overly heavy, the response was quick and direct but never jumpy, and braking was easy to modulate. Similarly, the ride quality was smooth and composed, but still felt sporty, and the sound from the tread pattern would blend into a subtle, white noise. Michelin's Pilot Sport A/S 3+ relied upon best-in-test light handling to secure the second-place spot in our road test, with a ride that was quite firm and some pattern noise that made its way into the cabin, but wasn't distracting. The Continental ExtremeContact DWS 06 exhibited all the characteristics we have come to expect, namely handling that was sporty, but just a little slower to respond than the rest of the group, and some light tread growl that could be heard over most surfaces. Ride quality for the Continental felt the most comfort-oriented in the test, with the softest damping of the four. The Bridgestone Potenza RE980AS rounds out the group. Steering effort for the Potenza RE980AS was very light, and response to inputs was natural and progressive. The ride was controlled and composed, and did a nice job rounding off larger bumps. While it wasn't necessarily any louder than some of the other tires in the test, the tread's interaction with the road could be heard the most, which led to a noise rating a little behind the rest.
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.
The Pilot Sport A/S 3+ once again led the way in our dry track testing, both objectively and subjectively. With outright grip levels that rival some summer tires and highly responsive steering, the Michelin felt immensely capable, with more performance than a driver could safely exploit on the street. Though its objective grip and lap times were a little behind the leaders, subjectively our team scored the Bridgestone quite highly. Flick-of-the-wrist directional changes and strong front-end authority were highlights, but the front axle had a tendency to slightly overpower the rear and could sometimes set the tail wagging noticeably by the end of the slalom. The P Zero All Season Plus posted measured numbers that were just behind the Pilot Sport A/S 3+, and it felt willing and athletic around our track, but without the ground-hugging grip of the Michelin or the eagerness of the Bridgestone, landed in third subjectively. As we have found before, the ExtremeContact DWS 06 didn't exactly feel at home turning laps on the dry track, but it certainly held its own in this tough company. The Continental wouldn't tolerate being overdriven, which typically resulted in understeer, but staying within the tire's limits resulted in laps just half a second behind the Michelin.
Wet performance was yet another demonstration of a high level of ability for all four tires. While still a noticeable step behind the best Max Performance Summer tires, for example, the tires in this group nonetheless delivered impressive results on our wet track. The Pilot Sport A/S 3+ once again walked away as our testers' subjective favorite. We found the same immediacy to the steering response as we did in the dry, which would be problematic in the wet if this tire didn't have the traction required to maintain stability during abrupt movements. Fortunately, the Michelin had a broad plateau of grip, which only began to feel peaky when near or at the limit. Objectively, the Potenza RE980AS led the way in every metric. Rapid steering response, balanced handling, strong braking authority and a confident transfer of power to the pavement were all attributes of the Bridgestone. Some members of our test team did not favor the light and fast front end while lapping the wet track, which hurt its overall score just a touch. Just like in the dry, the P Zero All Season Plus was a very close second place in our objective testing, but landed third subjectively. While it didn't feel quite as solidly planted as the other tires, it was so easy and forgiving to drive that our testers could work with the tiny bit of slip and glide around the track with confidence while clicking off some very fast and consistent laps. The slightly soft feel of the ExtremeContact DWS 06 that was a small detriment in the dry was just the opposite in the wet. The slower turn-in combined with the tires' very high level of grip meant it was nearly impossible to upset the balance of the car through turns unless the driver was actually trying to do so. Going back to throttle too soon could provoke the rear end to step out some, but it was easily reigned in, and overall the Continental was a balanced and capable performer.
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.
The Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3+ managed to lead the group in our snow testing, particularly when relying on traction control and ABS to help start and stop our test car. Around the handling course this tire felt a little edgy at the limit and was somewhat harder to control than the others. The Pirelli P Zero All Season Plus and Continental ExtremeContact DWS 06 were both a little easier to drive, but neither had quite as much straight-line traction as the Pilot Sport A/S 3+. The Bridgestone Potenza RE980AS also felt friendly and was easy to drive at the limit, but its ultimate traction trailed the others by a small margin.
On the ice, all four tires provided similar traction levels, but could not come close to the traction of dedicated winter tires.
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|
|Bridgestone Potenza RE980AS||26.9||557.6||-5.2%|
|Continental ExtremeContact DWS 06||28.1||533.8||-.7%|
|Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3+||28.2||531.9||-.4%|
|Pirelli P Zero All Season Plus||28.3||530.0||--|
|*Our evaluation used Race Technology DL1 data loggers to record true distance travelled.|
Low rolling resistance is not necessarily a priority for Ultra High Performance tires, but with the ever-present uncertainty of fuel prices, a tire's fuel economy may be a consideration for consumers. Within this group we found a slight difference in observed vehicle fuel economy, with a 1.4-mile per gallon disparity between our lowest and highest observed fuel economy. This difference would result in an additional 27.2 gallons of premium gasoline used per year. At the current cost of $3.00/gallon, it would amount to an annual difference of $81.60 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.
Though there has to be a ranking of 1st through 4th, every tire in this test performed at a very high level in all aspects. With such well-rounded and capable performers, there isn't a loser in the bunch, and each one of them should satisfy any driver looking for an Ultra High Performance All-Season tire.
The Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3+ is the most performance-focused tire in the test, and its personality on the road and the dry or wet track serves as a constant reminder of this objective. With direct and precise steering, balanced handling and impressive measured data, the Michelin earns the highest score in two of our three overall subjective categories and is a close second in the other. As the newest entry in the test, the Bridgestone Potenza RE980AS is the challenger to the established hierarchy. With a performance highlighted by the strongest objective numbers in the wet, the Potenza RE980AS proves a great addition to the category. Ride comfort is another bright spot, but there is some light and noticeable tread growl over most surfaces. The Pirelli P Zero All Season Plus is a complete and balanced package. Its behavior on the road is an ideal blend of comfort and sport, and its objective numbers in the dry and wet both represent very close second place finishes. The Continental ExtremeContact DWS 06 feels the least performance-oriented on the road with a slightly softer ride than the rest of the group and steering that isn't quite as immediate as the others'. Its soft nature makes it feel a touch out of place on the dry track, but its objective figures are very close to the rest of the group. High levels of ultimate wet grip and an easy-to-drive nature inspire confidence in the driver, and we know from past testing that capability in light snow is another competence the Continental possesses.
Bridgestone Potenza RE980AS (Ultra High Performance All-Season): The Potenza RE980AS is Bridgestone's Ultra High Performance All-Season tire developed for the drivers of sports cars, sporty coupes and performance sedans looking for high speed capability and predictable handling in dry or wet conditions combined with confident year-round performance, even in light snow. Read more.
Continental ExtremeContact DWS 06 (Ultra High Performance All-Season): The ExtremeContact DWS 06 (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. Designed to satisfy year-round driving needs, ExtremeContact DWS 06 tires blend dry and wet road performance with wintertime slush and snow traction. Read more.
Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3+ (Ultra High Performance All-Season): The Pilot Sport A/S 3+ includes a W- and Y-speed rated Ultra High Performance All-Season tire member of Michelin's Pilot family of low profile, high-speed tires developed for the drivers of high-end sports cars, sporty coupes and sedans looking for total performance. The Pilot Sport A/S 3+ tire is designed to provide Michelin's highest level of ultra-high, all-season performance, emphasizing dry road handling and wet road grip with balanced all-season traction for occasional light snow. Read more.
Pirelli P Zero All Season Plus (Ultra High Performance All-Season): The P Zero All Season Plus is the Ultra High Performance All-Season member of Pirelli's P Zero tire family. Developed for driving enthusiasts behind the wheels of powerful sports cars, coupes and sedans looking for Pirelli prestige and year-round performance, the P Zero All Season Plus is designed to be driven in all seasons, even in light snow. Read more.
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