Aug. 1, 2003
Some of today's luxury high performance and exotic sports coupes and sedans are designed to deliver not only stunning road performance, but also transport its occupants in style and comfort. Vehicles like the Mercedes S500, Jaguar XJR, Lexus IS300 and even Porsche 911 Carrera can come equipped with tires that are designed to complement the expansive range of performance and comfort these vehicles provide.
There is a growing subset of tires in our Max Performance category, many that are Original Equipment fitments on these luxury sports cars, designed to deliver outstanding wet or dry handling and stopping power while remaining civilized enough for a night on the town or cross country cruise. While the exact size and model of tire fitted as Original Equipment is often engineered specifically for the vehicle it's going on, tire manufacturers also develop a wide range of sizes around the few OE sizes intended to fit a variety of vehicles as replacement tires and bring all the civilized performance characteristics along with it.
To get an understanding of the ride and handling characteristics of some of these tires, Tire Rack team conducted a Real World Road Ride and Performance Track Drive, comparing the Continental ContiSportContact 2, Dunlop SP Sport 9000 and Pirelli P Zero Rosso Asimmetrico. We used 2003 BMW 330Ci coupes, and installed a Plus Zero fitment with 225/45R17 tires on 17x8" wheels. We tested new, full tread depth tires.
To better evaluate the effect on ride comfort and vehicle handling that replacing Original Equipment tires can make, we also included in our testing a fourth, 2003 BMW 330Ci with the Original Equipment 205/50R17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A High Performance All-Season tires mounted on factory 17x7.5" wheels.
The Goodyear Eagle RS-A is produced with several speed ratings and in a wide variety of sizes. Its design is heavily influenced because of its use as an Original Equipment tire by BMW, Volkswagen, General Motors, Chrysler and others. The Eagle RS-A features a subtle asymmetric tread design with larger tread elements in the outside shoulder intended to deliver more responsive handling, cornering, and steering. Smaller tread blocks on the inside shoulder combined with wide tread and lateral grooves are intended to enhance wet and snow traction.
Out on the road, the Eagle RS-A exhibited good road manners, providing levels of ride comfort and road noise that were appropriate for tires in the High Performance All-Season tire category, and somewhat better than the other tires in this evaluation. Road handling was reasonable, but not at the same level as the three Max Performance Summer tires compared in this test.
On the track in the dry, the Eagle RS-A offered respectable handling and performance, but could not keep pace with the other three tires in this comparison. Staying with the vehicle's Original Equipment size (205/50R17) vs. the Plus Sizing (225/45R17) for the other tires, combined with the inherent compromises of its all-season design may have contributed to the fourth-place finish in average lap times, but helped give a good comparison to what an upgrade in tires can provide. On the track in the wet, the Eagle RS-A and its all-season tread pattern and compound were likely contributors to lap times that were not on pace with any of the Max Performance Summer tires in this test.
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The ContiSportContact 2 features Continental's Bionic contour and BiNet compound technology, which is inspired by nature, and designed to enhance braking and handling as well as resistance to hydroplaning. The design of a spider's web - which has both elastic and stable properties - was used as inspiration for a tire compound that is both flexible and firm. This reactive tread compound is molded into an asymmetric tread design that enhances steering response and steering precision, while the tire's continuous ribs provide the circumferential stiffness to transmit drive and braking forces. The continuous tread grooves between the ribs help disperse water to resist hydroplaning.
Internally, the ContiSportContact 2 tire features Continental's "Advanced Mold Contour" (AMC), which allows the tire's contact patch to become wider during braking to help shorten stopping distances. The ContiSportContact 2 features twin steel belts reinforced by nylon to stabilize the tread area to enhance handling, high-speed capability.
The ContiSportContact 2 was praised by our team for its on-road manners, gaining the highest scores for both ride and noise comfort among the three Max Performance Summer tires evaluated, and surprisingly close (for a tire in the Max Performance Summer category) to the ratings for the Goodyear Eagle RS-A OE benchmark comparison tire.
On the track in the dry, the ContiSportContact 2 provided predictable handling and solid performance overall, lapping the track just 0.10 second behind the first place P Zero Rosso.
On the track in the wet, the ContiSportContact proved to be a good performer, but could not keep pace with the other two Max Performance Summer tires in this evaluation. Our team also found the ContiSportContact 2 somewhat skiddish, or nervous, during hard cornering in the wet.
The Dunlop SP Sport 9000 HydroMax is designed to offer maximum hydroplaning resistance and road comfort, along with high levels of wet and dry traction. The SP Sport 9000 combines an aggressive directional tread pattern molded with a silica-enhanced tread compound to provide both hydroplaning resistance and wet weather traction. Large shoulder blocks with high angle grooves help provide traction and durability under spirited cornering in dry conditions. The continuous center rib is designed to aid steering response by providing constant contact with the road surface, and also acts as a dam to block tread noise escaping from the tire's contact patch.
Internally, Dunlop's JLB Jointless Band spiral wrapping technology is used in applying the reinforcement above the belt package to enhance ride uniformity and contact patch shape while also providing high-speed capability.
Out on the road, the SP Sport 9000 was praised for its real world ride and noise qualities. Overall handling felt somewhat soft compared to the other Max Performance Summer tires in the test. Because our evaluation uses new tires, we were not able to evaluate the potential for an increase in tread noise from irregular wear that can develop over time with highly-directional tread designs like the tread design on the SP Sport 9000.
On the test track in the dry, the SP Sport 9000 HydroMax did a good job holding its own against the other two Max Performance Summer tires in this test. While average overall lap times for this tire were third overall, it was only a modest 0.114 second behind first place. Our team felt the steering response and overall handling was somewhat softer than the other Max Performance Summer tires in the test, while braking felt strong and sure-footed.
Our test track's smooth pavement sloped at 1 degree, combined with average water depth comparable to moderate rainfall, is designed to allow us to evaluate wet traction differences but does not provide the deeper water needed to induce hydroplaning. We did not have an opportunity to determine if the SP Sport 9000 is really the "HydroMax." The Dunlop SP Sport 9000 did perform well, though, in our wet track conditions, providing confident handling and the second-best slalom time and average overall lap time behind the P Zero Rosso.
Pirelli's P Zero Rosso (Rosso, ro' so, Italian for red) tires are part of Pirelli's P Zero Collection, and were developed to provide high performance, high speed capability and a high degree of comfort. The P Zero Asimmetrico's tread pattern features a semi-slick center rib (for enhanced driving precision while accelerating and braking). The tire also features a robust outer shoulder and intermediate tread blocks (designed to provide dry grip) and independent blocks of the inner intermediate rib and shoulder which are separated by wide grooves (to help eject water and resist hydroplaning).
The P Zero Rosso used a silica enhanced tread compound to provide better grip in cool, wet conditions, and lower rolling resistance in the dry. The tread is supported by PenTec cord (a material developed by Allied Signal for space exploration) which is used to reinforce lightweight steel belts for high speed stability while reducing tire weight and flatspotting when parked overnight.
While our evaluation used the asymmetric version on both front and rear wheel positions like would be used in most applications, the P Zero Rosso is also available with a directional (called Direzionale) tread pattern tuned specifically for the front of several Ferrari and Jaguar Original Equipment applications.
Out on the road, the P Zero Rosso offered responsive handling, and ride comfort that was rated second highest among the three Max Performance Summer tires in this evaluation. Noise comfort level was considered appropriate for tires in this category.
On the test track in the dry, the P Zero Rosso demonstrated that it belonged in Pirelli's P Zero collection, offering responsive steering feel, good braking, and generating the highest level of lateral grip (Average Cornering Gs) in this test. All of these factors combined to product the lowest (fastest) average overall lap times among this group.
On the track in the wet, the P Zero Rosso also performed well. While feeling a little nervous when cornering at the limit, this tire allowed our team to post the fastest average overall wet lap times of the evaluation, while generating the highest level of average cornering Gs and fastest slalom times along the way.
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