If you purchased a car in recent years, chances are that it came outfitted with all-season tires. This generally works, albeit not terribly well unless you live in a place like Florida or California, where seasons don’t often include temperatures below 45 degrees and any sort of precipitation. All-season tires have long been considered “no season” tires (jack of all seasons, master of none). If, like us, you live in the Midwest and Northeast and are graced with long winters and low temperatures, switching to a winter tire has generally been the way to go.
However, if you do indeed live in a more temperate climate, there is still high likelihood that you will experience varying driving conditions and a wide range of temperatures. You may have noticed that your car handles differently on warm versus cold days, or that traction is somewhat affected by precipitation. Most likely, given that that most of us avoid making risky maneuvers in inclement weather, the only time you get to feel how your tires perform under stress is during an unplanned event on the road. Therefore, you don’t really get to see if your tires are under performing until you experience their failure under duress.
Choosing a Tire
Choosing the right tires for our cars is no easy task. Most often, owners stick to the tire that comes installed on the vehicle, ceding the choice to the car manufacturer. On occasion, we are persuaded by a friend to try a different brand of tire. But what if you could drive the same car on different brands of tires and under challenging conditions like hard cornering and braking, and got to experience just how they affected your car’s performance? We got to do just that at Michelin’s launch of their newest all-season tire, the Pilot Sport A/S 3, and what we learned was eye-opening.
When we experienced the Pilot Super Sport at the global launch in Dubai 2 years ago, we thought that Michelin had created a tire that would be an outlier. The Super Sport handled better than the Pilot Sport (a tire that was already a segment leader in both wet and dry conditions) and was so good that the dry grip level was comparable to that of their popular racing compound, the DOT-legal Pilot Sport Cup. Generally speaking, car enthusiasts were hugely skeptical about a tire that could be better in the dry, better in the wet, last longer and manage to be less expensive than the Pilot Sport. But it turned out the Super Sport even handled better in the wet than the Pilot A/S, Michelin’s current all-season tire (which was particularly baffling because the Pilot A/S has an aggressive tread pattern with lots of grooves and sipes that one would think would channel water and allow for better wet traction). The message here was, Michelin’s tire technology was getting better by leaps and bounds, and their all-season tire was next in line to benefit from these advances in tread technology.
Meeting the Pilot Sport A/S 3
Knowing what we know about Michelin and their previous improvements with the Super Sport, we arrived in New Orleans for the launch of the Pilot Sport All Season (A/S) 3 ready to be impressed. Little did we know just how impressed we would be.
When we first looked at the new Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3, we were taken by just how much it looked like a Super Sport but with 10.5 / 32nds of tread. Where all-season tires normally look chunky and grooved, the A/S 3 is smooth and elegant, with just enough grooves and sipes to convince you that it is indeed an all-season tire.
The asymmetric tread design (big tread blocks on the outside) translates into better cornering, as do the A/S3’s three-dimensional, variable thickness sipes that lock together and form a rigid and stable platform.
But, Michelin engineers told us, its outside looks are just a small part of what makes this tire so exceptional.
How does Michelin’s A/S 3 work in such variable conditions?
The biggest challenge in all-season tire engineering is how to create a tire that performs in variable weather conditions and temperature. Generally speaking, when a tire works well in cold conditions, it deteriorates in warm temperatures. And a tire that handles a dry road efficiently looks very differently from one that manages water well. So, just how did Michelin manage to engineer a tire that functions well in a wide array or conditions?
First and foremost, advances in Michelin’s tire compounding means the Pilot Sport A/S 3 has an extremely high silica content, which translates into high-grip in wet conditions, regardless of sipe performance. (For those of you who are race fans, Michelin tested this compound in their slick tire at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with great success). Along with its Super Silica, the Pilot Sport A/S 3 also incorporates Michelin’s Helio Compound, a derivative of sunflower oil that allows the tire to remain compliant as the temperature falls. Michelin assured us the tire works well to temperatures of negative 10 degrees F, and light snow (although, as is to be expected, the PS A/S 3 is not suitable for driving in heavy snow).
Aside from its new compounds, one the greatest improvement in Michelin’s all-season tire is the Variable Contact Patch (VCP 2.0). Drawing from its race tire technology, Michelin has been able to control the weave and construction of the Pilot Sport A/S 3 in such a way that prevents the tread from rolling over (thus limiting the tire’s contact with the road), and high temperatures from building up on the outside tread of the tire. As a result, dry/wet grip and wear has been greatly improved.
Testing the Pilot A/S 3 against its competitors
After a thorough introduction to the technology in the new Pilot Sport A/S 3, we were invited to test the Pilot Sport A/S 3 tire in four comparison exercises set up at NOLA Motorsports Park:
- Road course:
We drove six Cadillac CTS, three wearing PSA/S3 and the remaining three wearing Pirelli P Zero Nero A/S 97W, Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric All Season 97 W and Continental Extreme Contact DWS 97 W on a road course. The PS A/S 3 had a fairly crisp turn in and could be precisely aimed through the apex going where you pointed it. It was stable through the corner and on power, resulting in no surprises. Compared to the PSA/S3, the Pirelli had under-steer upon turn-in, with vague feedback and overall more body roll in transition—the car actually felt as if the spring package had been changed. The Goodyear’s initial turn-in was ok, but experienced mid-corner understeer and even had some rear end movement under heavy braking. The Continental had a decent turn-in, but mild understeer overall, lots of body roll and required more work to drive the car.
- Dry autocross course:
We drove six Subaru STi, three wearing PSA/S3 and the remaining three wearing Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position 99Y, Pirelli P Zero 99Y, and Continental Extreme Contact DW. This comparison was significant because Michelin had such confidence in their newest all-season tire, they were willing to compare it to their competitors’ ultra-high performance summer tires. The PS A/S3 was predictable from the initial tight right-hander through the fast esses. It was stable and very drivable at the limit. The turn-in was predictable and consistent, so we were able to carry far more speed with confidence. Compared to the PS A/S3, The Bridgestone was less communicative at turn-in and less predictable with throttle steer inputs. Whereas the Michelin was able to plenty of speed on turn-in, the Bridgestone needed braking to set the nose. The Pirelli P Zero 99 Y was similar to the PS A/S3 with turn-in ability and feel, but was far less stable at speed than the Michelin. At the limit, the Pirelli dropped off dramatically, whereas the PS A/S3 did so progressively. The Continental was the most radically different, showing an immediate difference in front end grip and noticeable understeer at initial turn in, making the tire generally less stable than the PS A/S3.
- Straight-line wet and dry braking exercises:
We drove 6 Infiniti G37, 3 wearing PSA/S3 and the remaining 3 wearing Yokohama AVID ENVigor 97 V, Bridgestone Potenza G019 Grid 97 V and Goodyear Eagle GT 97V. The exercise involved measuring the distance each tire took to decelerate from 65-0 (complete stop with ABS engaged) in dry and wet conditions. Each car was equipped with GPS data devices, which allowed for accurate measurements. Results were as follows:
- Wet autocross course:
We drove six Audi A4, three wearing PSA/S3 and the remaining three wearing Bridgestone Potenza RE970 AS Pole Position 99W, Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric AS 95Y and Continental Extreme Contact DWS95Y. The PS A/S3 was quite simply stunning in the wet. Using smooth inputs, we were able to achieve speeds in wet conditions that other tires had only handled in dry conditions. The A/S 3 was tight, easy to control and civilized at limit. The Bridgestone had a slight understeer mid-corner, making the car feel softer and less responsive with greater body roll. Overall, the car required more steering input and the rear got loose as speed increased. The Goodyear had immediate understeer from turn in, and was no better at mid-corner (but no worse, either). Braking distance increased and the car experienced far more body roll in the technical sections. The Continental felt the most disconnected with a soft feel, a good deal of understeer. At the limit, the tire was unreliable enough for us to wonder if it did indeed belong in the same category as the Michelin.
Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 97 V (d)115.8 ft. (w)126.5ft.
Yokohama AVID ENVigor 97 V (d)124.8 ft. (w)132.2 ft.
Bridgestone Potenza G019 Grid 97V (d)120.4 ft. (w)138.6 ft.
Goodyear Eagle GT 97V (d)117.5 ft. (w)138.3 ft.
Finally, an all-season tire for those who love to drive
In the four side-by-side comparisons, the Pilot Sport A/S 3 outperformed its leading competitors not only within the all-season segment,but in the ultra high-performance summer tire segment as well. In setting up a day of tire testing, Michelin took a chance on its brand new all-season tire and came out on top, delivering an especially bold statement by allowing testers to compare their tire against their competitors’ ultra high performance Summer tires. The result? Every car we drove handled and stopped better when outfitted with the A/S 3, in both wet and dry conditions.
After spending an afternoon driving various cars outfitted with the new Michelin PS A/S 3, we came away convinced that the tire you put on your car can make a world of difference in how your car handles, particularly in inclement conditions. Investing in a high-performance all-season tire is not so much luxury as it is good sense. As the various side-by-side tests of the PS A/S 3 vs. its competitors showed, the tires you outfit your sporty sedan or family car with will not only make your vehicle safer, but also increase its drive-ability and therefore your enjoyment factor. Talk about not having to compromise! Well done, Michelin.
The Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 will be available for sale in Summer 2013. The price has not been set yet, but it is expected to be below that of the current Michelin Pilot Sport A/S Plus all-season tire. For more information, please visit http://www.michelinman.com/pilotsportas3#media_gallery_panel. Thanks again to Michelin for the trip and opportunity to test this new tire.
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