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Tyre Test 2008

photos - Peter Bateman
words - John Cadogan
Seeing red over a lack of impartial tyre advice? We've done the tough testing on 235/45R17s and 195/60R15s to get you back in black

Wheels Tyre Test 2008

Wheels Magazine
June, 2008

The Australian tyre industry is at once Dickensian and hi-tech. Nobody in their right mind could argue with the sheer technical capability of the product. Modern, premium tyres are extremely impressive things, even though they all still suffer from the stigma of looking profoundly black and round. Visually they're carbon (or more recently silica) copies of one another; it's the underlying complexity that must be appreciated - and most customers don't get it.

Modern tyres have done more than any other automotive component to improve the capability of the platforms that ride upon them. No matter how impressive the hardware is - those extra kilowatts, those even more powerful brake systems - it's tyres that translate the potential into actual performance. It's a big job, too, and often taken for granted. This is one of the reasons why the sadly burgeoning trade in cheapie retreads for performance tyre carcasses often sees young blokes on a budget go rapidly from 'fully sick' to profoundly injured, in an ambulance.

But here's the Dickensian part of the tyre-buying deal: If you're a consumer, the whole aftermarket tyre retailing structure might as well be coal-fired and steam-powered. In the course of researching this, the sixth Wheels tyre test, I mystery-shopped eight tyre retailers randomly by telephone, inquiring after the best replacement tyre for a hypothetical two-year-old SS Commodore. How many different recommendations did I get? Seven. And five of my telephone advisors appeared to be playing their game with significantly less than half a deck. Some of that advice was totally off with the fairies, based on everything we've learned from the five previous tyre tests. It's a bleak old marketplace if you're looking for advice.

Accurate, independent assessment of tyres just doesn't exist except on these pages. Perversely, the tyre industry rather likes it that way. There's a cultural cringe among some tyre manufacturers, many of whom would rather open a vein than offer up their products to independent review or, worse, competitor comparison. Some would rather stick with forging perception via marketing campaigns - without any pesky, apple-cart-upsetting intervention from criticisms drawn using objective data.

It's simple enough to join the dots separating that last paragraph from the list of premium tyres tested this year. All the premium tyre makers were invited to participate, and some declined. If there's one finding we've reported in the five previous Wheels tyre tests, and a major gulf back to the discount bottom-feeders. In effect, we've been spruiking one key message for six years - buy premium tyres, not cheapies. Me? I'd be asking myself how smart it would be to buy something that a manufacturer wasn't prepared to see put through its paces against its key competitors, in tightly controlled objective tests.


The cars
A VE Calais was the testbed for the 235/45s. Trainspotters will note the Calais comes standard with 225/55R17s, but Holden advised us its suspension is compatible with 235/45s. The Calais' standard wheels were half an inch too narrow for the 235-section tyres, however, so the capable chaps from JaxQuickfit provided two sets of suitable aftermarket alloys to ensure tyre-wheel compatibility.

An entry-level Mazda 3 was used to test the 195/60s, but owing to that car's unusual wheel offset, spare alloys were impossible to locate via conventional aftermarket avenues. A second, identical car (also supplied at the absolute last moment by Mazda) donated its wheels to ensure we had one set on the go and another in the fitting bay. But the inevitable delay in getting the second vehicle onsite lost us a day, and that meant any wet testing on the 195/60s was impossible within the constraints of the remaining time and resources.

The driver
Peter McKay, a.k.a. 'Mr Consistency', forgot to step back at tyre-test volunteer time - again. This appears to be the only documented example of McKay's reflexes being sub-standard.

As a result, however, he got to drive nearly 200 almost-one-G laps of a fixed 44-metre circle, both wet and dry - and all in the counter-clockwise direction. Here's a selection of Mr McKay's consecutive wet laps on the limit (in seconds): 10.49, 10.49, 10.45, 10.50, 10.47, 10.49. The bloke's just not human. Oh, and chiropractors say that, with considerable therapy, he might one day unwind and walk straight again.

The field
It's been two years since we tested the 235/45R17, and it's under the microscope again this year.

Last year we tested the larger 245/45R18 following Holden's move up to that size on the VE SS. Fact is, the 235/45R17 remains a popular premium performance tyre, particularly for owners upgrading from base-model wheel and tyre combinatioins, and for owners of previous-gen SS Commodores and XR Falcons. Given both the age and popularity of the cars commonly running 235/45R17s, there's no shortage of owners looking to replace them.

Acknowledging that not everyone drives on fat 17s, we also looked after the Mazda 3/Golf/Astra crowd by testing seven sets of 195/60R15s.

The tyres

195/60R15   235/45R17
Accelera Beta   $95   Accelera Alpha $124
Bridgestone Turanza ER300 $165   Bridgestone Turanza ER300 $229
Dunlop SP Sport 2020E $165   Dunlop SP Sport Maxx $259
Falkin ZIEX ZE912 $115   Falken FK 452 $219
Goodyear Excellence $159   Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric* $349
Pirelli P6000 $159   Pirelli Dragon $229
Sumitomo HTR 60V $129   Sumitomo HTRZ II $179

Prices include GST, fitting and balancing.

*Note: The Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric was not yet available for retail sale at the time of testing. Goodyear's Matthew Bowell advised us that the new tyre would replace the company's former flagship performance tyre, the Eagle F1 GS-D3, and shipped us a pre-launch set for testing. At the time of publication, Goodyear says the Eagle F1 Asymmetric will be available in at least 10 sizes from 235/40R17 to 275/30R19, with the company planning to expand the range to at least 32 sizes by November.

Test 1: Dry cornering ... Test 5: Dry braking ...
Test 2: Wet cornering ... Test 6: Wet braking ...
Test 3: Dry slalom ... Test 7: Hot lap & summary ...
Test 4: Wet slalom ...  

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Published : Tuesday, 1 July 2008

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