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Tyres - 17th January 2010

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bridgestone potenza s-03 Toyo Proxes Continental Contisportcontact

Tyres - overlooked and underrated, that’s the impression I get from the average motorist. When standing in front of Kevin the tyre fitter the first question would appear to be "what’s your cheapest?" But surely it should be "what’s the best for my car?" There are so many criteria to consider it’s no wonder that people go for price because that’s what they understand, it’s what they can relate to.

As you may have gathered from my articles I am not the smoothest of drivers. I am from the "lets chuck it in and I’ll sort out from there" school of cornering and, as a consequence, I am a regular at me mate Dave’s tyre emporium. 30k miles under the Legacy has so far seen 4 Bridgestones and 2 Toyo Proxes worn to the wear indicators with 2 more Proxes about to cry no more and be replaced by Avon ZZ5s (which are doing sterling service on the rears). The trouble, I am reliably informed by the aforementioned Dave, is the loose nut behind the wheel.

I blame the corners personally, you see I can’t resist ’em - long, short, tight, open - I love them all. They are my nirvana, my motoring heaven, the staff of life. I need to explore them all, they beg to be attacked. Just how quickly can I go round it - 2nd gear, 3rd gear, which is best? Oh the possibilities are endless but there is a price to pay for this hedonistic approach to cornering and that would appear to be tyre wear.

On the tyres I’ve killed so far (I admit my observations aren’t very scientific) the Bridgestones are the quietest, best riding and offer good dry road grip. They lasted 15k miles on the fronts. Toyos - good wet grip but feel like they are moving about on the sidewalls which has given a slight detached feeling to the steering, they also lasted barely 14k miles on the fronts! Both showed alarming wear rates on the leading edges, with the blocks being smoothed out very quickly (sub 10k miles for both). The Toyos also suffered from what looked like cracked and torn tread blocks when we had some warm weather (which coincided with a spirited trip down a road with loads of roundabouts). Yep I know that’s down to my driving style but I have to say the Toyos wore quickest but won the battle for grip across all surfaces and weather conditions.

Dave recommended that I try the Avon ZZ5s which are not as soft as the other two and so far are showing little sign of wear on the edges. They are only on the rears at the present but are offering good grip and are relatively quiet. How well they will cope with the steering duties I’ll let you know in the next few weeks.

Some of the feel for the tyres is being masked by the electric power steering on the Legacy. It is not a thing of wonderment and I don’t like the way it seems to amplify that slippery manhole cover mid corner causing you to apply a little more lock than needed. It offers OK feel but, call me a Luddite, a good old fashioned fluid system is better. Yes I know unassisted is always trumpeted as the best but the majority of people backing this set-up have never wrestled with a recalcitrant steering wheel on a car fitted with large section tyres on a long fast corner or in a tight parking space - it’s no fun.

What I love is just how much the tyres affect the car; a few psi here or there makes the difference between smooth easy progress and lurching, ragged-arsed cornering. How a little sidewall flex makes the steering feel vague when you encounter it as you apply full throttle at the apex, or the progression from grip to slide is lost and regained in different ways. One tyre design is brilliant in rain, yet poor under breaking on dry roads. A tyre can be stunning in standing water yet can’t cope with accelerating on a damp surface. I can’t begin to claim to understand the science behind it but I do know that it’s worth paying for the best you can afford and not just settling for the cheapest.


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