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2018 Wheels Tyre Test: Introduction

By Nathan Ponchard | Photos: Nathan Jacobs, 08 Oct 2018 Features

2018 Wheels Tyre Test: Introduction

Upping your car’s cornering G-force by 10 percent is the stuff of a sports suspension upgrade, right? And cutting a car-length from your braking distance is the work of a set of Brembos? Nope, you just need a great set of tyres

There’s more than a hint of deja vu watching gun-for-hire, Renato Loberto, thread a Holden ZB Commodore through a set of witches’ hats – at least for a 40-something car nerd like me. It’s an early-millenium reprise of GM-H’s Radial Tuned Suspension TV ad, only this time it’s a front-drive turbo four carving up the slalom test rather than a rear-drive HZ Kingswood. Yet the exercise is identical – a traditional family passenger car threading its way around plastic obstacles – and the need for quality rubber just as vital, even in an era of blanket inclusion of stability control in new cars.

In much the way that no two vehicles’ ESC systems are created equal, no two tyre patterns deliver the same performance. The greater the ability of your contact patch to respond to the driver’s requests, the less pressure there is on the safety electronics to try and mop up the mess afterwards. Of course, if there’s no mess in the first place…

The thinking behind this year’s Tyre Test relates to the actual tyre size – 245/45R18. It’s an increasingly common fitment for everyday vehicles, and when extrapolating the results, allows some movement in terms of size (incorporating, for example, 225/45R17 – a common size for up-spec small cars). There’s also broad relevance to the buying public in that a 245/45R18 suits a variety of mainstream and premium models.

Read next: WhichCar 2018 Tyre Test: The Basics

Much like last year, the magnitude of the difference between the best- and worst-performing tyres in our 80km/h dry braking test spanned a significant 2.93 metres, and that’s averaging three runs under full ABS activation. Add water to the surface and that gap expands to 4.33 metres, or more than the length of a Volkswagen Golf. That’s the difference between a scratch-free existence and a significant clobber up another car’s jacksy. Is a budget set of tyres really worth the financial pain and physical/mental suffering?

The 2018 Wheels Tyre Test involves 11 tyre brands, spread across five disciplines that span a broad spectrum of a tyre’s ability, aside from wear-life (which is difficult to measure in two days.) In order to thoroughly test 11 passenger-car tyres in 245/45R18 size and a further 13 SUV tyres (in 225/65R17 size, as fitted to a Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport, and covered in detail at WhichCar.com.au/features/wheels-tyre-test-2018) across two days, we deleted the hot-lap discipline, given that the slalom and Renato’s comments are indicative of a tyre’s racetrack prowess.

Just as in previous years, the vast bitumen carpark surrounding Sydney Dragway’s scrutineering shed provided the venue, and a Racelogic Performance Box and stopwatches spat out the data. Tyre-test guru, Renato Loberto, proved he’s worth every cent of the works burger and chips we fed him each day at lunch by delivering incisive, super-consistent technique and invaluable observations.

Read next: Tyres – should you stay with original equipment?

The method: after taking a tyre-noise reading at 60km/h, Renato scrubs the surface of the tyres through a series of (often dramatic) slalom dry runs before laying down actual timed runs. Next up is a dry braking test, followed by a repeat on a consistently wet surface, then a wet corner test. Control tyres are deployed to measure track and vehicle changes, which can be addressed in the data analysis.

Each discipline is repeated three times, averaged, and scored out of 10, with tyre noise scored out of five. Scores are scaled and assigned relative to the best performer – if one tyre wins everything, it will receive a perfect 100 percent. In the wash-up, all three podium finishers rated an excellent 97.8 percent or above, for a similar price.

THE FIELD

With an 11-strong field in 2018, this year’s Wheels Tyre Test spans a broad section of the market for a 245/45R18 tyre, to suit the increasingly common 18-inch wheel. The 245mm width and 45-series profile represents a happy medium between baggy base-model fodder and proper low-profile rubber. In terms of market positioning, the grid runs from Indonesia’s budget-minded Achilles to Germany’s Continental, with Michelin’s more affordable BFGoodrich brand, Korea’s Hankook and Nexen, Japan’s Falken, Italy’s Momo, Taiwan’s Maxxis, Singapore’s GT Radial, and China’s Hifly and Vitora fleshing out the field. With new products coming, Bridgestone and Goodyear sat this one out; Yokohama doesn’t supply tyres for testing; and Dunlop and Pirelli declined.

Read next: Airless car tyres could become a reality next year

THE CAR

Having previously used a small hatchback (Hyundai i30), a medium SUV (Kia Sportage) and a mid-sized wagon (Mazda 6) as the test mule, we decided upon Holden’s German-made, Australian-tuned ZB Commodore RS liftback as a suitable steed for 2018. Excellent handling balance and steering precision, fully switchable ESC, and a common OE tyre size that makes the test’s results applicable to a range of models were all prerequisites, and the Commodore RS fulfilled the brief. Said test driver Renato Loberto of his faithful companion: “the new Commodore being a front-wheel drive will no doubt upset pretty much anyone who’s ever owned a Holden, but for me it has made the car a lot more agile.”

THE DRIVER

From his chilled disposition and easy-going humour, you’d never know 37-year-old Renato Loberto was a sleep-deprived father to a young daughter and head honcho at MotoKinetic, an automotive consultancy specialising in events for manufacturers and dealers, and public events (such as the Top Gear Festivals and World Time Attack Challenge). A racing driver for the past 21 years, Renato finished second in the Bathurst 12-hour in 2016 driving a Ferrari 458 GT3, and has been a driver coach and chief instructor with Ferrari for more than 10 years. He’s also waist-deep into a long-term build of an Italian-import 1970 Fiat 500F, complete with the exhaust from a V10 Ferrari F1 engine. Check the beast out on Instagram @enzothe500.

Read next: Best Performance Tyres Test

JAX TYRES & EAGLE SMF

Our ever-reliable and vastly experienced JAX Tyres crew, with equipment and assistance from Eagle SMF Tyre and Automotive Equipment, took over Sydney Dragway’s scrutineering shed once again, decking it out like a facsimile of the 80-odd JAX retail locations that span Australia’s east. With a spare set of 18-inch rims to allow seamless, pit-lane-style changes, the JAX crew re-fitted sets of tyres in the order of 20 times before inflating each to 33psi as per the Holden’s placard. A heartfelt thanks goes out to the JAX boys for successfully orchestrating an epic two days of testing – 11 tyres for Wheels, and 13 SUV tyres for WhichCar.com.au. You can find details of your local JAX Tyres store at www.jaxtyres.com.au.

THE NUMBER CRUNCHER

A degree in mechanical engineering (the clever sod), a quick-witted timing finger, and considerable experience as both a Wheels road tester (he worked on staff from 2006-13) and Tyre Test data analyst (four years running) makes Jimmy Whitbourn the perfect man to separate the winners from the numbers. Now a freelance journalist, Jimmy splits his time between writing and reviewing for Wheels, WhichCar.com.au and others, and running his car-buying site (CarHelper.com.au).

 

THE TYRE TESTS

2018 Wheels Tyre Test: SlalomSlalom
The swerve-and-recover test, or slalom – just like the skiing event – is an efficient way to gather meaningful data on a tyre’s transient grip level in less than 10 seconds.

2018 Wheels Tyre Test: Dry BrakingDry Braking
You would've thought that simply jamming on the picks as hard as you can and letting the anti-lock braking system (ABS) sort out the rest was a given in a modern car. And it is, but not without one big variable – tyres.

2018 Wheels Tyre Test: Wet CorneringWet Cornering
Wet Cornering proved a definitive differentiator between the greats and not-so-greats of the group.

2018 Wheels Tyre Test: Wet BrakingWet Braking
It’s the one discipline that separates the mighty from the mediocre by a big margin … and we’re talking about brand new, correctly inflated, high-spec tyres here!

2018 Wheels Tyre Test: Tyre NoiseTyre Noise
Few surfaces in the world can match the noise generation of an Australian coarse-chip road, so tyre noise does play a vital part in the driving performance of your vehicle.



TYRE TEST RESULTS

MOTOR Tyre Test 2015: The VerdictWHEELS TYRE TEST 2018: The Results
From the outset, it was clear the Falken Azenis FK510 was in with a real shot.