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No Slip Solid Grip Tire Leader: Michelin

By Evelyn Kanter, February 2nd, 2013

Michelin is well-known as a leader in tire performance. The new all-season Pilot Sport 3, available late this spring, just may be the best tire the esteemed tiremaker has ever offered.

I was part of a group of automotive writers invited by Michelin to the New Orleans Motorsports Park to do side-by-side track driving on the new Michelins against comparable all-season and summer tires from Bridgestone, Goodyear, Pirelli and Continental. We piloted four test vehicles, including an Audi A4 sedan and a Cadillac CTS, each time with a pro race driver in the passenger seat.

For some car owners, all-season tires are a compromise for convenience, such as for city dwellers like my son, who has no garage space for an extra set of tires. There are no compromises with the Pilot Sport A/S 3, as these all-seasons out-perform even the best of the performance summer tires from other manufacturers.

It's amazing how differently the different tire brands grip -- or not -- on acceleration, braking, tight turns and wet patches. Each one of us stopped 8 to 10 feet better on a 60-to-0 mph dry straightaway on the Michelins than on any of the others. Our combined margin on both wet and dry braking exercises was 12 percent better on the new Michelin than on competitor tires. That's an impressive margin of safety.

The Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 uses technology learned on the racetrack. As Porsche Racing driver Patrick Long told me, "At 200 mph, it's all about safety and what's under us. What you drive on is as important as what your drive in."

So what did I notice underfoot on the track? Solid grip and crisp steering response on the Michelin -- no slipping, no sliding. There was no skidding on the same turns at the same speeds where other brands were feeling like they were straining to hold on, even squealing with the effort -- what the pro driver riding with me called "wheel chirp."

It all added up to a smooth and confident feel, especially at ultra-high performance levels -- 54 to 80 mph -- which are highway speeds and more.

"If you are at the edge of accident avoidance, you want the tire to keep you safe," said Porsche driver Sean Israel, after one track exercise.

Technically speaking, the new tire contains a helio compound with sunflower seed oil that helps regulate the tire's internal temperature to prevent over-heating, and a large amount of silica for grip on wet surfaces. It's the same silica technology used during wet sessions at the 24 Hours of Le Mans qualifying runs. It's a complicated balance, since summer tires have a tread compound for higher temperatures and softer tread, while winter tires require a different mix for more grip on icy roads.

The Pilot A/S 3 has a new asymmetrical tread pattern, with more rubber and stiffness on the outside shoulder for more lateral grip. Variable thickness sipes add extra biting edges for traction in wet, snow and ice, but lock together in dry conditions for what Michelin describes as "crisp" handling. The design also promotes longer tread wear and tire lifespan, since the pattern makes tires easy to rotate (switches the left front tire to the right side).

The tire is manufactured at Michelin plants in the U.S. and Canada, and comes with a 45,000-mile limited warranty in addition to the standard materials and workmanship warranty for tread wear or mileage. It will be available this summer in 65 sizes to fit vehicles from the Fiat 500 to the Mercedes-Benz SL.

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