Buying new tyres is not a pleasant experience. Not just because you’re about to spend a large sum of money, but because you have to pick a tyre and be happy with it… For a long time. Like, a very long time. So if you screw it up and get something that doesn’t work well on your car, you’re stuck with it for a while.
It’s also very tempting to go with a cheap option when it comes to replacing the original manufacturer-specified tyres. After all, is a $600-per-corner tyre really three times better than one that costs $200?
The answer to that question is usually ‘no’ – no tyre is three times better than another tyre in the same category – but it’s more than likely 5–10 per cent better, and that can mean the difference between life or death when it comes to braking distances, or a few seconds quicker on lap time thanks to the added grip.
Tyres can singlehandedly transform the feel of a car from good to amazing, or the other way around. They are the vehicle’s only contact point to the ground, so no matter what the engine or suspension engineers have done to set up your sports car, if it doesn’t grip when you want it to, then it’s all for nothing.
Frustratingly, it’s so difficult to get reliable data on tyres, with each manufacturer usually claiming its tyre is the best. We're working on a comparison that will help tell which truly is the best option, but in this review we're specifically looking at two sets of Michelin tyres.
Last year, we published a performance tyre test that declared the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s as our pick for sports cars that are driven infrequently, but with vigour when the time comes. We also found the Bridgestone Potenza RE050As to be an excellent and cheaper all-round alternative, with have far less degradation; but a far less sticky compound.
We held onto the Pilot Sport Cup 2s after the test, and found the ultra-high-end and rather expensive tyres remain our favourite all-round road and track-capable tyre with exceptional levels of grip.
Those exact tyres from that test have now seen more than 6000 kilometres of driving and three full track days, and they still have plenty of tread left. The sticky feel remains top-notch around the twisty mountain roads or into turn one at the Lakeside International Raceway in Brisvegas.
In the 16 months since we continued home with the Cup 2s, the French tyre maker has released an update to its super-popular Michelin Pilot Super Sports series, that being the all-new Michelin Pilot Sport 4S – not to be confused with the Pilot Sport 4 (would have probably made sense to call these Pilot Super Sports 2).
Unlike the Super Sport though, which is only offered as OE replacement, the PS4S can be had for a great majority of vehicles.
We are only just starting to see them show up as OEM tyres (on such cars as the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso and Mercedes-AMG E63 S), but they have been available to buy from most decent tyre shops for a few months.
So, we wanted to try something new that might improve the feel over the Continental ContiSport Contact 5P OEM tyres on my Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. Let's get this straight – these are great tyres, however the SLS is prone to destroying its rears and going sideways at a hint of rain, so we were keen to see what else was out there.
Mercedes, like all other vehicle manufacturers, would of course recommend you stick with the model of tyre that came with the car, and that’s generally good advice. However, just like cars, tyre technology improves, so there is no reason not to do some research and shop around for what is best. If the OEM tyre happens to be the best choice still available, then so be it.
The reason we didn’t go down the path of our favourite tyre, the Pilot Sport Cup2s (not taking the slightly higher price into account), was because the SLS doesn’t suit the tyres. It’s not a sports car like the Vantage, in the sense that we don’t intend to go flat out on a racetrack or around a twisty road. One, because it can’t do it, and two, because it’s not fun to do so in a car this long.
It’s heavily prone to oversteer at the lightest tap of the accelerator, and its general driving dynamics are more GT-focused than a pure sports car. So it needs something with excellent grip in both the dry and wet (an area where the Cup 2s don’t really excel) and longevity, as it will see longer drives.
That’s not to say the PS4S is for a GT only, far from it. It’s a competitor to the likes of the Pirelli P-Zero and other high-end tyres.
The interesting thing about the PS4S is it presents a hybrid compound – a technology that wasn’t available when the SLS first came out, and a case in point as to why you should consider the latest in tyre tech instead of just sticking with whatever the dealer recommends.
According to the French manufacturer, the PS4S uses a “hybrid compound”, which is a fancy marketing term for saying the outer part of the tyre’s elastomer material is used mainly for dry grip, with that compound further enhanced with silica on the inner part designed primarily for consistent wet grip.
The idea is that instead of finding a compromise between wet and dry with the same compound, there are now two for the best of both worlds.
What had the biggest appeal for us, though, was the belt in use, which is a blend of aramid fibre and nylon. Instead of steel, the blended belt compound is meant to help keep the tyre’s shape when pushed hard around corners or – you know – going sideways, as the Mercedes likes to do. That and the deep rim-protector design, so that my wife wouldn’t (so easily) scratch the irreplaceable wheels.
The rear tyres measure 295/30/R20 and the fronts come in at 265/35/R19. At the time of publication, the rears are available for around $520 each with the fronts costing about $450 each. Bringing the total cost of the tyres, not including fitment, to $1940 (according to tyresales.com.au).
Not cheap, but ever so slightly less than the Continental OEMs. There is a good chance you could get either of these high-end tyres for a bit less if you were to haggle a little at your tyre shop.
Once fitted, we took our rear-wheel-drive SLS for a fast-paced drive through the mountain roads in the outer suburbs of Brisbane. The difference? Rather noticeable, but certainly not on the same level as the Cup2s. These are not superglue tyres.
What we loved was the front-end grip, which was now far superior than before. Sure, some of that has to do with the original OEMs not being brand new (less than 4000km), but there was no denying the grip level of the PS4S tyre was markedly superior.
We had the chance to take the SLS for a few happy laps around a track recently and, again, it’s important to emphasise that these tyres are not on the same grip level as their ultra-high-end siblings. Nonetheless, they provide a consistent level of grip that doesn’t seem to fade as quickly as other road-focused compounds we’ve tested. What was more than evident, however, was the braking improvement both in the wet and dry.
Michelin claims these tyres are the best in wet and dry braking, compared to all of its current competitors. That’s a claim we will test next year in another mega performance tyre comparison, however going by simple feel, the stopping power of these was excellent.
In the wet, we were admittedly far too scared to test the grip levels at their limit, because the SLS either grips or it doesn’t and there is nothing in between (except a wall or some trees). However, it’s far more stable than the Cup2s, and reaffirmed our decision why it was the wiser choice for this car.
So far we have only driven about 2000km on these tyres, and expect to do another 5000km or so before updating further on degradation over time. (We'll then return them to Michelin).
Michelin claims these tyres have class-leading levels of longevity, which it says is backed up by a test conducted by Dekra that puts it ahead of the likes of the Pirelli P Zero Nero, Goodyear Eagle F1, Dunlop Sport Maxx RT2 and others.
Ultimately, it's impossible for us to validate all these claims with a single tyre review, which is why we will conduct our own mega test once more in the near future. However, what we can say for now is that the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres represent the absolute latest in tyre technology.
The brand offers other alternatives (like the well-proven Super Sport series or the Pilot Sport 3 or 4), but if you value ultimate tyre performance and own a sports car that will see high use, these should definitely be at the very top of your list alongside the Pirelli P-Zero and Continental ContiSport Contact5 and Goodyear Eagle F1s.
Unfortunately they are not available in all sizes, so there is no 4S in 17 or 18s – clearly a sign that these are made for the higher end vehicles.
But If you have an outright sports car that will only primarily get driven in the dry – and even then, not all that much – we would still recommend you spend a little more and go with the Cup2s. They will change your life.
Next year, we will put these Michelins up against the very best from Continental, Pirelli and Goodyear for another mega performance tyre test to see who comes out on top.