The phrase "Clash of the Titans" could apply to an epic battle among anything really big or powerful. The same could be said of a comparison test among two of the newest and several favorites in the Max Performance Summer tire category. Over the past 10 years tires in this category advanced to deliver amazing levels of dry and wet traction while remaining reasonably civilized for everyday commuting duties. Many of today's supercars come from the factory with Max Performance Summer tires as Original Equipment to help achieve the vehicle's lofty performance right off the showroom floor. And plenty of performance enthusiasts upgrade to Max Performance Summer tires to enhance the capability of their daily driver.
Recently, two titans in the tire world have launched new Max Performance Summer tires: Bridgestone and their Potenza S-04 Pole Position and Michelin with the Pilot Super Sport. Both are long-awaited replacements for very capable and popular products from each brand. To find out how they perform, we conducted a Real World Road Ride and Performance Track drive, comparing them with two top performers from the category, the Continental ExtremeContact DW and Pirelli P Zero. The Continental tire has been at the top of our consumer survey ratings for some time, and the Pirelli has been a strong performer in our testing and has been used as Original Equipment on some of the world's most capable supercars since its introduction in 2007. Our evaluation used 2011 BMW E92 328i coupes fitted with new, full tread depth 225/45R17 tires mounted on 17x8.0" wheels.
What We Learned on the Road
Our 6.6-mile loop of expressway, state highway and county roads provides a great variety of road conditions that include city and highway speeds, smooth and coarse concrete, as well as new and patched asphalt. This route allows our team to experience noise comfort, ride quality and everyday handling, just as you would during your drive to school or work.
The category name implies this group is all about performance, and none of the four tires disappoints in everyday light handling. Our team was split on which tire they preferred - Pilot Super Sport or Potenza S-04 Pole Position. Both offer immediate and direct response to driver input at the steering wheel. The Bridgestone feels a little more linear in the way cornering force builds with additional input, while the Michelin seems to ramp up cornering power as the steering wheel is turned more. Both excellent, just with a different feel. The P Zero responds directly, but doesn't have the immediacy of the Bridgestone and Michelin tires. The ExtremeContact DW trails the other three, feeling a little less directly connected with some lag in how it reacts to changes in steering wheel angle.
The trade-off in handling for the ExtremeContact DW pays back in everyday ride comfort, as this tire did the best job softening the sharp edges of expansion joints and patched pavement. The Pilot Super Sport did a good job managing the small- to medium-sized bumps, while larger impacts sent a small jolt to the driver. The Potenza S-04 Pole Position was a little firmer than the Michelin over small and medium bumps, but didn't have the Michelin's sharpness when encountering bigger hits. The P Zero followed closely, feeling a little less comfortable than the other three.
Overall tread pattern and impact noise levels were reasonable, with the ExtremeContact DW again leading the group. The Pilot Super Sport and Potenza S-04 Pole Position were close behind, both producing a modest but distinct tone as speeds increased. Like we found last time we tested the P Zero, this tire produces a moderate growl at speed, particularly on asphalt surfaces.
What We Learned on the Test Track
Our 1/3-mile per lap test track course includes 90-degree street corners, lane changes and simulated expressway ramps. Run in both dry and wet conditions, the test track allows our team to experience the traction, responsiveness, handling and drivability normally only encountered during abrupt emergency avoidance maneuvers or competition events.
The Michelin Pilot Super Sport proved to be a super star on our test track, providing excellent steering response and front end authority, driving down to the apex with relative ease. Ultimate cornering grip was impressive as was braking and acceleration traction. Subjectively the Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position was next, also displaying nimble handling and a predictable feel. The lap time said otherwise, as it was not able to lap our course as quickly as the others. Trailing the Michelin by less than 2/10ths of a second was the Pirelli P Zero, which proved to be able to go faster than its subjective rating would suggest. This tire didn't display the immediate response or stability in transitions of the Michelin and Bridgestone tires, but the lap time shows it has plenty of ultimate grip. Rounding out the group was the Continental ExtremeContact DW, which felt noticeably less responsive or composed in the slalom and faster sections of our course than the other three, but with the ultimate grip to hang on and just outpace the nimble-feeling Bridgestone.
In the wet the Pilot Super Sport again led the group with responsive steering and very good ultimate grip, enough in fact to tempt a few of our drivers with overconfidence, leading to a few slips and slides despite the high level of grip. The ExtremeContact DW showed it has plenty of ultimate wet traction, but was held back by its slow steering response. The Potenza S-04 Pole Position didn't feel as if it had quite as much ultimate grip as the Continental tire, but made up for it with the same responsive handling we found in the dry. The P Zero felt well-balanced and communicated its capabilities very well, but lacked the ultimate wet traction to keep up with the leaders.
Fuel Consumption Results
Our Real World Road Ride features a relatively flat 6.6-mile loop of 65 mph expressway, 55 mph state highway and 40 mph county roads along with two stop signs and one traffic light every lap. Our team drove approximately 500 miles over the course of several days. Since we wanted to compare fuel consumption results that typical drivers would experience, our drivers were instructed to maintain the flow of traffic by running at the posted speed limits and sustain the vehicle's speed using cruise control whenever possible. They did not use hypermiling techniques to influence vehicle fuel economy.
Tire Line Test
@ 15,000 Miles % vs. Most Efficient
Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position 26.7 561.8 -1.12%
Continental ExtremeContact DW 27.0 555.6 --
Michelin Pilot Super Sport 27.0 555.6 --
Pirelli P Zero 26.8 559.7 -0.75%
*Our evaluation used Linear Logic ScanGauge II automotive computers to record fuel consumption, and Race Technology DL1 data loggers to record true distance travelled.
We weren't able to find a significant difference in fuel economy during our test. Based on our results the 0.3 mile per gallon difference between our lowest and highest observed fuel economy would result in an annual difference of about 6 gallons of premium gasoline. At the current cost of approximately $4.00/gallon, it would amount to only $24 for drivers traveling 15,000 miles a year.
It's important to note our test's fuel consumption measurements follow consistent procedures designed to minimize variables that could influence the results, however they do not represent an exhaustive long-range fuel consumption study. While our procedures require the test vehicles in each convoy to run under the same prevailing conditions, the week-to-week differences in ambient temperatures, barometric pressures and wind speeds that we experience over a season of testing can influence vehicle fuel consumption and prevent the absolute mpg values of this test from being compared directly against those of others.
Larger differences in consumption between tires may indicate a difference that might be experienced on the road, while smaller differences should be considered equivalent. As they say, your mileage may vary.
There is no doubt these Max Performance Summer tires mean business, and are tuned to deliver impressive handling and ultimate traction in both dry and wet conditions. But there is no free lunch - none can be the best at everything. The Pilot Super Sport displays reasonable road manners considering its obvious focus on at-the-limit handling, while the Potenza S-04 Pole Position makes a good attempt at striking a balance between road manners and outright handling but can't match the track speed of the best in the group. The ExtremeContact DW trades off some handling precision for the best ride quality of the group, and the P Zero goes about its business with little fanfare but just doesn't stand out among this tough crowd.
Bridgestone PotenzaS-04 Pole Position (Max Performance Summer): The Potenza S-04 Pole Position is Bridgestone's Max Performance Summer tire developed for the drivers of ultra high performance sports cars, coupes and sedans who want to feel the rush of driving their vehicle. Potenza S-04 Pole Position tires are designed to perform in warm, wet and dry conditions. However like all summer tires, they are not intended to be driven in near freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice. Read more.
Continental ExtremeContact DW (Max Performance Summer): The ExtremeContact DW (DW for Dry & Wet) is Continental Tire's Max Performance Summer tire developed for the drivers of sports cars, sports coupes and performance sedans. The ExtremeContact DW is designed to deliver good ride quality and serious performance on both dry and wet roads. Like all summer tires, the ExtremeContact DW is not intended to be driven in near-freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice. Read more.
Michelin Pilot Super Sport (Max Performance Summer): The Pilot Super Sport is Michelin's Max Performance Summer tire initially introduced as Original Equipment on several of the world's most sophisticated performance vehicles, including the exclusive limited edition Ferrari 599 GTO, Ferrari's fastest road car ever. Developed for drivers who care about how tire technology enhances their vehicle's performance and safety, Pilot Super Sport tires expand the Max Performance Summer tire performance envelope by delivering durability, handling and traction while increasing tread life. Read more.
Pirelli P Zero (Max Performance Summer): P Zero tires are Max Performance Summer tires derived from 100 years of Pirelli motorsport experience and developed for the drivers of powerful sports cars, sports coupes and high performance luxury sedans. Initially introduced as Original Equipment on the Aston Martin DB9, Audi R8, Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, Lamborghini Murcielago, Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT and Mercedes-Benz AMG vehicles, the P Zero lineup also includes select replacement tire sizes. The P Zero, like all summer tires, is not intended to be driven in near-freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice.