Selecting a performance tire is a daunting process. Over ten different tire manufacturers offer over forty different brands in a multitude of configurations for a range of road conditions. Tire prices range from less than a single Ben Franklin to nearly three times that amount. And it’s difficult to isolate objective information about any given tire because of the number of variables and the inability for any one tire to be the best in any one category (e.g. grip, wear, wet weather traction, wheel protection, comfort, etc.) Oy vey.
When it comes to negotiating this round rubber labyrinth, TTAC hearts the Tire Rack. The online retailer consistently displays genuine care and concern for its customers, and exhibits fanatical dedication to discerning and revealing the truth about tires. To this end, the Tire Rack’s website publishes end users’ ratings. The rankings for summer performance tires cover both wet and dry conditions, as well as comfort considerations.
The Michelin Pilot Exalto PE2 sits at the top of the consumer rankings. Pilots are often used as OEM equipment on high performance cars like the BMW M3. Known for their incredible stickiness, they wear out faster than an OCD’s toothbrush. In our 18” size, Exalto’s run a cool $168 per tire. As this test was on my own nickel, I scanned for a less expensive alternative.
The tire ranked number two by folks like you and me was a genuine surprise. We’re talking about rubber rated higher than all the biggest playas in the high performance biz: Firestone Firehawk Wide Oval, Bridgestone Potenza, BFGoodrich g-Force T/A and Kumho Ecsta SPT. And the winner is… the Exclaim UHP from General Tire.
General Tire has been around for nearly a century, selling a tire with little or no racing heritage and a reputation for average quality at low prices, best suited to the Sears and K-Mart crowd. Twenty years ago, General Tire’s parent GenCorp. decided to focus on missiles and real estate. They sold their tire business to Continental, Europe’s leading tire manufacture.
Looking to upgrade my Audi’s 16” wheels and all-season tires for around $1500 clams, I had to balance costs with performance. Given the lack of snow in Miami, and desiring the highest possible grip, I opted for an Ultra High Performance Summer Tire. Based on the Tire Rack reviews, I bought four General Exclaim UHPs mounted on eighteen inch offset correct wheels.
Once mounted, an eagled-eyed friend noticed that one of the wheels was mounted backwards. The Tire Rack’s shipping department missed the directional arrow, which should point forward. To their credit, they paid a local tire shop to remount the tire in the correct direction.
Of course, tire testing is a subjective business, and I’m not equipped with equipment to measure maximum g-force and other key metrics. In addition, the test vehicle’s suspension and brake capabilities will affect any and all tire test results. All that said, I plied my new rubber on-street, during (simulated) panic maneuvers and during autocross style slaloms. I also got the Audi’s feet wet.
All tests were performed with the A4’s stock brakes and an H-sport suspension upgrade. I also turned off traction control via the e-Nanny button. [Note: on most cars, the button only modifies the degree of traction control. On some cars, the Nanny can never be dismissed.]
During panic stop tests, the Exclaims provided good strong bite on a clean asphalt road. In high speed panic turns, the tires were laterally compliant in a predictable manner. While squealing like four stuck pigs, the tires were able to make maximum turns without much resistance. Hustling the Audi around the cones proved the Exclaims’ high level of lateral grip, though the modified suspension aided the tires’ traction by reducing roll.
The Exclaims handled moderately wet weather without any noticeable diminution of safety. Worryingly (if not unpredictably) the ultra grippy shoes hydroplaned in heavy rain when traveling over 70 mph. Below this speed, stopping and turning was not greatly affected by stagnant water.
The Exclaims were quiet over most surfaces, but they increased the Audi’s torque steer– which I blame more on the tire size than the Exclaim’s construction or tire pattern themselves. Tire wear was a little below average for a high performance tire; more than 50 of the tread done gone after just 10k miles. To be fair, I have an extremely heavy foot, and front wheel-drive cars tend to wear out tires a lot faster than rear drivers.
But hey, the General Exclaims cost just $86 per tire. Use, lose, repeat. At half the price of the Pilots, and with better wear life, the General Exclaim may not have the cachet of some– most performance tires. But for drivers who care more about performance (and money) than snobbery, the Generals are a genuine bargain.