Category: Tires

By on August 9, 2012

Picture Courtesy of Gameguru.in

[Editor's note: Part One of Steve Lang's updated guide to used car buying can be found here]

Schedule the test drive for a time when there’s no rush. If it’s bad weather, reschedule.

Take a little notebook, write a quick check list based on this article, and make notes.

Read More >

By on January 31, 2008

img_20051105t220931214.jpgIf you’re a pistonhead, you have people. You know, Nick the mechanic or Joe the dyno. I got a tire guy: Ernie Bello. Bello tires is a performance car hangout, with all the right equipment for mondo mods and a lounge, decorated with a map of the Nürburgring, stocked with car mags, ice cream and kick-ass Cuban coffee. When my sports car needed new tires I clicked on Tire Rack for price and advice. I then went to Ernie. Hey Ernie! Whaddayathinkin here?

For a long time, Ernie was a Toyo guy. Ernie’s now nuts on Nittos. Trusting Ernie’s advice, I went with the Nitto Invo. I’ve now driven over five thousand spirited miles on the shoes, including a 1500 mile trek to the BMW factory in Spartanburg, SC.

Like many high performance cars, my BMW boasts staggered wheel sizes: 225/45 17” wheels in the front, and 245/40 17” wheels in the back (on the stock rims).  This setup improves handling, but eliminates front-to-back tire rotation. That means shorter tire life; the rears suffer from my aggressive driving style, while the fronts stay ahead of the game.

Bottom line: I got great G’s on the track, and then spent them down at Ernie’s replacing the rears on a regular basis. Readers of my reviews will not be surprised to learn that I wanted a tire that wasn’t overly expensive, offering reasonable wear life, without sacrificing performance. I was pleased to learn that the Invos are non-directional; I can rotate the rubber side-to-side to balance wear. Somewhat.

The Invos are classified by Nitto as ultra-performance street tires. Translation: they’re designed for both wet and dry traction– without sacrificing ride comfort and noise suppression. Competitors include the Michelin Pilot Exaltos, the General Exclaims (previously reviewed), Firestone Firehawks and Bridgestone Potenzas.

The Invo has a unique design. The tire incorporates standard tread design with a three channel-deep wide-rib, located on one side. Nitto claims that combining an inner rib with two circumferential grooves improves wet weather performance. The rest of the tire consists of a Silica-reinforced tread compound, variable pitched grooves and large inner and outer contact patches (for improved dry handling).

The Invos come in sizes ranging from 225/45 17” to bling-sized 275/25 24” monsters. The tires are “Z” rated; good for speeds over 149 mph. But they’re also limited by a “W” rating, which pegs the maximum safe speed at 154 mph. The 17” tires I purchased have a 91 rating for load, which means a maximum load per tire of 1356 pounds in the front. The larger rear Invos support over 2000 pounds per tire, for a 5000 pound total.

Nitto warrants Invo tires for uniformity problems for sixty months after purchase– subject to rotation every 3500 miles.  As expected with performance tires, no mileage warranty is offered.

Without sophisticated equipment, testing tire on a scientific basis is impossible. As to mileage tests, one requires either many years of patience or a machine to artificially add mileage. Having neither, I can only provide my subjective analysis of the tires based on years of experience.

The other issue with tires is the trade-off between comfort/noise/longevity versus performance and traction.  Tires that lean toward performance usually have comfort and noise issues. Softer, more compliant tires aid comfort but lose performance capabilities.

I tested the Invos for four characteristics: noise, comfort, dry traction and wet traction. The easiest to measure was the Invo’s noise level. I found the tires extremely quiet, with little noise intrusion with the vehicle’s top down, and none with the top up.

Comfort was harder to measure; the BMW M Roadster is already a somewhat harsh vehicle to start. Compared to the stock Michelin Pilots, I found no change in the comfort level with the Invos installed. I lean to a harsher ride on a sports car and the Invos did not make the ride any worse.

The fun part of testing is pushing tires to the limit on the street in simulated track tests in open lots. All tests were performed with the traction control turned off.

I tested dry handling by completing high speed turns and simulated slaloms. I found traction to be substantial, with the car failing to break away. This made reasonable drifting impossible. I also tried several panic stops, inducing ABS vibration. Again the Invos functioned very well.

Wet traction was only slightly worse with slower slalom speeds and longer braking. I never felt a loss of control. I’d trust these tires (though my M never sees rain, the spoiled bitch that she is).

With the install, I paid $600 for all four shoes at Bello Tires. Not the cheapest option, but well worth the price and competitive with the other tires mentioned above.  Now if I can only get 20k miles on them!

NITTO Invo Ultra-High Performance Tire Review Product Review Rating

By on January 22, 2008

chain-tracks-in-snow.JPGI learned to drive in Philly in the winter. Although we were always warned to watch out for the dreaded black ice, the roads where I lived were plowed, salted and gently hilled. So there was little winter drama. The only slip sliding away in my ‘hood: Paul Simon’s doleful tune and the snow-covered mall parking lot where we went for late-night donuts. Flash forward to the winter of ‘07: a family vacation to the mountains of North Carolina in our rear drive Cadillac SRX. Before embarking, I glimpsed a warning on our cabin rental website: “four wheel-drive is a must.” Ch-ch-chains. Chains for fools. Or not.

Reviewing the Caddy's manual on the subject of winter traction devices advised me these automotive accoutrements had to come in the form of “s” class chains. The stricture is down to the SRX' passenger car roots; most “normal” cars can only accommodate s-chains in the [relatively] small spacing between the wheel and the body. So I started researching the “other” s-class. 

I learned there are three sub-categories of s-class chains. For under $125, you get your basic metal chain with complicated installation and manual tightening. In the $125 to $250 bracket, your money buys you more sophisticated chains with mounting tools and semi-automatic self tightening links. Finally, as befits an SRX, one can buy the Cadillac of chains: the $450 Spike-Spiders.

As an incorrigible Scrooge, I never would have paid this much money for chains, even if they were fashioned from gold. But my wife, who found these arachnid glorifying chains online, insisted. A week before the trip, we purchased them from the U.S. distributor at www.spikes-spider.com. The large box that arrived soon thereafter contained the "chains," the mounting plate and an enormous collection of nuts, bolts, spacers and clips.

mounting-plate.JPGThe instructions were a bit confusing and over-complicated. Yes sir, I’m here to tell you that there were not one but TWO– count ‘em TWO– separate methods for mounting the plate. 

At first, the instrux seemed to imply that all of the car’s lug nuts would have to be removed. After a bit of re-caffeination, I divined it was only three. I proceeded to mount the plate to each rear wheel. Deploying the handy dandy measuring tool included with my purchase, it appeared that my SRX’s didn’t need no stinkin’ spacers. So I boxed up the extras, put the chains in the carry bag (included) and slapped on the decorative cover.

We arrived in a snow-free North Caroline on the last Sunday of 2007. Our driveway was so steep it could have served as a V2 launch pad. I knew if it snowed we were in big trouble. Or, as I preferred to think of it, I’d have the perfect opportunity to justify my wife’s heinous expenditure.

Lo and behold, three days later, two plus inches of the white stuff fell upon the hills. I was ready to test the Spike-Spiders.

wheel-cover.JPGDespite following the instructions for measuring the spacers, I was 1.5” short. I called the company on the cell, hot breath steaming in the cold mountain air. Spike-Spider immediately blamed me for not testing the mounting before the trip. Only after I gave the company my FedEx number– MY FedEx number– did they agree to send me extra spacers. 

Stuck in the cabin, I watched my neighbors struggle with cheap chains. First, they tried the rear wheels and promptly wrapped them around the axle. I advised them that their car was propelled by the front wheels. An hour or so later they were off, dashing through the snow.

The new spacers arrived late Thursday– on a chainless FedEx truck. After remounting the plate, I installed the Spike-Spiders. I laid them over the wheel, twisted on the mounting bracket and voila! They automatically locked on as I drove. 

Once down the mountain and onto the main paved road, I stopped, took off the mounting bracket, pulled off the Spiders, drove three feet and put them back in the bag.  I could easily mount or dismount them in the time it takes to drum your fingers during a long red light.

chains-mounted.JPGOf course, the real test is how they performed as snow chains. The Spike-Spiders were extremely effective. The Swiss-made contraptions bit well on the snow and ice. In fact, in test panic stops, the SRX came to a halt nearly as well as it does on dry pavement. We climbed steep hills without slipping, with better control than the four wheel-drive vehicle we followed up one particularly steep snowy road.

When properly installed, the Spike-Spiders are a well-designed product that provide an effective solution for tough winter driving. The only negatives are the price, the lame-ass instructions, and the major geek factor the mounting plates project. Otherwise, you're good to snow.

[German language Spike-Spider video here .] 

Spike-Spider Winter Traction Package Review Product Review Rating

By on November 29, 2007

ge_exclaim_uhp_ci2_l.jpgSelecting 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.

Should this be a TTAC-approved product?

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General Tire Exclaim UHP Review Product Review Rating

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