We took a detailed “tour” of a Cooper tire and tested it on the track to find out.
You know the feeling. You’re driving, and maybe going a tad too fast, and then it happens: you feel your tires start to lose traction with the road and suddenly you have 3,500 pounds of metal and technology sliding out of control beneath you.
How can you be secure and unlikely to slide, even in bad weather?
Good tires. It’s plain and simple. Of course, don’t drive too fast, drive smart and be safe. But start with good tires, because even with all those other things going for you, if your tires aren’t doing their job, you can’t either.
But think about it. You wear flip flops in the summer, lug-sole boots in the snow and, during spring rains, Hunter boots are a must. A single shoe isn’t right for me, can a single tire do the trick on my car?
Are All Season Tires Really “One Season Fits All?”
We hear the term “all season tires” often and wonder, is that true? Can the same tire have the same relationship with the road when it’s raining or snowing as it does on a blazing hot summer day? After all, there are certain tires for summer, others that are best for winter and snow and yet others that are ideal for performance driving.
All season tires fit into all these categories because this tire is designed to deal with whatever the road throws at it. Cooper Tires shows us how this works.
Anatomy of an All Season Tire
Recently I had a chance to take a closer look and test drive Cooper Tires Ultra High Performance Zeon RS3-G1 tire on the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California. Before our test drive we got a ‘tour’ of the tire. I snapped this photo of a brand new slightly track-worn tire; you can even see a bit of dust and gravel from the track.
The amazing thing behind this tire is the thinking, research and technology that goes into its design and construction. The surface has lots of channels, cuts and designs, each with a distinct purpose. Here’s how it works:
- 5 rows of tread each have a different purpose
- The outer tread row has more rubber for better overall traction
The inner tread row is designed for better traction in winter and wet weather
- Asymmetrical ‘sipes,’ or thin channels that can be straight, angled or curved, are designed to grip the road and help flush water away from the tire surface
- Asymmetrical sipes and channels allow the tires to be cross-rotated, extending the life of the tires
- Channels between tread rows also help to flush water away from the tire surface
- Channels between tread rows are designed to fill with snow to create a snow-to-snow connection for better traction (just like your snow boots stick to the snow)
- Smaller angled channels in the tread reduce road noise
- Dimples under the sipe surface (which you can’t see, but you can feel at work) are designed to compress and ‘lock’ the tread for even greater stability and handling
- Cooper’s “Wear Square” keeps track of tread depth so you don’t have to. It wears away one side at a time, eventually revealing an ‘!’ when it’s time (or past time) to replace the tire
And while this tire is designed for all types of cars and light trucks, it’s especially good for performance cars like Mustangs and Camaros that you expect to hug the curves of the road. And on your Camry or Highlander, you can expect even more grip and performance, even in the middle school pick up lane.
Now, Time to Really Test Out These Tires!
After learning about the tires, it was time to take them for a test drive. But first we had to learn to drive the track. We suited up and put on helmets (this is a serious track, after all) and got a lesson in driving Formula 1 cars.
Why is this the ideal way to test out tires? Because in these small open-wheel cars we are close to the road. We can feel every slip, grip and gravely surface. Most cars, with enhanced traction control and safety features, prevent you from feeling when your tires aren’t doing the job they should.
This was fun. And scary. Lapping this world-class track and getting greater speed around the curves, over the hills and through the Corkscrew, the world famous 60-foot drop S curve, gave me the ultimate appreciation for the tires on the car. Even as I pushed the car to higher and higher speeds, and hit the brakes harder before each curve, I felt secure. I could tell how and when the tires did their job.
The real test: laps in a Ford Mustang
After getting to know the track we took a spin in a Mustang. To tell the difference in how Cooper’s tire performs on the track, we first tested the standard tire on the Mustang (whichever tire Enterprise Rental Car had last put on it).
To help us test the tires on the Mustang, professional driver R.C. Enerson took the wheel, sliding and squealing through some of the track’s toughest curves. After a lap it was my turn. R.C. coached me to minimize my steering and keep my speed up, even if the car was sliding just a bit. It seemed so easy for him; to get up to speed, then slow safely around the curves. I needed to use my brakes more than he did. When we got out of the car I could smell the brakes burning.
Gripping the road is the difference between control and chaos
Then, we got into a Mustang fitted with Cooper Zeon tires. This time I drove as R.C. coached me to higher speed and smoother steering through the curves. I drove faster but the car wasn’t sliding as much, holding every curve nicely. As we pulled into the pit lane R.C. asked what I thought.
I ROCKED it, I thought to myself. I was feeling like a pro. I learned how to drive this track and master it! But not wanting to brag, I told him I felt more in control.
“Those are the tires at work,” he explained.
“The tires are designed to grip the pavement on both the curves and the straightaways,” he said. “So you have maximum control both while you’re turning and while you’re accelerating.” So even though I hit higher speeds the second time around, there was less slipping, sliding and need for braking.
What it was like driving Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with professional drivers Johnny Unser and Gail Truess
Being in control: Priceless
The feeling of sliding through a curve can be helpless. But the feeling of being in control is priceless. Being able to hold your own through a curve, control your speed and to stop quickly not only gives you confidence, it lets you know that you are really in control. And knowing this, before you find out ‘by accident,’ is also priceless.
Disclosure: I was Cooper Tire’s guest for this test drive experience. Travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own.