June 13, 2014
Comparison tests based on comfort, handling and wet braking. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Lesley Wimbush
TORONTO, On – As the German sports sedan screeches across the tarmac against a fetching Lake Ontario backdrop, the last thing you’ll probably notice are its tires.
While they’re one of the most important components in a car’s safety, tires are also one of the most difficult to market since they’re also one of the least sexy.
However, saving money is attractive to almost everyone – which you’d think would make “low-rolling resistance” tires, designed to be more fuel-efficient, an easy sell, right?
Just like cars that have been engineered to use less fuel – that economic friendliness can come at the price of reduced performance.
How much fuel a vehicle consumes is equal to the effort it takes to overcome inertia, – or its resistance to moving. Low rolling-resistance tires are designed to reduce weight, through thinner sidewalls and generally shallower tread depth.
Depending on road and weather conditions – low rolling resistance tires can improve your fuel economy by as much as four percent. That may not sound like much, but could save you hundreds at the pumps each year – almost enough to pay for the tires.
Low-rolling resistance tires are somewhat of a compromise, the dollars saved in fuel come at a cost of decreased performance. In early editions, shallower treads, more flexible sidewalls and different composites generally resulted in poor performance and less grip. They wore out faster too – which pretty much cancelled out any fuel savings.
But tire technology is evolving just as quickly as the cars that depend upon it, with new compounds and tread patterns developed to be not only more fuel efficient and environmentally friendlier to dispose of, but also manage to maintain decent levels of grip and stopping power.
Continental Tire claims that their TrueContact tire not only reduces fuel and lasts longer, but out-performs other leading brands in handling and comfort.
And to prove it, they invited members of the media to experience for themselves, pitting their tire against their top competitor, Bridgestone Ecopia in a variety of tests, using identical AWD Audi A4 sedans.
Both tires are all season touring tires, specifically designed to save fuel through lower rolling resistance.
Both are “Tier One”, premium tires designed to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
The Ecopia product is no slouch – it’s chosen by many OEMs and scores high marks for fuel conservation.
Bridgestone’s patented technology more evenly blends the ingredients in their Ecopia for a more consistent grip. The sidewalls are engineered to regain their shape more quickly, since sidewall flex causes a tire to squirm and lose traction. Tread blocks provide better handling, and grooves for channeling away water for better wet road performance and braking. The better distribution of carbon helps reduce friction, which also extends the tire’s life.
Bridgestone Ecopia & Continental TrueContact tires. Click image to enlarge
Continental’s TrueContact is marketed as a touring performance, all-season tire with EcoPlus Technology.
Its tire compound is moulded into a symmetrical design, providing continuous road contact for better steering response and handling. Wide grooves prevent hydroplaning while improving traction. Twin steel internal belts provide strength, while a cushioning layer of rubber absorbs vibration over rough pavement. Continental promises up to $550 in fuel savings over its competitors over the tire’s life.
The first comparison test was conducted over a short course featuring several rough surfaces that emulated rough pavement, potholes and bumps. We travelled at about 50 km/h, representing the typical speed travelled by most urban commuters on city streets.
For the most part there was little difference between the two, both handled the potholes and rough patches well, with little upset to the car’s composure.
Over the next section, comprised of thin strips of rubber representing ridged pavement, the Continentals were slightly quieter, with less vibration intruding into the car’s cabins.
After that, we headed out onto a nice little handling course featuring a couple of slaloms and ending with a tight hairpin.
Continental TrueContact vs Bridgestone Ecopia. Click image to enlarge
At 50 km/h, both tires performed well, but the Continental provided noticeably better steering response. But at 57 km/h, the Bridgestone Ecopia started to lose lateral grip and displayed more sidewall flex.
Driving on the TrueContacts, I could push the car up to 67km/h with no squirming during the side-to-side motion of the slalom, and retaining grip and steering through the hairpin. The Ecopia’s steering seemed mushier by comparison.
The most telling comparison was during the wet-braking comparison. This test was performed by applying a full-on panic stop brake from 70 km/h and measuring the stopping distance on wet pavement. The TrueContact consistently outbraked the Ecopias by at least ten feet in every single instance, with an average of 95 feet for the Bridgestones and 85 feet for the Continentals during my six runs.
Ten feet may not sound like much – but it could mean the difference between a close call, and tragedy.
While both tires are designed to save you money at the gas pumps, the Continental TrueContact does so with less performance sacrifice.
However, the Ecopia EP20 starts at $113.99 (www.bridgestonetire.ca), while the TrueContact starts at $129.99 (www.canadiantire.ca).
TrueContacts last on average about 145,000 km, and feature wear indicators “DWS” to let you know when they’ve reached their optimum use depending on the condition. For example; once the letter ‘S’ is worn, the tire is no longer effective on snow, ‘W’ refers to Wet, and when ‘D’ is the only remaining intact letter, the tire is good only on dry pavement.
Ecopias are covered by a 105,000 km warranty.
It is important to note that while both tires claim “all-season” utility, they can’t replicate the cold-weather ability of genuine winter tires.