Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Haney Louka
When I was growing up in Winnipeg, my Dad and I had a regular tradition. Before the days of Sunday shopping, we’d get on our bikes and ride from our Fort Richmond home to the parking lot of St. Vital mall. There, on the open pavement, the Winnipeg Sports Car Club set up tight autocross courses using cones and held timed events. It was great fun watching drivers test the mettle of their cars and themselves, and the difference in performance between small, light cars and the clumsier, larger cars was pronounced, even if said larger cars possessed all-wheel drive and turbocharged engines. These courses always favoured small cars and disciplined drivers that relied on finesse rather than brute power to get to the finish line.
Though I’ve always found autocross appealing, I seemed to find excuses not to get into it. I didn’t own the right type of car, or didn’t have the budget for a second set of tires or more frequent brake pad replacements. But a few weeks ago, I ran out of excuses.
It’s not unusual for me to receive tires from manufacturers so I can put them through their paces and write reviews on them in an effort to help tire shoppers make more informed decisions. More often than not, though, those tires have the snowflake-on-mountain symbol to indicate that they’re dedicated winter rubber.
But this time it’s different. In addition to reviewing winter tires made by Cooper and Yokohama earlier this year, I’ve decided to try out a set of high-performance summer rubber provided by Bridgestone.
The impetus for this exercise was to focus on the benefits of upgrading to higher performance rubber for the summer. With winter tires it’s easy: we approach and exceed the traction limits of all-season tires in winter all the time; winter tires typically provide an immediate and appreciable improvement.
But during summer, and especially in dry conditions, most drivers aren’t too concerned about exceeding their tires’ traction threshold during the morning commute. Of course, there’s more to it than that, and for folks who want to get the most out of their car’s handling, right here is a good place to start.
Since it is no secret that your car’s tires represent the only physical contact between you and the road, it follows that careful consideration should be given to what is available and what you want out of them. For many, the criteria are simple: safe and long-lasting. But for others, and especially those for whom driving is something to look forward to, there are other factors to consider. Grip, noise, and response can inch their way up the priority list for these people.
As is easily demonstrated in the winter, all-season tires represent a compromise. Though more difficult to discern, it’s no different in summer. All-seasons need to remain somewhat flexible in freezing temperatures while at the same time not giving up too much in the way of tread life in warm weather.
With summer tires, the life of the tire tread is not such an issue, as the focus is more on traction, stability, and the ability of the tire’s footprint to resist hydroplaning on wet surfaces. The resulting rubber compounds may achieve this goal but they have a tendency to turn into bowling balls as the temperature approaches freezing. But hey, since we recommend that everybody roll on winter rubber, it just follows that folks should maximize performance and safety in the summer season with dedicated summer tires.
My tires for this review were provided by Bridgestone: Potenza S-04 Pole Position. Bridgestone markets this tire as an ultra-high performance summer tire with a starting retail price of $146.99. For the 225/40-18 size tested, the retail price is $336.99 each, though at the time of this writing the same tire is available at online retailer 1010Tires.com for $282.99 and at Costco.ca for $254.99. To be honest, tire pricing structures have always mystified me.
Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position, RENOA Silencer Grooves. Click image to enlarge
The vehicle for these test tires is my 2007 Volkswagen MkV GTI. I’ve owned it for nearly two years, but until now it has been wearing the standard-issue 17-inch alloys with Goodyear Eagle GT all-season rubber (switched out each year with winter test tires, of course). Wanting to enhance its looks and handling, I’ve upgraded to a set of 18-inch VMR wheels finished in gunmetal which happen to look like an exact paint match to the car’s United Grey coat. My hope is that these wheels will become the test bed for performance tires in seasons to come.
As is typical of tire companies, we don’t get to find out exactly what Bridgestone puts in their rubber compound to produce the S-04 Pole Position, but we do know that the compound is rich in silica with an aggressive asymmetric tread pattern. Key to high-speed stability is the continuous centre rib which is flanked by a wide groove on each side. To maximize traction in corners, the outer portion of the tire’s footprint is almost solid tread with few shallow grooves. The inner portion, which doesn’t see as much loading under cornering forces, contains another wide circumferential groove to channel away water as well as larger grooves between inner tread blocks for solid wet weather performance.
The tires also benefit from “Renoa silencer grooves” which reduce tire resonance noise associated with the pattern of the tread as it contacts the road.