By Haney Louka
Despite the optimist in me wanting to be the first to discover that there is such thing as a free lunch, or there is one product that can do it all, I’m finding time and time again that if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
In the realm of tires it’s no different. I’d like to find one tire that works well for everybody, but that wonder product just doesn’t exist. That’s because each person wants their tire to do different things. So one person’s ideal set of tires will be another’s nightmare. But there are, however, many new tires on the market that allow manufacturers to broaden the appeal of a single tire line. Take Michelin’s line of Pilot Sport high-performance tires, for example.
I was intrigued when I found out that Michelin makes an ultra-high-performance tire that is rated as an “all season” with the ability to handle spirited driving on more than just dry pavement. I had a set of Michelin Pilot Sport A/S tires mounted on my Nissan 240 SX to find out how these tires performed in the real world.
The Pilot Sport A/S is a new all-season variant of the company’s popular line of Pilot Sport high-performance tires. What differentiates the A/S from the remainder of the Pilot lineup is that Michelin claims all-season tractability with minimal tradeoffs. In fact, Michelin has the guts to put an “M+S” (mud and snow) rating on the tire.
Those looking for real winter capabilities should be shopping for tires with the severe service emblem (a snowflake on a mountain) on their sidewalls, a designation recognized by Transport Canada and the Rubber Association of Canada.
The M+S designation, by contrast, is a somewhat arbitrary one that manufacturers choose to put on their all-season tires. There are no specific requirements that tires need to meet before being so named, so treat it with a grain of salt.
Now back to the performance. All Pilot Sport tires are ZR designated to reflect a maximum speed rating of over 240 km/h. While this speed is unfathomable to most folks, the rating is necessary for cars that have extremely high top speeds. It wouldn’t be safe to equip a Porsche 911 Carrera with tires that could only sustain speeds of 180 km/h, because there would be potential for tire failure at super-legal speeds.
Despite its name, though, my humble 240 SX need not worry about approaching the Pilots’ maximum speed rating.
The A/S difference
Michelin uses a patented “C3M” (Carcasse, Monofil, Moulage and Mechanique) process to produce the Pilot Sport A/S. While the company doesn’t like to share its manufacturing secrets, they do make a big deal of what the process allows them to do. It’s a very portable automated production system that allows Michelin to make small batches of premium tires without tying up an entire factory assembly system. It also allows precise placement of different rubber compounds across the tread.
The centre rib rubber is optimized for wet-weather traction and contains 100 percent silica enhanced tread compound. On either side of it a winter-friendly compound makes up the majority of the wearing surface, consisting of a softer, more pliable rubber. The shoulders of the tire are designed for maximum dry-weather cornering and utilize a carbon black compound.
Beneath the centre rib is a polyester cord that reinforces the tire in the centre and allows a flatter crown during high-speed driving, thereby maintaining good contact with the road.
The Pilot Sport A/S makes my car capable of things it could never do with more humble all-seasons. Grip on dry roads is phenomenal. Even when cornering on rough roads that unsettle the car, the tires seem to grab hold of the road every chance they get in an effort to keep the car planted.
When it’s time to give up their grip, the A/S tires do so with appropriate audible warning before resigning to the laws of physics. Breakaway is progressive and controlled.
In wet weather the tires are extremely capable; they shed water and dig right through to the pavement. They are much more confidence inspiring in the rain than pure summer tires. And having more grip on wet pavement gives the ABS system more traction to do its job with – a huge benefit.
Since I’ve only been testing the tires for a few months, I can’t speak to their winter capabilities. But I can safely surmise that Michelin did not have prairie winters in mind when they slapped the all season designation on the tires. Their marketing material states that the tire is equipped with “all weather compounds designed to maintain flexibility even in below-freezing conditions.” I have a feeling they’re not talking about 40 degrees below freezing.
The Pilots lack two features that make winter tires so good in the winter: they don’t have soft enough rubber and they don’t contain the plentiful siping that contributes to more flexible tread blocks – these features would get in the way of the ultra-high performance intent of the Pilot A/S tires. My suggestion: get Michelin’s extremely capable Pilot Alpins for the snowy months and keep the Sport A/S tires on for the other three seasons.
To Sum It Up
The Pilot Sport A/S tires are exceptional all-around performance tires that don’t give up significant performance to pure summer tires in everyday driving situations. Although wet weather performance is excellent, I wouldn’t count on these tires to get me through a Winnipeg winter.