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Getting a grip, or not, as the case may be

publication date: Jun 5, 2013
author/source: John Kerswill


Reg, Ian and John with another old timer

By John Kerswill

What happens when you arrive at a corner in the wet with half-worn premium tyres on the front and brand new budget Asian tyres on the back? 

That was one of several questions convincingly answered for Western Group chairman Ian Adcock and members Reg Burnard and John Kerswill on a recent visit to the Contidrome, the main test centre for Continental tyres.

Increasingly, once a car is five or six years old, cash-challenged motorists are opting for cheap replacement tyres, believing they're perfectly adequate for everyday use. Often only a pair of new tyres are needed to get the car through an MoT, so a mix of old premium on the front, new budget on the back will keep the MoT man perfectly happy. One tyre looks much like another and surely the main thing is to have a decent tread depth?

That attitude is a problem for OEMs like Continental who make only top quality tyres with prices to match, reflecting high quality materials and the millions pumped into R&D. Even journalists aren't always convinced, hence our presence in Hanover.

Reg hung on stoically in the passenger seat as I discovered on the wet steering circle that even in a new Mini with electronic stability control, sudden, massive oversteer was the result as those budget tyres lost all grip at the back. It really felt as if they were riding on ice and the fronts on tarmac. Only rapid application of opposite-lock could prevent a spin, and out in the real world many drivers would be too overcome by shock and surprise to do anything to save the situation.

It was the same story driving 1-Series BMWs on the wet handling circuit, first with Contis all round, then budget tyres on the back. Then – most fun of all – driving a series of quick cars (Audi RS3s, Porsche Panamera, AMG Merc A-Class) round the 'dry' handling circuit (actually thoroughly wet thanks to steady rain), keeping up with a very press-on test driver. Thankfully that was done on new Contis all round, demonstrating astonishing levels of wet grip and controllability.

I started the exercise sceptical about the real-world necessity for top quality tyres, and despite Conti's protestations that the budget tyres (Roadstone, if you're interested) were chosen at random they'd be less than human if they hadn't made sure first that they weren't much good. But even so it was a thoroughly convincing and quite sobering demonstration. And given that premium tyres tend to last longer and use less fuel, they probably end up costing less anyway.

It wasn't all hard work, of course. Conti proved they could organise a booze-up in a brauhaus just as well as a test session, with dinner in a Hanover restaurant with its own microbrewery, whose copiously-flowing product helped wash down a light meal (not) of pork knuckle, bratwurst, sauerkraut and mashed potato. 

Many thanks to Continental PR team Laura Hardy and Mark Griffiths, who will once again be at the WGMW Driving Day where we can return some of their hospitality.

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