Jul 092013

MANILA, Philippines – Tricky business, as one might put it, is what designing and developing a tire that embodies all the features crucial to the discerning motorist is like.  Of course, at this day and age, we all know that it’s all about hard science, backed by factual data obtained the hard way- with absolutely no trickery involved.

You see when one requires a tire to be comfortable, quiet, reliable, and able to provide exceptional performance on both dry and wet surfaces over a long service life, it’s almost like asking for the moon and the stars. At least one characteristic would  have to be compromised for the others to be optimally applicable.  Well, at least that used to be the case.

Launched recently to the Asia Pacific Motoring Media is Michelin’s latest tire developed specifically for the region — the Primacy 3 ST.  Aimed to cater to the executive and premium/luxury car owners, the members of the press were taken to the Bonanza Speedway, in Khao Yai Thailand, where cars like the Lexus GS250, Volvo S60, and Mercedes Benz E-Class were made available to test the tires with.

Michelin prepared the racetrack quite well, to simulate various scenarios that would enable us journalists to properly test every aspect of the Primacy 3 ST.  But as exciting as the track setup looked, we were thoroughly briefed beforehand about the extensive technology behind the tire.

There was one obvious take-out from the press presentation, and that was a clear focus on the overall comfort of the car’s occupants, rolling on Primacy 3 ST’s.  Starting with the name, 3 stands for it being the 3rd generation of this particular variant, and ST stands for Silent Tuning.

Given that decades of innovations in the manufacture and design of tires have made all but the unknown brands, really competitive in their respective categories, the Primacy 3 ST is supposed to meet and exceed the higher expectations of the market in terms of performance, safety and longevity, while prioritizing the car’s occupants’ total comfort in terms of quietness and smoothness of the ride.

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We were bombarded with figures that were indeed impressive, like 2.9 meters- the length of which the stopping distance is reduced compared to the Primacy 3ST’s  most significant competitor; 8- the percentage of which this new tire is quieter; 25- the percentage this generation of the Primacy will last longer compared to its predecessor, and finally, 1.3 million- the total number of Kilometers Michelin painstakingly logged-in testing the Primacy 3 ST through all imaginable driving conditions all over Asia Pacific.

As impressed as we were, these were all figures on a Powerpoint presentation.  We of course were eager for some irrefutable, solid proof.

Nestled in between lush mountains, the Bonanza Speedway was a great choice to conduct some serious tire testing, as it was divided into three sections to specifically test the Primacy 3 ST’s performance in dry conditions, wet conditions, and its noise levels as well, via two identical cars in every test, one fitted with Michelins and the other with the competition.

Taking on a tight curve without braking at 65 Km/h would not be a typical driving scenario even on a perfectly paved dry road, add to that sudden lane changes to avoid huge  obstacles (fake boulders), and capping it with a mini-slalom- that would give you a good impression of how your tires behave.  With the first lap meant for familiarization, the next two laps with the two different car/tire combos were quite telling, especially since we already developed some consistency.

The Primacy 3 STs had discernibly less tire squeal and understeer on the curve, and felt more planted despite sudden left-right-left jerks on the lane changes and slalom. This we attributed to their proprietary FlexMax technology — a highly flexible tread compound and tread block shape that adapts to the road surface for better contact and grip.

Moving over briskly to the wet testing section, we were then briefed again about the Primacy 3 ST’s Stabiligrip feature — unique self-locking bands in between the tread blocks that reduce deformation of the blocks upon contact to the road.  Its small grooves allow the tire to slice through water as well, and the two features work in conjunction to give the Primacy 3 STs exceptional performance on both wet or dry road surfaces.

It took a bit of effort to fight the reflex of lifting off the throttle at 70 km/h on a very wet road as it curved tightly, and again to maintain a constant speed on some abrupt lane changes.  The car fitted with the Primacy STs virtually had no oversteer that was induced by loss of grip, while the competition had discernible rear-end slip which I happened to record and playback on video to compare to.

Towards the end of the wet track, we were told to hit about 75 km/h on a straightaway and slam on the brakes at a precise point.  Via an onboard precision testing instrument, this author did have an average three-meter shorter stopping distance on all three runs.

That vividly demonstrated the Primacy 3 ST’s superiority, as even a few inches can make the difference between a costly collision and a close call, or even life and death.

Admitting that their tires cost a bit more in the market, the price difference is definitely justified and could be viewed more fittingly as an insurance policy.

The last test was to help us evaluate the noise levels generated by the tires. Though the results weren’t as astounding, precision testing equipment on-board displayed graphical data that did show a slight reduction in noise levels from the car fitted with Michelins.

The whole day of thorough testing was concluded by a relaxing drive around some plantations in Khao Yai, which allowed us to contemplate, discuss and compare amongst ourselves our findings about how Michelin’s latest offering fared against its top competitor.

It was more than coincidence, the way the phrase “numbers don’t lie” came up a few times, for well beyond the data, the graphs, the video testimonies and the speeches- the proof is in the rubber, that we drove hard through wet and dry, and the Michelin Primacy 3 ST proved its claims with flying colors.

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