BMW’s E46-series M3 is renowned as one of the best-handling cars of its era, which is one reason why I bought one. But mine had less than perfect road manners. Even on a dry road it was unpredictable, and in the wet it was close to undriveable: at very pedestrian speeds the front tyres ran wide of the intended cornering line, while even the gentlest application of power had the traction control warning light (right) flickering and the tail of the car wagging.
The problem wasn’t the car itself, but the new tyres that had been fitted by the dealer. They were made by a Far Eastern brand so obscure even tyre experts I asked had never heard of it, and they simply weren’t up to the job.
Michelin suggested I replace this dubious rubber with its Pilot Super Sport tyre, which incorporates technology from Michelin’s Le Mans racing car tyres. There was no doubting that they would be better, but I hadn’t realized just how substantial the difference was going to be.
In the dry the BMW instantly felt crisper and more precise to drive. There was more cornering grip, and when you finally tried hard enough to reach their limits the Michelins were much more forgiving and controllable. On a wet road – anything from lightly moist to torrential rain – the difference was even more remarkable. The Michelin rubber doggedly held onto a cornering line, wheelspin out of tight corners was almost eliminated and heavy braking was far less likely to trigger the ABS.
Though premium rubber does cost more, the improvement in safety alone is enough to justify spending the extra. But if you need another reason here it is: premium tyres might actually be cheaper in the long run. Private hire company Addison Lee is switching all its vehicles to Michelins, because it found the higher initial cost was outweighed by longer tyre life. Premium tyres also tend to have lower rolling resistance – which translates into better fuel economy.
Tyres all look much the same, and some people seem to think any tyre will do as long as it is the right size. But my experience confirms what I’ve always thought: that when it comes to the four small patches of rubber that are the only thing connecting you to the road, you get exactly what you pay for.
- Tyre prices vary so shop around and try online suppliers – but beware of extra costs for fitting and disposal of your old tyres.
- All tyres are labelled with A to E ratings for fuel efficiency and wet grip. The label also carries an official road noise figure. Use these ratings to get an idea of how different tyres compare.
- New tyres need time to bed in. Try to avoid harsh acceleration, cornering and braking for the first 200 miles or so.