Swapping to Michelin Pilot Sport 4S Tires on Two Different Automobiles
Is New Rubber a Transformation?
In early 2017, I went on the launch of Michelin's latest max-performance summer tire—the Pilot Sport 4S (PS4S). The new rubber impressed but I've been eager to spend time with the PS4S on home turf since the trip to California. As such, I arranged to try the Michelin PS4S on the two cars that park in the Noordeloos garage—a 2017 Toyota 86 and a 2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon.
2017 Toyota 86: 215/45YR-17
Toyota (and Subaru, with the near-identical BRZ) fits Michelin Primacy HP summer touring tires as standard on the 86. It's a decent tire and fits the fun, playful nature of the rear-wheel drive coupe, but it lacks ultimate grip. The first thing I noticed after installing the PS4S was how much heavier the steering became. I didn't like the added weight at first, but I've gotten used to it. That said, the heft accentuates the slight dead on-center feeling with the steering. This is something I've still not fully gelled with, but it doesn't hurt the overall experience greatly.
Ride quality has also taken a small hit, along with some increased impact harshness. But the overall grip and ability to really lean on the front end of the 86 are giant leaps forward. With the original-equipment (O.E.) tire, there was always an underlying feeling that the Toyota was walking on tip-toes. Sure, it was fun that the Toyota moved around on the road when pushed and the ability to easily get properly sideways was entertaining but I always felt that the chassis could handle—and I'd welcome—more outright stick. The PS4S delivers in that area in spades. And there's also the wet grip—I have never experienced a tire that laughs at the rain like the PS4S. It's simply amazing in regards to the confidence and progressive nature in the wet conditions.
All that grip comes at a price, particularly in the dry and most noticeably on a track. I was doing some race car testing at Grattan Raceway in West Michigan and decided to run a few laps in the Toyota. Yes, the grip is astonishing with the PS4S, but it's so much stickier that I quickly felt the limitations of the stock dampers and brakes on the 86. The 2+2 coupe also wasn't as playful as when I ran a handful of laps in 2017 on the O.E. tire. It's a similar feel on the street, though not nearly as much of an issue as on the track. I love the grip and feel of the PS4S in a corner but I think an upgrade to the engine, suspension and brakes is needed to justify such a grippy tire, especially if you go to the track. Maybe the Sachs dampers and Brembo brakes that come with the $1195 performance package on the Subaru BRZ would help. Actually, an O.E. version of the PS4S (or another high-performance Michelin tire) could be a great fit for the Toyota 86, no matter what the suspension and binders configuration. I want a tire that's a step up from the standard Primacy HP but not quite as hardcore as the PS4S. Michelin and Toyota/Subaru engineers could play with the compound, tread pattern and construction as well as the steering tune to help on-center feel. They could also dial back a bit of ultimate dry grip to better fit the chassis while keeping the PS4S wet performance fully intact. It's a reminder of how important it is for a tire to match the car and why O.E. tire development is so important.
Overall, I like the PS4S on the Toyota 86 enough where I'm not going to switch back to the O.E. tire. It's great fun to surprise far more powerful and expensive cars in corners on the road and I really love the ultimate grip as you dial in lock with the steering wheel as well as the astonishing stick in the wet. I don't plan to track the 86 again as I have access to proper track/race cars. The PS4S is really an amazing tire. It's just maybe a bit too amazing for an stock Toyota 86.
2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon: 225/45YR-18
I was excited to fit the PS4S to our BMW wagon for two reasons—I hate all-season tires and I'm not a fan of runflats. Plus, the current generation 3 Series has never featured good steering (even with the chassis and steering changes for 2016) and I was hoping to improve that with summer performance tires.
Overall, it's mission accomplished. Other than some surprising impact noise entering the cabin over some broken Michigan pavement, the PS4S seems a good fit for the wagon. Mind you, I don't drive our family wagon as hard as the Toyota 86—it's just not that type of car. The wagon's steering improved with the Michelin tires (though I'd never label it as impressive—BMW really needs to get their steering game sorted on the next 3 Series). Wet grip is crazy good and I love the safety aspects of that characteristic on the family hauler.
While the PS4S is likely overkill for a non-M BMW without a sport suspension, the tire carries a 300 treadwear rating (and a 30,000 mile warranty) and has very low rolling resistance. I see no reason to run an all-season tire on our wagon as we fit dedicated winter wheel and tire package in the cold and snow. Why put up with the dry and wet performance compromises of an all-season tire when they're never going to see winter?
In Europe (and in limited sizes in the USA), Michelin also offers the Pilot Sport 4. Think of this tire as a PS4S that's turned down a bit—not designed to hit the race track and more of an O.E. setup. According to Michelin's marketing material, the Pilot Sport 4 is a slightly more comfortable tire that gives up some ultimate handling. Maybe this tire would be a better fit for the BMW wagon, especially if the PS4S's impact noise became a bother. But the Pilot Sport 4 only carries a 20,000-mile treadwear warranty and isn't offered in a 225/45R-18 in the U.S.
BMW does offer an O.E. version of the predecessor to the PS4S, the Pilot Super Sport, but it's only offered from the factory in a staggered setup (wider rear tires) with the optional Track Handling Package. That $2,300 addition includes BMW's even less stellar variable sport steering system. I wish BMW offered the O.E. Michelin non-runflat tires as an stand-alone option on the 3 Series. If they want to charge buyers a bit extra to cover the cost of the fix-a-flat kit fitted to the cargo area (something I purchased when I installed the PS4S tires), so be it.
Overall, I'm very happy with the PS4S on our BMW. The tires help the wagon perform more like how a BMW should perform. The wet grip and added steering precision is welcomed and the treadwear looks to be excellent, especially given the performance. Maybe someday Americans will understand why all-season tires make little sense.