Our tyre enigma: We want the best but we are not prepared to pay for them
WHEN Bridgestone asked buyers all over Europe what they looked for when buying tyres, the answer came back that wet performance and safety were the main priorities.
Unfortunately, when it comes to putting our hands in our pockets to pay for new tyres, those laudable aspirations go out the door.
Price is by far the number one consideration for most buyers.
This has led to a flood of less expensive, Chinese tyres being imported into Europe to satisfy so many buyers who see the four black circles as a something they have to buy and just want the lowest price.
That's why Bridgestone asked us to their proving ground outside Rome to test their premium Turanza tyre against the best-selling Chinese import, the HiFly HF201.
Our first test was supposed to be a dry handling affair, but the heavens opened and the track was flooded.
We tested both tyres on a Volkswagen Golf TDi, chosen as a typical family car with predictable responses.
To be honest, I didn't find much difference between the tyres, beyond noting that the HiFly broke away more suddenly than the Bridgestone and that I was able to carry a lot more speed through the slalom test on the more expensive tyres.
It wasn't until we moved on to the proper wet handling track that the clear differences emerged.
In steady cornering and braking tests, there was a gulf between the performance, with the Chinese tyre unable to keep traction, even at much slower speeds than the Turanza-shod car. It was revealing.
We were promised a drive in a high-performance sports car on the banked oval, but to our utter disappointment, it emerged we would only be passengers in either a Ferrari 458 Italia, a Porsche 911 or an Aston Martin DB9.
I ended up in the Porsche and while it was an interesting experience being chauffeured at speeds up to 270kmh, I would much rather have been in the driving seat and perhaps would have learned more.
The rain arrived again just as we came off the oval and within minutes was coming down in biblical quantities.
As a result, we had to abandon a demonstration set up to show how a runflat tyre handles a sudden loss of pressure.
Instead, we headed for the last test of the day, which turned out to be the most instructive.
Ex-Ferrari Formula 1 driver, Stefano Modena, was on hand to show us how he evaluates a tyre on a carefully calibrated wet road.
I made sure to get into the front passenger seat so I could watch the maestro at work.
We started with the Turanza and it was sheer poetry watching Stefano ease the car through the curves.
He made the point that smoothness and consistency were everything in tyre testing so that the individual characteristics and performance of each could be identified.
When we swapped over to the Chinese tyre, it was like night and day.
Even Stefano's skilled hands couldn't coax the car around without understeering off, despite going much slower than before.
The price differential between a set of decent tyres and the cheapest on the market is probably around the same as a decent meal.
It just depends what we choose from the menu.