Continental Blends Sporty and Premium Performance in PremiumContact 6

By Lee Pang Seng

REACTION to tyre performance probably gets more critical as you go up the premium ladder in the automotive world. Those who drive premium cars would value the ride performance above all else from the tyre while expecting it to provide other related qualities in equally fine doses.

Similarly, those behind the wheel of a premium performance car would enjoy the high grip quality provided by the sports tyre while expecting it to perform in other aspects in more or less equal measure. Tyre makers often tailor the tyres accordingly so that both demands could be specifically met.

Continental, however, appears to believe that it could do equally well by combining both values when developing the high performance PremiumContact 6. This tyre was introduced in the first quarter of this year in Europe to gradually replace the ContiPremiumContact 5 and ContiSportContact 5; both are supplied as OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) products in some 400 car models.

With PremiumContact 6, Continental expresses the confidence that it has met and improved on the relevant tyre performance quality in most areas, while losing slightly in one area. It showcases the developments this tyre maker has achieved in tyre design and structure that includes tread pattern, shoulder strength, and materials and compounds used.

We learnt during a global media introduction to the PremiumContact 6 in Seville, Spain late last year that the development of the tyre was benchmarked on the ContiSportContact 5 to achieve the sporty performance qualities while retaining the premium aspects, in particular ride comfort.

In Continental’s reckoning, PremiumContact 6 has successfully reconciled ‘target conflicts’ by achieving the optimum performance level in dry handling (tyre stiffness), wet braking (softness) and rolling resistance (softness) through well selected tyre compounds and a combination of efficient tread pattern that looks good at the same time.

To support that, Continental says the PremiumContact 6 has shown under tests to have improved in almost all areas of tyre performance; handling up is better by three per cent, mileage improved by 15 per cent, exterior noise quieter by 10 per cent and interior noise by two per cent while matching the ContiSportContact 5 in dry and wet braking as well as rolling resistance. The only area that it lost out was in hydroplaning or aquaplaning (by five per cent) but Continental says this acceptable with the bigger footprint.

The tyre was also developed according to vehicle dynamics, especially in how the tyre would complement the car when taking corners, and this was described as another target conflict. The result achieved, Continental says, is that the PremiumContact 6 would provide the steering precision and stability to enjoy a ‘fun to drive’ experience in the car. In short, a premium tyre that is as good to use as a sporty one.

Continental claims the improvements in mileage, exterior noise, handling, rolling resistance as well as wet and dry braking performance were achieved by combining an abrasion-resistant polymer compound with a supple tread pattern. For sportier handling, the shoulder design from the ‘ultra-high’ performance SportContact 6 was adopted and combined with the asymmetrical tread rib geometry. This ‘advanced macro-block design’ has long shoulder blocks that support one another to provide additional grip.

Continental says the new complex block structure in the tyre shoulder is capable of effectively transferring very high forces, such as those generated under cornering. Likewise, the asymmetrical rib structure in the tread delivers a similar level of performance in transferring lateral guidance forces.

Continental is making the PremiumContact 6 available in a wide range of sizes for mid-range cars to SUVs. This includes rim diameters from 16 to 21 inches and in width, it starts with 195mm, going up to 275mm. Aspect ratios are from 65 to 40 per cent, with speed ratings going as high as 300km/h.

Our assessment of this tyre was achieved through three driving routines that Continental organised at the Monteblanco Circuit in Seville. The first one was for us to gauge the new level of ride comfort, the second to enjoy its sporty strengths and the third was to revel in its new ‘fun to drive’ character.

Improved Ride Comfort
We started with the ride comfort experience. It involved four Mercedes-Benz E220d; two ran on ContiPremiumContact 5 tyres (225/55 R 17, which was the biggest size for this range) and the other two were fitted with the PremiumContact 6 (245/45 R 18). We were to compare the level of ride comfort by moving from one car to the other over the same route.

This routine was conducted on public roads, albeit a short one of about 2km being the approach roads to the circuit, at speeds of between 40 and 70km/h. As a matter of consistency, we were to gain the experience in the same order, i.e. as driver or passenger when moving from one car to the other. We chose to do that as a rear passenger as we felt ride comfort was more critically felt by this car occupant.

In tyre noise level, there was barely any difference between new and old as both ran as quietly as could be expected on the tarmac that the Mercs were driven over. It was only in road impacts that we discerned the difference, especially when running over the many bumps and ridges along the way.

The extended resonance of the road impact was clearly felt with the ContiPremiumContact 5 while that with the new PremiumContact 6 was just a mere thud; a short and sweet sensation. This made the ride more comfortable as we didn’t feel the road impact any more than necessary.

Strong Sporty Quality
To give us a real time feel of the PremiumContact 6 sporty qualities, we enjoyed that experience driving fast cars that are acknowledged for their speedy performance. These were the Volkwagen Golf GTI, Subaru WRX and Renault Megane RS275 that all ran on PremiumContact 6 tyres with pressures set to the respective car manufacturer’s recommendations.

The routine was to follow a pace car for three laps around a short section of the circuit (1.3km) with most corners turning right and one left bend that led to a fairly long straight that allowed us to open up with full accelerator bursts. Mostly, we were braking hard into the corners before stomping on the accelerator pedal to accelerate out quickly.

We started with the Golf GTI as that was the only car with an automatic transmission (it was fitted with 245/40 R 18 PremiumContact 6 tyres). We found the directional feel good to complement the car’s strong dynamic character as we revelled in the quick corner bashing. And for the gung-ho manner in which we were charging into the corners, just to keep up with the fast-going pace car, we didn’t hear the tyres squeal at all.

We chose to drive the Subaru WRX next in the hope that our familiarity with Japanese manual transmissions would let us enjoy the experience. Instead, we found it a hassle shifting gears and kept mostly to third and fourth gears. We lost a lot of time trying to pick up the speed while navigating the twisty sections and that had us falling behind the pack.

We only caught up on the short straight as the Subaru WRX picked up speed strongly. It ran on 225/40 R18 tyres and there was just a hint of a squeal in one or two tight corners. We decided to forego the third drive experience in the Renault Megane RS275 as we felt we would be too pre-occupied with the manual gearshifts rather than enjoying the drive and gauging the PremiumContact 6 sporty performance in yet another outgoing platform.

Better Stability and Grip
We moved back to premium cars again – BMW 640d - for the third experience, which was to gauge the PremiumContact 6’s improved stability and grip against the performance of the ContiSportContact 5 and ContiPremiumContact 5. The drive routine covered the longer part of the main circuit (more than 2km) and there were three parts to it.

The first section was a slalom course that we took at a constant 90km/h before entering a series of corners, one of which was to be taken at 100km/h. The third section required us to execute a lane change manoeuvre at 80-90km/h and we were asked observe the entry and rear stability of the Beemers fitted with the respective tyres.

We found this third session somewhat flawed. Yes, the cars were of the same model, BMW 640d, but they were in different state of wear and tear. That was relevant as we were part of the last international media group to participate in this PremiumContact 6 experience.

Nevertheless, we gained a general impression after driving three laps in each of the BMW 640d with the different tyres. We used the steering wheel less when driving the Beemer with the ContiSportContact 5 and new PremiumContact 6 (this was based on the gauge fitted behind the steering wheel), but had to turn the steering more in the 640d running on the ContiPremiumContact 5.

We enjoyed better rear stability driving the Beemer with PremiumContact 6 and an interesting note was that the ContiPremiumContact 5 squealed a fair bit when we pushed the BMW coupe through the tight corners. This was hardly heard with the PremiumContact 6 and ContiSport 5.

We also saw the measuring system that Continental used to gauge tyre improvements in the respective area using a single BMW 640d that ran on different tyres so that results were consistent. And it wasn’t cheap to build this complex monitoring system; it was said to cost more than double that of the price of the 640d!

New SUV tyre
To stay relevant with the growing demand for SUVs (sport utility vehicles) and pickups in many world markets, Continental also came up with another new tyre product to pander this market. It’s called the CrossContact ATR that is designed as a70/30 on and off-road. We had a sneak preview of this tyre on a Volkswagen Touareg. However, we were not given a drive or ride experience as the focus was on the PremiumContact 6. It was designed to bridge the gap between the Continental ContiCrossContact AT, which was developed for 50 per cent off-road use, and its more on-road oriented range.

Continental says the CrossContact ATR was given a more premium look with a more upmarket sidewall design to accompany its ‘aggressive’ shoulder pattern, which features tread block extensions drawn deep into the sidewall to protect against lateral damage. The large tread blocks and compound offer strong resistance to cuts and cracks and are configured to facilitate the ejection of stones from the grooves.

The rim protection rib is said to protect both rim and tyre during contact with the kerb or obstacles in tough terrain. These features are expected to enable CrossContact ATR users to obtain high mileages from their tyres, even when subject to frequent off-road use. For good grip on loose surfaces, Continental has equipped this tyre with ‘grip teeth’ between the grooves as well as a heavily-siped, open tread design.

The CrossContact ATR is designed for predominately on-road application (70 per cent) and must meet EU regulations for noise now coming into force. To ensure the tyre doesn’t exceed the new two soundwave label limit, the tyre developers gave it noise blockers in the shoulder area, which block sounds generated in the centre of the tread pattern and reduce the soundwaves leaving the tyre’s footprint. It is initially available in 21 sizes for 15- to 20-inch rims and in widths from 205 to 275mm, with aspect ratios of between 40 and 80 per cent.

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