Michelin Raises Benchmark with Pilot Sport 4 S

By Lee Pang Seng

BENCHMARKS are meant to be set and then broken, and Michelin believes it has done just that when it introduced the Pilot Sport 4 S last year. This is the performance version of the Pilot Sport 4 that was introduced earlier to progressively replace the Pilot Sport as an OE (original equipment) tyre for premium cars and vehicles.

Less you wonder what all that means, the Pilot Sport 4 is designed as a 100-per cent road tyre for premium cars to be driven on highways with a good measure of pleasure and through winding roads with a high level of confidence. The Pilot Sport 4 S goes a bit further being designed for 80-per cent road use and 20-per cent track use. That means it could be used for track racing as well but for less demanding competition.

Nevertheless, as a tyre that could be used in motor sport, Michelin has to ensure that it would measure up to respectable standards in track performance. The Pilot Sport 4 S is seen as ideal for cars with lots of grunt and push, such as the BMW M cars, Mercedes-Benz AMG range, the Audi Sport selection, Porsches and other sports cars.

Given that profiling, a major difference between the Pilot Sport 4 and Pilot Sport 4 S is that the latter is available only for 19-inch rims and above. Cars and vehicles with smaller rims would have to be satisfied with the former. In Michelin’s tyre range ranking, the Pilot Sport 4 S is second only to the Pilot Sport Cup 2, which is designed for 90-per cent track use. Needless to say, the Pilot Sport Cup 2 is commonly used in motor sports events where its performance qualities are fully explored and exploited in the chase for the chequered flag.

To summarise its qualities, Michelin says the Pilot Sport 4 S offers ‘unparalleled’ driving pleasure with its ‘exceptional’ steering precision and directional stability. It is also said to provide maximum performance and safety on all surfaces with its optimised footprint that is designed to grip the road, even in the most extreme conditions (read that as track racing).

During the media presentation at the Sentul International Circuit in Bogor, Indonesia, Pascal Nouvellon, Michelin Regional Director for Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei said that compared to the Pilot Sport 4, the new Pilot Sport 4 S had faster dry grip (handling lap times), braked shorter on dry paved surfaces as well as wet ones, and lasted longer during on-road drives.

“The Pilot Sport 4 S is the result of a unique know-how developed by engineers passionate about their work that redefines the standards of the category. Adapted for driving at the highest levels on road and track, it has already positioned itself as the best in its class,” he explained, adding that “Michelin is involved in several motor sport disciplines worldwide and uses this competitive environment as a laboratory for the development of future tyre technologies, which are then used in the development of its production tyres.

The confidential testing data that is collected during races on tyre technologies and new rubber compound formulas enables Michelin engineers to continue to push the envelope of tyre performance.”

What all that means is that the Pilot Sport 4 S is ‘crafted’ through a ‘high-precision’ process with the unique know-how to carry several new features. The first is the high level of reactivity made possible with the ultra-reactive tread pattern design that adapts continuously to the road for optimised traction.

The second is ‘excellent’ steering control achieved with the ‘dynamic response’ technology to ensure optimum transmission of steering instructions onto the road through a hybrid belt of aramid and nylon. This supported by the third feature in the ‘exceptional’ dry grip and improvement in wet braking with the bi-compound technology using a novel hybrid elastomer on the outer side of the tyre for dry grip and a new mix of compounds with ‘specific elastomers’ and silica on the inner side to provide very good wet grip and braking.

Complementing the new performance features are better looks of course and these come in the ‘Premium Touch Finish’ that provides a velvet effect to create a variety of black contrasts on the exterior sidewall for a premium visual appearance. Lastly, there is also the Deep Rim Protector in the bead section to provide protection for all kinds of wheels or rims.

To impress the regional media on the higher qualities of this latest sports tyre performance, Michelin arranged for a first-hand feel of the Pilot Sport 4 S at the race circuit. Themed ‘Michelin Passion Days’, the event saw tyres being fitted to the latest Mercedes-Benz E250 cars for the media to enjoy the respective area of performance through a few routines.

Perhaps as a hint of the harder driving that we would go through to gauge the tyre’s performance levels, a blood pressure test was conducted on all the journalists taking part. The funny part was having it done while we were having breakfast, enjoying our coffee and the food served. Naturally, our blood pressure was going to be higher than expected, especially for those with high blood pressure (like us). Having readings that were high entailed us to sign a disclaimer absolving Michelin of any health issues.

The drive routine was pretty straightforward covering sections (lane change manoeuvres and corners at certain speeds) to gauge steering response and confident grip, and a braking session at the end of that to see for ourselves the better braking power in the shorter stopping distance. Each car had an instructor to guide us through the respective routines but what spoiled the impression somewhat was that the car ahead was sometimes driven too slowly through the successive courses. There was not enough thought given to having a reasonable gap between cars to allow for differences in car speed.

What we gleaned from our drive was the quicker and sharper turn-in of the Pilot Sport 4 S against a rival tyre and a dry stopping distance of more than half a car’s length. There was little drama as the E250s took the corners at about 80-100km/h (depending on corner tightness) nicely and confidently against a slightly tail happy experience with the Mercs running on the rival tyres.

The dry braking section, done at 80km/h, was also positive returning an average result of a 1.7-metre shorter braking distance against the rival tyre. However, we felt the rival tyre was noticeably more comfortable in ride against the firmer feel of the Michelin. The wet drive session also highlighted the better car control through another lane change course and a shorter stopping distance with the Pilot Sport 4 S similarly gripping well on the wet road surfaces.

We didn’t participate in the hot ride with the instructors through the dry course to give us a deeper insight of the tyres at a higher limit as we were fully convinced of the tyre’s qualities by then. A surprise came in the price though and Michelin has gone against the grain here. Instead of the Pilot Sport 4 S being made available at a higher price, it was the other way round perhaps as an introductory offer.

At the time of the media drive event last year, Michelin Malaysia introduced the Pilot Sport 4 S at a starting price of RM1100. When you consider that the previous product equivalent was going at more than RM1500, the Pilot Sport 4 S does come across as a bargain for premium car owners who in Michelin’s eyes ‘prioritise performance and safety’.