If you want to change the way your vehicle drives, replace its tires. If you are seeking more grip, replace the tires. If you desire a quieter ride, replace the tires. If you want shorter stopping distances, replace the tires. If you are looking for better fuel economy, replace the tires.
Yes, it is that simple — tires influence the way a vehicle drives more than any other component.
Practicing what I have been preaching for years, and completely frustrated with the lackluster grip on the factory tire offering for my 2013 Audi Q5, I chose to replace the all-season Michelin Latitude Tour HP tires (235/60R-18 103H — UTQG rated 440 A A) with a set of performance tires. I was seeking improved cornering grip, shorter braking distances, and better high-speed stability (because I’m a Southern California resident who rarely sees ambient temperatures dip below 50 degrees, there was no need to worry about snow, slush, or ice).
After a bit of research, I selected Falken’s flagship Azenis FK453CC — a summer ultra-high-performance tire designed for luxury crossovers and SUVs.
According to the Japanese tire maker, the FK453CC utilizes a rigid carcass designed with high tensile strength for stability and predictability during high-speed cruising and maneuvering; a tread compound enriched with silica to improve traction in both wet and dry; and an asymmetrical variable tread pattern, with three wide circumferential grooves, to improve cornering grip and water evacuation.
The above may sound confusing to a layperson, but talk about tire rigidity, stability, and predicatbility is music to an enthusiast’s ears. In nutshell, it meant the FK453CC was engineered to be sturdy and strong, with a tread compound formulated to significantly improve grip in temperate climates.
Convinced that the FK453CC was the answer to my specific needs, I tossed the aging Michelins to a recycler and had a set of four Falkens (235/60R-18 107W — UTQG rated 300 AA A) professionally balanced and mounted.
Those paying close attention may have noticed that although the replacement tires were sized identically (235/60R-18), the load rating, speed rating, and UTQG ratings were different. The load rating jumped from 1,929 pounds to 2,149 pounds per tire, meaning the Falkens are a bit sturdier and able to carry a heavier load than the Michelins. The speed rating (the highest speed a tire performs as well as expected) went up from 130 mph to 168 mph, denoting the Falkens have the construction needed to handle higher centrifugal forces and increased heat. Lastly, the Uniform Tire Quality Grade Standards (UTQG), which are often used as guides for capability, show the Falkens are able to offer wet coefficients of traction above 0.54 g on asphalt, while the Michelins can only muster 0.47 g. This all makes perfect sense; performance tires deliver increased performance.
Tires require several hundred miles to break in so that the mold-release agents dissipate and the construction materials (including rubber, steel, and fabric) finalize their bonds. I drove sedately at first and then worked the tires harder and harder as the miles accrued.
It took about a week to break the tires in — not enough time to observe in any meaningful way the new driving dynamics. However, after four months and 4,718 miles on the new Falken tires, I’d accrued enough seat-of-the-pants data to assess the worth of my tire swap. (It may cost millions of dollars to properly instrument-test tires, but I’m convinced that a subjective drive by a professional is equally as telling.)
Without question, I made the right decision — the Audi’s driving dynamics were significantly improved after fitting the set of Falken FK453CC tires.
There is a noticeable difference in ride, but comfort hasn’t been compromised beyond a perception that the Q5 sits more squarely, more securely over its shoes. The Falkens’ more robust construction is more clearly evident in much crisper initial turn-in during steering maneuvers, greatly improved mid-corner stability, and complete absence of annoying tire squeal during spirited cornering. Best of all, the ride isn’t harsh or brutal on the new tires — it is surprisingly compliant.
Straight line braking is also greatly improved — important in unpredictable short-stopping Los Angeles traffic — and the tires track well on the highway, eliminating those small steering corrections that can make cross-country cruising so tedious. Overall, they deliver a much better feeling of control and are a much better match to the Q5’s athleticism than were the ho-hum Michelins.
All-season tires are prone to edge wear as the soft sidewalls give under the stress of heavy cornering and the small tread blocks are abused. Not so with the Falkens. Examined after thousands of miles, it appears that their sturdier sidewalls have helped prevent the tires from “rolling over” during cornering and “polishing” their outside edges. The tires are wearing flat across their tread, which should translate to extended wear.
Most wouldn’t expect a high-performance tire (which comes with less siping, the thin slits in the tread) to deliver strong performance in the wet — but that’s a misconception. Grip can be developed by more than just the water-evacuating tread pattern. In fact, the high-performance rubber compound in the FK453CC’s tread actually has a higher coefficient of friction on rain-soaked surfaces than does its all-season counterpart. More than once I drove the Audi hard in a rainstorm, and I always came away impressed with the tires’ tenacious grip. Never was there a hint of hydroplaning or loss of traction.
There are many benefits to the Falken tires, but I also observed two downsides to the FK453CC when compared against the factory all-season Michelin tires. First, they are slightly — very slightly — louder on the highway. The greater tread-to-surface ratio means the Falken tires put more rubber on the pavement and thus create more noise, but it’s a compromise I was willing to make for the improved grip. Plus, fuel economy has been reduced by about five percent overall (I meticulously log every tank, and the average fuel use has dropped from 18.45 mpg to 17.53 mpg), which is another expected trade-off with stickier high-performance tires. Of course, neither of these drawbacks would ever dissuade me from doing the identical upgrade again — the results were nothing short of extraordinary.
Without a doubt, tires are the single most important component that influences how a vehicle drives.
Falken says its Azenis FK453CC is an ideal aftermarket solution for today’s growing market of performance luxury Crossovers and SUVs — the company specifically targets the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne in its specification sheet. The tire carries 300 Treadwear, AA Traction, and A Temperature UTQG ratings, and it is available in a wide array of diameters for 17- to 20-inch wheels.
©2016 AutoWeb / Michael Harley