REVIEW: FROM 4x4's TO LAMBOS
Continental & General Tire Push The Limits
I COULDN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF THE FLASHING LIGHTS OF THE CHRISTMAS TREE, AND ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT WAS HIS LAST WORDS. "When the last yellow blinks, punch it because it will take you that long to react before it blinks green." I did. Then 500+ hp under the hood of the modified Mustang squawked the tires, pushed me back into the seat, and I white knuckled the wheel with one hand to keep the car in a straight line shifting as fast as I could.
Less than nine seconds later it was over - quite a bit shorter than my average trail ride.
What’s a 4x4 off-road journalist doing behind the wheel of a dragster? I initially asked myself the same thing. I was
in Mirabel, Quebec at the iCar facility with General Tire and parent company Continental Tire (Conti). Two brands committed to the Canadian market and confident that the tires they build are the best buy, and the best performing tires for Canadians.
I drove through two off-road courses in both F-150’s and Jeep Wrangler JKU’s testing the General Grabber A/T X against its closest competition. But I also tested their automotive tires, the Conti PureContact LS, (their premium luxury sport all-season tire) and General’s GMAX RS (ultra high performance - UHP).
Some of us just have one vehicle - our 4x4 is our daily commuter and weekend adventure vehicle. However most are at least two vehicle families, and typically the second vehicle is a car or CUV, outfitted with more fuel-efficient or higher performance road tires.
Before I get to test results, let me tell you the main reason this event was so exceptional compared to others, it was the lack of control. Not of the tires but the fact that no one told me to slow down while I was behind the wheel, and I was behind the wheel. Too many tire demos only put you in the passenger seat with a professional driver so you can ‘see’ what a tire can do. Others prevent you from going full out, or full stop, inhibiting your ability to test the limits of yourself, your vehicle, and the tire. And rarely do you get the opportunity to test the competitor’s tires on the same day, on the same vehicle, on the same course, in any order.
I was only told to slow down once - at the end of the drag strip so I didn’t hit the wall. Other than that, I drove trucks off-road as I would any day, and Escalades, Mustangs, and even a Lamborghini as fast as I could - yes, I said Lambo. Once I signed the waiver, General and Continental Tire were not afraid to let me find the limits of their tires.
Perhaps by chance, I started the day in the off-road course. Hills, mud, water, loose dirt and washboard, where in F-150’s we pitted the General Grabber A/T X against the BFG T/A K02. In the June 2018 issue of
4WDrive (20.3), we tested the outstanding acceleration, traction and braking of the Grabber’s in British Columbia on our own Ram 1500 in dry, wet and snow covered roads. Now we had an opportunity to cross the country and test them in Quebec head to head against competitor’s tires, in a different half-ton, and in more terrain.
The Grabber A/T X were superior to the BFG A/T K02 in the off-road course. The traction inspired confidence and the treads consistently cleared the mud and dirt. I drove slow and even stopped in the mud pit to test mud traction, climbed halfway up dirt inclines and stopped to test the grip, and flew through the odd water hazard - just because it was legal here.
We switched to Wrangler JKU Sahara’s and pitted the Grabber’s against the Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac on a course that included off-camber banks, high break-over angles, and some obstacles that took tires off the ground. When the truck is essentially a rental, the slow grind of the Wrangler’s rocker panels and under body, and the bumper grunting against the earth doesn’t wear on your nerves very much.
In both courses we got in one vehicle with either the Grabber’s or the competition and drove the course. The Grabber’s were the better tire. How much better was dependent on the driver and the obstacle. The competitive tires were good, the A/TX were better.
General Tire’s confidence in the Grabber is well-founded. Over obstacles and off-road conditions that would make for an epic day on the trails it performed flawlessly. The only thing holding you back would be the limits of yourself or your vehicle.
In a completely unnatural progression, we moved to the drag strip. I am not a drag strip driver. The tach flipped to redline
as fast as a finger snap and I usually hit the rev limiter and lost power in one of the three shifts it took to hit almost 180 kph. Everyone performed better with the automatic transmission - just take a deep breath, put two hands on the wheel, punch the gas, go straight, stop before the wall. The General GMAX RS grabbed those 500+ horses and unleashed them in a pure heart pounding, body crushing, fuel injected adrenalin rush and just screamed ‘more’!
Let’s bring our tire tale (and heart rate) back into the safe zone, if only for a moment the dry slalom and braking experience. We all expect control from a tire. More control means a safer tire including better odds of accident avoidance. Using Escalades we pitted the Continental LS against the Michelin Premier A/S, and using stock Mustangs it was a battle between the GMAX RS and Hankook ventus V12 evo2.
It is worth noting that I didn’t test drive alone. With another journalist, we took turns as driver and passenger, allowing us two opportunities to see how a tire performed before we switched to the competing tire. Allowing us to compare and experience each tire under two different driving styles and two points of view.
The dry course was created using cones to simulate most of the turning conditions you experience on road - including some hazardous manoeuvres like emergency lane changes. There were hard turns, sweeping turns, three apex turns, rapid chicanes and hard braking. The G-Max RS have outstanding cornering. We didn’t experience the understeer that was so apparent in the Hankook’s, and our braking distance was 1.5 metres shorter - the difference between an accident and just a fast heart rate.
The wet course was laid out differently than the dry, but with the same intention of replicating the turning, braking and emergency manoeuvres you may be forced to make to avoid collisions. It this case it was the Conti PureContact LS vs. Pirelli Cinturato P all season in Escalades, and the General GMAX RS vs. BFGoodrich G-Force Sport Comp-2 in Mustangs.
Here the General was clearly the best performing tire while the Continental was equal in performance to the Cinturato’s. But while the Continental was on par in performance, it will be lower in price - providing you with better value. While a great tire is good to own, a great tire at a lower price is even better.
Finally, I drove the Lambo clothed in Conti’s ExtremeContact. iCar provided us with a couple of aids to make sure we could go as fast as possible. I like the sound of that - as fast as possible. This is after all a professional race school and not a driving training academy. Their sole goal is to teach you how to get around
the course as quickly as a human can possibly do so. With green cones to assist me in picking the fastest line, a professional driving instructor and orange cones for best pre-turn braking, and other simple instructions like ‘punch it, punch it!’ I knew I had it nailed mastering the course by channeling Formula 1 legend Gilles Villeneuve. Right until I rode shotgun with Canadian, former IndyCar, and current Nascar great, Alex Tagliani. You know it’s serious when a pit crew checks your helmet, and straps you into a five-point harness. I was more than just humbled. I will never put my name in the same sentence, nay the same article, as Gilles Villeneuve ever again.
MACK’S BOTTOM LINE:
If you are shopping for tires, and your local dealer doesn’t offer you the Continental or General Tire option, look at what he has, but make sure you can get your hands on the Conti or General as well. There’s no buyer remorse when you do your research and end up with an exceptional tire like the PureContact LS, GMAX RS or Grabber A/TX.