Name a hot topic among car owners residing in the scorched and desiccated Southwest, and all-weather tires rarely make the top 10. Why, then, did BFGoodrich decide to launch its new all-weather tire, the g-Force Comp-2 All-Season, in Phoenix, Arizona, the Valley of the Sun?
Famous for its extreme climate, golf courses, and UFO sightings, Phoenix enjoys an average yearly rainfall of only 8 inches, interspersed between perhaps 330 days of usually brutal sunshine. However, in ironic contradiction to the region's recent drought, in March I arrived in Phoenix during an honest-to-goodness rainstorm. Well done, BFG.
Compared to the foul weather around the rest of the country, the stuff spitting down from the gray sky was a minor event, but it looked as if my test of BFG's new all-weather tire would take place on the real deal-a wet track courtesy of Mother Nature. Rain never lasts long in the desert, though, and next day's test at Wild Horse Motorsports Park was under clear skies. No problem: A "wet" track awaited, but of the artificially induced variety, constantly misted and sprinkled to fight the fast evaporation. Drought, what drought?
Since most of the world has to deal with varying degrees of inclement climate, all-weather tires are a popular compromise between decent performance in the dry and enhanced safety for harsher conditions. "All-weather" tires, however, are offered in a range of capabilities, and the g-Force Comp-2 A/S was designed to increase performance in the dry, wet, and even in light snow.
For comparison, BFGoodrich provided a selection of cars fitted with several brands of tires to evaluate and compare, on differing track conditions, braking in the wet and the dry, handling on an autocross course, and ride quality on the open road.
Experts were on hand to talk tires and weather, and I sat down with BFGoodrich product development engineer, Roark Baird, to discuss tire design.
LB: A race tire is designed and constructed for specific use, with a variety of compounds to handle a set of extreme track conditions. What is the standard with regards to the design of an all-weather street tire?
RB: For the Comp-2 All-Season tire, we utilize a very similar construction to a tire targeted to the performance market. For instance, our g-Force Rival tires feature a "track and back" technology. The construction for our new g-Force Comp-2 A/S is very similar. However, we outfit our all-weather tire with a sculpture and tread compound that will behave well in a wet autocross, for instance.
Essentially, you take the strength and construction of a race tire but utilize a compound that's more attuned to the intended usage. Basically, what works well in a race-inspired tire, from a handling perspective, is employed using a more streetable sculpture and tread compound. For the all-season tire, the compound, sculpture, and carcass-or foundation-is going to provide the performance and the handling necessary in the cold, snow, and wet. To stick well, and perform well, it's a combination of tread compound and sculpture.
LB: The life of a race tire can be as short as 30 minutes, or possibly double- and triple-stinted depending on conditions and tire wear, and then it's changed at the pit stop. A street tire might go tens of thousands of miles and deliver consistent performance. How about an explanation that is consumer friendly?
RB: Well, there are multiple factors influencing the life of a tire. Naturally, the type of usage has a lot to do with how long a tire lasts. A tire driven casually will last much longer. A race tire certainly sees much more abuse from stopping, starting, and a lot of horsepower, but these tires also use a very soft compound, as they are shooting for dry performance.
In addition to a supple compound that performs well in the dry, the race tire will have large tread blocks to develop a lot of force in the corners, and when accelerating or decelerating. However, with our all-season tire, one that is going to wear and last a long time, we will use a tread compound that is not as supple, with characteristics that perform well on the cold end of the spectrum.
For this reason, we use various tools to make sure that the stresses on the individual ribs in the tires, in the shoulder and in the center, are optimized to provide a smooth and straightforward motion when driving down the road. The tire is optimized to wear uniformly across that contact patch. For a tire driven daily, you look to a compound that can wear well, ride well in the wet, and perform in the dry. So there are a lot of factors, usage being one, then construction and materials, and optimization of the rubber to the road interface.
LB: For years, standard wheel sizes were 13 to 15 inches. That changed in the late '70s to 16 inches, and now wheels are all over the scale. When a car is designed, it is set up for an optimal rim/tire package. Then the aftermarket offers up alternatives, and many cars get combinations that they are not designed for. Is this taken into consideration when a new tire is designed?
RB: We optimize a tire to perform well for its size, meaning we are less likely to try to optimize to a specific car. There are specifications for the size of a tire, and we are federally regulated to meet certain criteria based on the size of a tire, its load index, and speed rating. Those characteristics become the targets for optimization. For example, say a BMW owner wants to upsize a tire diameter, maybe go a few millimeters wider. That owner is more or less getting into a tire that likely has more capacity than needed for that car. The car may only have a load index of 92, but that next size tire is going to carry a heavier load index, meaning more tire than the car needs.
LB: As wheel size has increased, sidewall width has decreased. How has sidewall technology evolved?
RB: The sidewall is really driven by intended usage. However, as tires become shorter in sidewall, some dimensions are susceptible to "pinch shock," which occurs when a tire rolls over a pothole or a similar situation. So we maintain certain criteria for "pinch shock." In these lower sizes, we certainly don't want customers to install $800 worth of tires on their new car and then head out on a regular driving occurrence, hit a pothole, and cut a tire. A pinch-shocked tire is damaged forever; it's not going to be fixed. So we have a Bi-Nap, or two-ply, construction, to offset these low-aspect tires. In fact, our Comp2 All Season A/S tire is entirely a two-ply tire line. It's somewhat because of the low aspect, but it's also because, when going after the performance, you want a tire that's responsive and quick turning, with a real positive control feel on the road. The two-plies are much more significant and provide the better performance as well as resistance to "pinch shock."
BFGoodrich Tires at its core is a brand for car enthusiasts, for the driver looking for utmost performance out of his or her daily driver and someone who owns a car that they take out just for fun. For our consumers, driving is an experience and one they do on the dirt or on the pavement-and our products provide extreme capability and amplify that experience, according to Duane Thomas, brand marketing manager at BFGoodrich Tires.
The subject, however, does sometimes edge up the list, usually during a "Storm Watch," that curious frenzy when the populace peers skyward, awaiting that routine but elusive quarter-inch of hammering drizzle. It's no wonder this infrequent phenomenon can transform a perpetually sluggish Southern California freeway system into an apocalyptic nightmare of fender benders and gridlock. Desert climes are just not conducive to wet driving. But as a jaded denizen of the region, I digress.
We had two of our editors on hand at the same launch event for driving impressions of the new Comp-2 A/S. Here are some of their observations of the BFG and competitor tires.
Dry Test: Scion FR-S, three models were available, each outfitted with a different tire; BFGoodrich g-Force Comp 2 A/S, Yokohama Avid Envigor, and the budget General G-Max AS 03. Each car was lapped twice around a tight parking lot cones course before switching to the next car. All tire pressures were filled to OE specs, according to BFG.
Sean Russell: The BFG returned the most consistent feel and stepped out and pushed the least under hard corner entry/exit compared to the others. Stop feel was very similar to the Yokohama Envigor. Overall, I'd feel safe getting a little heavy footed in the canyon with this all-season sport offering.
Jofel Tolosa: The BFG felt a tad faster coming into the slalom section. I was able to hit the medium speed corners with complete confidence. The General tire, on the other hand, had me feeling a bit hesitant to get aggressive with the throttle.
Wet Test: Mirroring the dry course, the wet course put us in '15 Ford Mustang V-6 models. Sprinklers kept the surface slick.
Sean: Again, the BFG gave the least surprises on a slick surface under a "hard" street drive. Let's just say General makes for a good drift tire. Braking was again comparable to the Envigor.
Jofel: This is where I noticed the biggest difference between the BFG and the competitors. The Mustang has quite a lot more power than the FR-S, and when I was in the competitor's tires it was clear that I had to wrestle with the car. The BFG were responsive and wheelwork was kept to a minimum.