Cheap tires anyone? The Red Audi A4 1.8TFSI S-line that I last wrote about was previously running some pretty good Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires. Sometime after writing the article about its exhaust system mod, the A4's proud owner - Zairul - took a good look at the A4's tires as he had to take a long, 1,000km round trip for an upcoming festive holiday. That long hard look translated to a requirement of new threads. Another round of extremely good, but hard riding Michelins or something else?
You see, Zairul reckoned that the Michelin Pilot Sport 2 made his Audi suffer from a harsher ride than what was expected. The Audi basically came on these 245/40/18 tires, which gave fabulous grip, wet and dry. It however had one drawback, it made the ride slightly stiffer than necessary especially when it wears down by around 50%. This was even when the A4's suspension setting was in 'auto' mode and if toggled into 'dynamic', the ride becomes nearly as bad as a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Which is very unbecoming for an Audi, that is basically used as the car Zairul use for his daily commute and also as family transport on outings.
Of course, the tires were Michelin Pilot Sports 2 (pictured above) and they can't be that bad. They're not actually, but when you factor in the price, ride, grip and then handling you'd know that the Michelins are pricey, they ride badly when worn as it has ultra stiff sidewalls, grips like its on rails and is very predictable on all road conditions. So it performs slightly terrible for the first two items and the latter two fabulously. The dilemma Zairul now faced was whether to buy a new set of Pilot Sports or try something else.
And try something else he did. Some members of the Malaysian Audi Club had posted on the forum, praising a tire called the Nexen N8000. These were Korean made tires that were half the price of the Pilot Sports 2 (which were about US$330 per piece) and yet according to the club members performed extremely well. So curiosity got the better of Zairul and one weekend we decided to get the Nexen N8000 fitted on the A4. The tire is Nexen's flagship tire and somehow its thread pattern surprisingly looks like a Continental Sport Contact 3, albeit slightly wider. It also comes with XL or Extra Load rating for added durability.
It was worth it. Immediately after leaving Quicksave Auto Boutique, an official Nexen dealer located in Subang Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, the car felt transformed and Zairul commented that the A4's ride felt more like what a European sedan should be. I happen to agree with him. He then added one more important fact that I had deliberately left out till now. The tire noise made by those Michelins was quite loud over time. “I've always hated the ride comfort and noise of the PS2s that my car came with. The (N8000s) were really quiet, in fact quieter than even smaller sized tyres that I've tried before on my other rides.”
This actually worried him a bit. His brain was saying that "It's quieter coz it grips lesser!" but upon trusting his heart, decided to hold his thoughts for the running in period of the tires. Anyway, he liked how it rode and how silent it was compared to the Michelins. Sitting beside him I somehow agreed with what he said as it really was quieter and much more comfortable than before. These were tires half the price of the Pilot Sports and we also thought that it also has half the grip if you looked at how big the grooves were on the N8000. It may be 245series tires, but it looked like it had a contact patch as large as a 195series tire.
It must be down to the compound and not only the contact patch as after the 400 or so kilometers Zairul reported that it started to grip fabulously. On the day we changed the tires he actually belted the A4 through a few corners, from the passenger seat I noticed that he had slightly less grip than before. On a sweeping corner the car slightly oversteered as we powered our way into the corner. Midway through, the attitude changed and the whole car four-wheel drifted a tad bit before straightening out. The car felt safe, predictable through the corners even with little grip as the tire still had a thin layer of mold release compound (MRC) from its manufacturing process. This is something all new tires have and we knew that actual grip as well as cornering limits wouldn't be made known until the MRC wears out.
The N8000s takes close to 400km to be fully run in and Zairul reported tons of grip, both in the wet and dry after that period. Grip wasn't the only good thing about this tire. It seems to have pretty high limits and no sudden break in traction. It is predictable at its limit as when it does let go, it lets go smoothly enough for the driver to try catch the car back. It is of course quiet too (noise went up ever so slightly after the running in period, but negligible to most drivers). It rides well and the only trade-off from not using Pilot Sports 2 is that the N8000 has slightly lesser grip. “ About 80-90% as good as my old PS2s, which is acceptable since its a good 50% cheaper!” exclaimed Zairul when we met for a cup of tea a few weeks later.
Would he buy these tires again? “If I have to buy tyres again now, YES I would." said Zairul. "Why? Because no other tyre in 245/40/18 category would give as great bang for buck.” He continued, “Half the price of the PS2s with better comfort and ride. I dont mind if it grips like 10% less. I'll leave that to my two hands to figure it out and besides, I'm quite sure that they will grip a lot better than the PS2s in the rain.”
So what's the verdict on these Nexen N8000 tires? I have to say that it's the performance bargain of the year. It's actually that good that I got myself a set for my own car. On my little All-wheel drive Impreza 1.6TS (on 215/45/17 series, pictured below) it basically outperformed the Yokohama A-Drive R1s that I used previously. It was more predictable compared to before, it really is quieter, gripped better even in the wet (when it rains down here in Malaysia, it really pours – tropical thunderstorms and all) and also gripped so much better in the dry. Understeer is a predominant trait in any All-wheel drive, but with these tires, it can be felt only at much higher speeds. Like a more expensive tire would. You think the tire has given up but when you turn in more you still find some grip. Furthermore, its ride is as good as the Yokohamas and it costs pretty much the same as the Yokos, which were mid-range tires in the Yokohama tire hierarchy.
I've already covered a good 2,500km since the tire change and it has performed admirably. Zairul has covered about the same sort of mileage and has no complaints too. The only thing now is to wait and see on the N8000's performance when tire wear sets in or how long its tire life is. But at the moment, it's all fine and dandy with those Nexens.
The Nexen N8000 may not be the out and out track day tires like the Toyo R888 or the Advan Neova AD07s that most specifically use for attacking Sepang or some other track. These N8000s are like Pirelli P-Zeros or the Pilot Sports mentioned above. Ultra High Performance road tires for an enthusiast to belt it out on good B-roads. These N8000s are NOTHING like those cheap tires you find from China or even Taiwan, if you get what I'm trying to emphasize over here. It looks like the Koreans have actually come up good again, like those Ventus tires that Hankook makes but at a cheaper price. The prices of Ventus tire have been rising until it isn't the performance bargain like before – It looks like Nexens are now the bang for buck tires instead of Ventus (in Malaysia that is).