A few months ago I hadn’t even considered the subject of replacement tyres on our Civic Type R longtermer. However, after an encounter with the world’s worst driveway took a chunk out of the inner sidewall of the front left, my hand was forced.
A quick check with a tread depth gauge revealed that after 3000 miles of mixed driving - some of it quite hard - we’d actually manage to wear the fronts down to 3-4mm, which meant ideally we’d need to replace both bits of rubber on the front axle (the rears are at 6mm, if you’re wondering). Instead, we went the whole hog and replaced all four, using the opportunity to try out some ‘focused’ tyres in the form of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s.
They’re a ‘dry-biased’ kind of tyre intended for track use, and are already optional on the Ford Focus RS, Seat Leon Cupra and Renaultsport Megane, so we were keen to find out what they’re like on the Civic. And my word, do they grip.
The factory-fitted Continental Sport Contact 6s are good all-round tyres, but on the road it is possible to find the grip limit and enter understeer territory. But on the Sport Cup 2s? Once they’ve had a few minutes to get up to a decent temperature (there’s now a more noticeable difference in grip levels when the hoops are cold, but nothing too drastic) you need to be going scarily quick to unstick the front.
I’ve grown accustomed to booting it stupidly early in the bend with a load of lock on, marveling at the sticky tyres and mechanical limited-slip differential working in perfect harmony as you’re spat out the other side at speeds that’d make Jean Luc Picard blush. It’s not just grip, either: the turn in is now noticeably sharper.
However, before you Type R owners start considering these track-friendly boots for your next tyre change, there are some things to bear in mind. Firstly, expense. Yes, they’re a more sophisticated, grippier tyre, but they’re more expensive too: the best price we’ve found for Sport Contact 6s is £133.60, while the same outlet sells Sport Cup 2s for a much heftier £203. So, you’d be looking at £812 for a full set, as opposed to £534.40 for four of the Continentals.
Are the higher grip levels worth paying that much extra for? If you drive hard enough - particularly if you’re going to do a few track days - we’d have to say yes. But price isn’t the only downside. Because they’re intended for track use the starting tread depth is around 1mm lower, and as the compound is softer, they’ll wear quicker.
Finally, there’s the wet grip. As you’ll have seen from the image further up, the Pilot Sport Cup 2 has a lot less tread than the Sport Contacts, and less than Michelin’s not-quite-so-focused ‘Pilot Super Sport’ boots. That means more rubber on the road, and more grip - but only in the dry. In the wet, less tread means a reduction in grip. That’s not necessarily a criticism of these tyres - any tyre intended for track work is going to be ‘dry-biased’.
We haven’t had much chance to drive the Civic in the wet since switching the tyres, but from what we’ve seen so far, wet grip isn’t as bad as expected. You can still drive very quickly on a country road, with lateral grip remaining decent - you just have to be more careful with the throttle in the corners. If you’re not, expect a massive dose of understeer. In a straight line in the wet meanwhile, the Type R now lights up the front wheels in first, second, and a little bit in third. Which is actually rather amusing…
We still need to try out these tyres on track, and more in the wet. Once we’ve done that, we’ll deliver our full verdict.