Upgrading your tyres: Dunlop Sport Maxx ST on a Toyota 86
Want to make a difference to your car? Upgrade the tyres.
TYRES MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE to every aspect of a car’s performance – grip, sharpness of handling, comfort, fuel efficiency, quietness and safety. That’s true whether the vehicle is a humble shopping cart, an offroad tourer or a trackday weapon. Yet many manufacturers cut corners on their standard tyres, so very often you can find better tyres when it’s time to upgrade. And specifically, that time should be either when the tyre is about five years old – because aged tyres are dangerous tyres – or when the tread level is below 2mm, and yes that’s above the legal limit of 1.5mm.
One problem tyre manufacturers have is that many of the desired attributes of a tyre are in direct conflict with each other. As a general rule, more grip equals shorter life, and sharp handling doesn’t work for comfort or quietness. To some extent, an expensive tyre compared to a cheap tyre will be better all round, but there quickly comes a limit where regardless of the cost you need to choose what attributes are most important to you. You can be sure that your car manufacturer has chosen a fairly general-purpose tyre which tries to be all things to all people, and particularly the people working in their finance department.
The standard tyres on a Toyota 86 are a case in point. They’re fairly cheap, and they do what appears to be a decent job until you try something better. As an example, I ditched the Michelin Primacy HPs that are standard on the GTS model and upgraded to a set of Dunlop Sport Maxx STs, still in the same 215/45/17 size. The tyres cost more but there was a corresponding improvement in performance. There’s no question the Dunlops grip better, particularly in the wet, and also on track. In fact, in our recent track test my old 2012 86 with its slightly worn Dunlops beat a 2017 model with new brand-new Primacys, despite the 2017 model having better electronic calibration, a touch more power and lower gearing. I’ve also found the steering is a touch sharper, and there’s no loss of comfort or any increase in noise. It’s always hard to compare tyres if you swap new as you’re coming off a worn tyre of one type to a new tyre of another, but I’ve run enough types of tyre on the 86 now to be sure of my results.
In the interests of testing, I did take the Dunlops to the track and found them to offer more grip than the stock tyres, but they’re clearly not designed for track work and showed signs of wear. That’s fine, Dunlop have tyres like the Direzza ZII* Spec as used in the Toyota 86 Race Series for serious track work. I think in general I’d recommend either taking stock tyres to the track which would be cheap enough you don’t mind killing them, or using more specialised track/street tyres like the Direzzas or in my case, Yokohama AD08Rs, or if you wanted to stick with Michelin the Pilot Sport Cup 2 seems to be a decent track-oriented tyre.
I wouldn’t buy an expensive tyre that isn’t designed for the track and then track it as you’d destroy the tyre in short order whereas my AD08Rs look pretty much new even after my best efforts at Winton, Phillip Island and Sandown. Secondhand wheels for cars like the 86 are easily available, and I usually pay around $300 for four rims and four new or near-new stock tyres so trashing them on the track isn’t a problem.
So the tyre upgrade is better…or is it? For safety there’s no such thing as too much grip, but for driving pleasure there certainly is. Pretty much every driver would agree driving a slow car fast is more fun than driving a fast car slow, which is why I’d rather drive an MX-5 or 86 on public roads than a GT-R or RC F. As for the new tyres on the 86 – well, I’d say it’s an improvement. There’s more grip but not so much the car becomes a slot car, and there’s the slightly sharper handling too. Overall, it’s an upgrade that’s worth it. And always remember to get your car wheel-aligned any time new tyres are fitted to maximise your investment in new rubber, then check your tyre pressures regularly to make sure they’re set to the manufacturer’s recommendation.