A super Cooper: We never tire of tiresFri, 25 Mar 2011
Cooper Tires is the fourth-largest tire manufacturer in North America, with just more than 13 percent of the replacement-tire market in the United States. But nobody goes around chanting, "We're No. 4!" So Cooper is working on a bigger market share. A few new tires we recently tried out could help it get there.
Now granted, making sense of the black art of tire design takes a couple degrees in polymer physics, and even then your driving talent or lack thereof probably has more to do with the differences you think you're feeling down on the contact patch. But what the heck, it was a chance for track time, and you always learn something from that.
We went to the Cooper Tire & Vehicle Test Center in Pearsall, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, to drive four new tire models.
First up was the Cooper Zeon RS3-A All Season tire. To show off this one, Cooper outfitted two identical Ford Mustangs, one with the Zeon RS3-A and one with what Cooper considers to be the current segment leader, the Hankook Ventus V4 ES.
With the traction control disabled on both vehicles, we drove them back-to-back over a wet skid pad and a dry handling course. Both test tracks had a measured and coned course and included a timer so you could compare lap times.
Although the times were close in both wet and dry conditions, we found the Cooper Zeon RS3-A tires handled well under both conditions but were especially good in the wet.
Among the assembled media--and what better drivers are there than those guys?--the Cooper Zeon RS3-A shaved off an average of 1.5 seconds per lap in the dry and 2.8 seconds per lap in the wet, when compared with the Hankooks.
We repeated the same tests later in the day using Cooper's new Ultra High Performance tire, the Zeon RS3-S. We drove them on identically equipped BMW 3-series sedans and found the Coopers outperformed the Michelin Pilot Sport PS 2s by an average of two seconds per lap in the wet and 2.1 seconds in the dry.
The Zeon RS3-S is a summer product designed for dry traction, wet handling and styling. It replaces the RS2-S in the market. The RS3-S will be available in 21 sizes and both W and Y speed ratings.
The all-season Cooper Zeon RS3-A is designed for wet, dry and light snow, according to Cooper. The RS3-A will be available in 38 sizes and is W speed rated.
Both tires incorporate an asymmetrical design that allows them to be fully rotated. Cooper claims the design leads to an even tread life and an even wear pattern over the life of the tire. Both tires incorporate a silica-based tread compound allowing for tighter steering response and lighter weight.
Cooper also provided track time for its light-truck tires.
But that wasn't enough tire for us. So the next day we were back at the track to try the new Cooper Discoverer A/T3 and Discoverer S/T Maxx light truck tires. The A/T 3, which we had a chance to drive over several on-road/off-road courses at the same test facility, replaces the Cooper ATR and comes with a 55,000-mile warranty. It also goes on-sale April 4 of this year.
The Discoverer S/T Maxx, which was not available to drive, is designed for commercial applications and uses ArmorTek3 technology, which, according to Cooper, delivers a durable, versatile, cut and chip resistant tire, which is also quiet on the road without sacrificing off-road traction. The Discoverer S/T Maxx is available now.
Cooper provided no prices for any of these tires, saying pricing is left to dealers. That was something different. Imagine that, they have no idea what their product sells for!
Focused strictly on the replacement tire business, Cooper sold 30 million car and light truck tires in the United States in 2010. The company manufactures 78 percent of its U.S. tires in three U.S. plants located in Findley, Ohio; Texarkana, Texas; and Tupelo, Miss. The remaining 22 percent come from a plant in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Tires probably don't get enough scrutiny in the automotive press. There are significant differences between them all, just as there is with gasoline, motor oil and windshield wiper fluids. Maybe we'll start writing more about them. So now we're off to test out the other 4 million tire styles, shapes, sizes and makers and get back to you with the complete context for these Coopers. Until then, put the three Coopers we did drive on the list.
By Alan Pease