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2005 Tire Buyer's Guide - Tuner Tech

Tire Test

By , Photography by , Josh Brown

The tires on your car are one of the greatest safety and performance purchases you'll ever make, so read this before changing your tires. We'll tell you which tires are best in the rain, the dry, or both. We gathered 14 of the latest high-performance tires, two racecar drivers, and a couple of BMWs to discover the best performance tires for 2006.

We've all heard people tell us the tires on your car are the most critical purchase you can make. After all, they're the only contact between you and the road, and their ability to grip has far-reaching consequences. Not only can they save your life by reducing braking distances, but they can knock seconds off your lap times - something you'd spend thousands of dollars to achieve with engine tuning.

We all know this, and that's why we go through a rigorous selection process when buying new tires. We inevitably consider performance, cost, reputation, marketing, and even appearance. The problem is, a wrong decision could be catastrophic. So how can we be better informed? Well, you can read our second annual eurotuner tire test and know which are the best tires out there. You can also visit www.tirerack.com because the retailer has its own test facility and scrutinizes every product before offering it for sale.

We wanted to gather our own data and Tire Rack kindly allowed us to use its facilities at the company's HQ in South Bend, Indiana. In addition to an intelligently designed track with a sprinkler system for wet testing, the company also has a fleet of the latest BMW 325i test cars and a sophisticated timing system. So all we needed to bring was a sample of perfor-mance tires and some drivers.

Most of the tires were removed from The Tire Rack's huge stores, so all we had to provide were the drivers. And since we'd be using BMWs, who better to employ than Turner Motorsport's Will Turner and Don Salama? Besides being friends of ours, they share a TMS 330i in the Grand-Am Cup racing series (www.turnermotorsport.com) and flew to our test between races. Having tuned, tested, and won in BMWs, there are few people more qualified to drive for us.

Please don't turn the page if you own a VW, Audi, 5-Series, and so on because the results apply equally to your car. We simply used BMWs because The Tire Rack had decided the cars are sufficiently rugged to tolerate the constant abuse and the rear-drive chassis is nimble enough to provide excellent feedback without introducing understeer. The BMWs have the Steptronic transmission for reliability and consistency, and the traction control was obviously switched off.

The Test
We changed very little from last year's procedure since it worked so well. Consequently, when our drivers first arrived at the track, they were again put behind the wheel of a 325i on control tires. These were 205/55-16 Michelin Energy MXV4 Plus on 16x7.5" Borbet Type E wheels (19 lb). The tires were chosen becuase they were OE spec on 2000-05 3-Series before BMW switched to run-flats on the new E90. The drivers were invited to complete a series of familiarization laps to learn both the track and the car. Times were then recorded before swapping to our test samples.

For the test, we used a common upgrade size - 17x8" wheels (in this case, the ASA AR1 with ET40 but adapted to ET35 with a spacer to suit the E90, weighing 21.2 lb) with 225/45-17 tires. Obviously, we were tempted to go for 18" or 19" wheels, but it was agreed these could introduce factors that may cloud the raw data about the tires' performance.

All 14 sets of test tires were fitted to 56 identical ASA wheels that The Tire Rack keeps for such occasions. They were inflated to 35psi all round for consistency.

Each driver completed three timed laps on each set of tires in both the wet and dry. The fuel tanks were topped up before each session. Wet-weather testing took place on the first day, dry on the second.

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