When I bought my Citroën C4 Diesel Coupé back in April 2006, it had a mere 13,000 miles on the clock. Whooppee-doo, thought I, a nearly new car - nothing to need replacing there for a while.
Well, I was nearly right, but a recent examination of the front tyres revealed that they hadn't got much meat left on them at what was a shade under 20,000 miles. By my measurements taken with a proper tread-depth gauge, they had around one more millimetre of tread before becoming illegal.
There were three reasons for this.
a) It was previously driven by someone who didn't actually own it, having been the sales manager's personal allocation
b) It's a diesel, so it's heavier at the front
c) All front-wheel-drive cars get through front tyres a lot faster than the rear ones, which at this stage in their lives look as though they could last another 5 years!
The fear of picking up 6 penalty points got me perusing several web-sites which in turn convinced me that buying two replacements for the 'official' factory-fitted tyres was going to cost me around £300 by the time they were fitted. I certainly didn't want to give the dealer the 'business opportunity' to change them at the next service due at 22,000 miles; that was for sure.
This high price for the Michelin Pilot Exalto's is due partly to the fact that the car's wider alloy wheels are low profile and shared with the petrol version of this car, which has nearly 200 brake horse power to tame, and a theoretical top speed well past that of the diesel. Hence my somewhat more staid diesel has to have tyres which are rated to run at speeds up to 186 mph just because the petrol version comes close (well, closer than me anyway), and I've got the same alloys.
The fact that I'm not in the same game as the petrol-head drivers of this car set to thinking about cheaper alternatives. Sites like www.mytyres.co.uk came in very useful, and it was from them that I eventually purchased a pair of Korean-made Hankook Ventus 104K tyres in a 205/50 R17Y size. For those who've just gone blank, 205 relates to the tread width, 50 relates to the profile, i.e. the height of the sidewall, R17 is the wheel diameter in inches and Y is the speed rating.
As a bonus, these tyres have a higher sidewall strength rating than the Michelin's which to my mind better suits them to the extra 50 kilos of weight that each front wheel bears owing to the diesel engine. They've also got 'rim protection' in the form of little rubber lips to help fend off damage to your precious alloy wheels (my wife take note).
They also only cost me £51 each, post free, although they can take up to a week to arrive, having been freighted from Germany. It doesn't take a genius to see that £102 is considerably less than nearly £300, even if they still have to be fitted.
Helpfully, the Mytyres site lists nearby installers, of which there are two within three miles of me, charging around £7 per wheel to fit and balance them.
Ok, not a mainstream name like Michelin, Bridgestone or Goodyear but well-known enough in their part of the world. I have even seen a TV commercial for them, or was it at the cinema?
Apparently, many Japanese manufacturers fit them as standard on cars intended to remain in the Far East.
Perusal of motoring forums shows them to have an enthusiastic following of 'budget' motoring converts, and the Mytyres site carries links through to the results of the German-based www.TyreTest.com which whilst only begrudgingly agreeing that they are good/average in all respects except on snow, they actually rate, surprisingly, ahead of some 'mainstream' makes like the German-made Fulda and the Goodyear.
If you visit this site, don't be confused by the scoring system; 1 is best, 6 is worst. The Hankooks come out at 2.0 in 85 independent tests, whereas the highly exalted Michelin Exaltos come out at 2.3 over 73 reviews! You can even perk up your German or French by reading the remarks.
For example, the Michelin Exaltos are described as:-
"Très efficace sur le sec comme sur chaussée humide.Un peu bruyant mais néanmoins très recommandable"
Very effective on dry as well as on wet surfaces. A bit noisy but nonetheless highly recommended - my translation
In comparison, the Hankook "Klebt regelrecht in den Kurven, so wie es sein soll" - Adheres really well on corners, just like it should.
The test includes all aspects of tyre attributes, from road noise and longevity to safety in the dry and wet.
At £51 each, the Hankooks have to be good value for money. When I first mentioned getting these, sharp intakes of breath were 'intaken', and the 'you only get what you pay for' brigade of self-appointed motoring gurus tried to sway my resolve, but as long as they handle well, are safe, legal and don't wear out three times faster (unlikely, I'd have thought), they are still a far lower cost option.
Some of these people really ought to pay a visit to TyreTest.com.
HOW DO THEY PERFORM?
I guess this is very subjective.
I'm not The Stig, so throwing my car through racing bends or 'doughnutting' my tyres in a tortured ring of molten rubber on the road aren't my 'thing'. What I do like are tyres that impart a quieter air of luxury to a car, whilst still allowing me to do the occasional emergency stop or take the odd country A-road bend in a frivolous manner. Oh yes, and if they can manage not to wear out every 5 minutes, that would be nice too.
To be fair, ALL new tyres sound quieter than what was removed if only for the fact that they've got more tread which must soften the ride a tad, isolating the car from road noise as they go.
They certainly don't seem to have any nasty vices in that respect - no unfortunate throbbings or roaring noises above what you'd expect from our appalling road surfaces around here.
The Hankook website makes all sorts of claims that their new rubber compounds surpass all others claiming:-
"The Ventus Sport K104 utilizes race-tested technology that Hankook Tire* has built up through motor sports activities.
This ultra high performance tire provides the superior precision control and responsiveness needed under extreme driving conditions"
but then they would wouldn't they?
They also go on to describe the tread pattern as:_
"An aggressive unidirectional tread pattern with center* ribs ensures steering stability
and superb handling on the open road."
"Two grooves in the tread center* and unidirectional lateral grooves deliver excellent drainage to minimize the possibility of hydroplaning."
*(Yes, thank you Spellchecker I know theyre wrong!)
Basically, I've got trendy v-shaped tread patterns which look the business but make it impossible to carry one single spare wheel of the same type that can be used on either side of the car, since there is a specific rotational-direction. Ahah, so that's another reason for the cheaper steel wheel in the boot with a special (aka cheapo) 55 mph tyre.
Handling seems fine, and pointing the car into a hard left- or right-hander seems to be no different than under the old regime.
As for the extremes of grip when accelerating, I can't comment. I leave my traction control switched on, so unless someone wants to measure my before and after 0-60 times, without wheel-spin, I can't judge.
I've had no noticeably worse moments in emergency braking conditions, and I've no reason to suspect that they take any longer to stop than before. If anything, I'd say that Hankook's rubber compound is better suited to the wet that Michelin's. Whether that makes them worse in dry conditions is neither here nor there, since the dry is the safest condition to drive in anyway.
As for life-span, only time will tell, but if they've saved me from spending an extra £200 now, even if they do wear more quickly, they're still way cheaper.
If like me, you're stuck with a potentially expensive tyre size merely because you share the same alloy wheels with a faster car, these are a definite maybe.
The moral? Never buy a tame car with expensive looking alloy wheels just for its looks!