Two-time Super Bowl champion Vince Wilfork and former Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams agree: Tires are the shoes of a car and you need a good set to get the job done. Unfortunately, I didn't get to enjoy Wilfork’s and Williams’ company during a recent visit to Texas Motor Speedway — they were on hand for a Q&A tying together performance on the football field and on the road — but I did get to check out Bridgestone’s latest trio of tires to see if they could deliver the goods.
The Ecopia H/L 422 Plus, Dueler AT Revo 3, and Potenza RE980AS have been heavily redesigned over their predecessors in an attempt to improve performance in wet and wintry conditions, as well as reduce wear. To see if the changes added up to better tires, Bridgestone gave us access to different courses to test them out.
Dueler A/T Revo 3
The Dueler A/T Revo 3 is an all-terrain tire aimed predominantly at SUV owners. Bridgestone places it in the “Best” segment, meaning it’s one of the premium options in the lineup. The majority of SUV owners don’t go off-road on a daily basis, if ever, instead using their vehicles for pretty much every other task. With that in mind, the new A/T Revo 3 attempts to find a middle ground.
Off-roading, though, according to Bridgestone, was the main focus for the tire. Consumers claimed that the last generation, the A/T Revo 2, lacked off-roading capability. For the 3, Bridgestone opened an off-road course at its headquarters to test its dirt-friendly tires to help ensure off-roaders' approval.
One feature to achieve this is named “Traction Claw,” a design element that pushes mud and dirt out of the tire tread, yet allows snow to pack into it. This is supposed to give the A/T Revo 3 better off-roading and winter-driving abilities. Bridgestone also used a new tread design that they claim increases tread life by 20 percent, now 60,000 miles, and reduces the risk of hydroplaning. For good measure, Bridgestone gave the 3 a beefier look than its predecessor.
That said, Bridgestone understands that the majority of consumers will use this tire on tarmac for a minimum of six out of the seven days of the week. Light off-roading will happen on the occasional weekend. And they think the tire still performs well on the road.
To test this out, Bridgestone offered a GMC Yukon with its tire and another with a set of Continental TerrainContact A/Ts and set me loose on a wet autocross course. The A/T Revo 3s performed admirably. In the wet, they offered noticeably more grip and allowed the Yukon to more quickly transition through left-to-right corners. In corners where the Continentals could do no more than 35 mph, Bridgestone-equipped Yukons hit 40 mph.
The downside is that what the Revo 3s gain in performance, they also gain in irritating road feel. The Bridgestone gripped better in both wet and dry conditions but also made all the little ruts and cuts in the rough tarmac noticeable. Road noise was louder too. But, hey, that’s a small price for more grip.
To test off-road capability, A/T Revo 3-equipped Toyota Tacoma TRD Pros and Ford F-150s were available, as were several obstacles. Both trucks had no trouble climbing a steep incline, which was also the case for deep mud pits and uneven rock trails. It all proved undemanding. Competitor tires weren’t on-hand, as this was more to prove that Bridgestone’s tires were good enough in these conditions, as well as capable on road. Overall impressive.
The Potenza name is reserved for the sportiest and grippiest tires the company offers. But Bridgestone finds that many consumers want high-performance rubber that stays on the car year-round and can handle poor weather. For those folks, it offers the Potenza RE980AS. Bridgestone calls it an ultra-high performance all-season tire and claims it retains the same amount of dry grip as the previous model, the RE970AS, yet has improved cold weather performance by 50 percent.
That claim will go unchecked here in Texas, but Bridgestone offered 3-Series BMWs for another autocross test; one with RE980AS’ mounted, another with Continental ExtremeContact DWS06s. In the dry, the Continentals had staggering levels of grip. They performed well in the wet too, but the RE980AS held to the wet track even better. On the Bridgestones, the BMW reacted to my inputs quicker and the front held the road so well I could get the rear end to step out in a controllable manner.
Bridgestone believes the new RE980AS tires will appeal to enthusiasts and “accidental enthusiasts” who purchased a vehicle with summer tires on it and want more all-year capability. With that in mind, even Bridgestone admits these tires are meant to handle no more than “light snow.” Folks who live north of the Ohio River should mount true winter tires in the cold.
Ecopia H/L 422 Plus
For the fuel conscious, Bridgestone sells the Ecopia lineup. With the rise of SUVs and crossovers, the company decided to make a tire specifically for high-riding vehicles. The new Ecopia H/L 422 Plus replaces the old Dueler H/L Ecopia 422 with similar claims of improvements in inclement weather as the others we tested, along with better comfort and fuel economy.
This time the comparison was between the new and old Bridgestone tires and the vehicle for the test was an eco-appropriate Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. The course was another autocross. The new tire has a lot more grip in wet conditions –- a lot more. But it felt a little silly to test that in a RAV4 Hybrid. Regardless, transitioning from corner to corner was also improved.
None of this, though, matters to the normal consumer. What does matter is that Bridgestone claims the H/L 422 Plus will help improve consumer’s fuel economy. Durability also improves — the treadwear warranty is up to 70,000 miles from 65,000. And it’s quieter at higher speeds, too. The one detraction: Road feel on the H/L 422 Plus wasn’t quite as nice.
Putting It All Together
The tests made it clear that Bridgestone found a way to improve wet handling and increase tread life — and did so while maintaining competitive prices. But there is a cost. All of the tires we tested exhibited more feedback through the wheel. While it’s not a massive compromise, it is something that an average consumer would probably notice. It’s OK to feel every rut in the road in a sporty BMW, but less so in a Yukon or RAV4 Hybrid.
The Ecopia tires reveal exactly what kind of outlook Bridgestone has with all of its new tires: The average consumer wants the tire to do it all, all the time. The old-school mentality of having a dedicated set of summer and winter tires is just that — old school. We car nerds are increasingly seen as “old school.” But that doesn’t mean we’re wrong. Having one tire for all driving conditions still leads to compromise, and compromise sucks. These new tires are an achievement, but die-hards should still choose dedicated rubber for the conditions expected.