A year ago, a stack of tires appeared on our front porch – a set of Pilot Sport All Season 3s (PSAS3s), Michelin’s newest all-season tire which had not yet been released to the public. A few months before, my husband and I had tested the PSAS3 at NOLA Motorsports Park and had come away impressed with the tire’s performance, which we had explored in various braking and cornering exercises.
The tire was great – no argument there. However, it’s easy to be seduced by a tire under the perfect conditions (race track, shiny fun cars, great drivers (Patrick Long driving you around in a Turbo, anyone?), really great catering and music, Tito’s Tequila…but I digress). When the folks at Michelin asked me what I thought about the PSAS3, I told them I wanted to test a set for a year, on our own car, so we could get to know the tire better. I really wanted to take a set home and try the tires in everyday situations: trips to school and work, traffic, inclement conditions, road trips. A few weeks later, the tires arrived and we were off on our year-long adventure.
Now, I know tires don’t usually excite most people as they do my husband and I, and that’s ok. It’s just rubber, a few other components and grooves (sipes). But when you consider how much we drive in the US, and just how important the tires we drive on can be for our safety, I wish everyone could test a set of tires for an entire year, under various weather conditions. Driving a year on the PSAS3s allowed us to get to know the tire very well, and to let our thoughts on its merits and shortcomings marinate.
One unexpected benefit of driving on PSAS3s for a year has been the tire-related social interactions we have enjoyed. When we first mounted the PSAS3s, folks at Discount Tire wanted to know where we had gotten our set. Later on, as people noticed the tire, they asked us how we were liking it, and whether they should invest in a set. As people who love cars and are often faced with having to purchase tires, we delighted in talking to people and providing our honest opinion about the PSAS3s. And, in the process, we hope we have made at least a few people as excited about tires as our family is.
So, without further ado, below are the results of our year-long review of the Michelin PSAS3. Enjoy!
THE 365 DAYS OF PSAS3s IN A NUTSHELL
Vehicle: 2012 Audi A4 Avant (wagon, 4-seater), S-Line
Tire Specs: Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3, 245/45/18
Miles driven: 11,927 between Jan 13, 2013-Jan 15, 2014
Locations driven: Midwest (Michigan/Illinois) including road trips to Chicago, Central Illinois and the Sleeping Bear Dunes (Northern Michigan)
Surfaces driven: pavement, dirt, some sand, mud, fresh snow, packed snow
Inclement conditions driven: flooding rain, severe fog, freezing rain/sleet, snow (dry and wet), rapidly changing conditions (rain>ice>snow).
Temperature range driven: 96F (Sept 10, 2013) to -13 F (Jan 7, 3014)
PILOT SPORT A/S 3 HIGHLIGHTS
The car feels more sporty. As soon as we put the PSAS3s, our family car acquired a more sporty feel. My husband and I agreed the turn in was a bit sharper (a plus in our Audi, which has a tendency to understeer) and the cornering grip better. (But there’s a small caveat here – read our winter review).
Mileage improved. Wearing the PSAS3s, our Avant got an average of 32 mpg on a recent Chicago road trip.
The Ride is Smooth. The PSAS3 provides a nice, sporty feel for the driver without compromising grip. (When we say “smooth” we mean for a grooved tire with plenty of sipes, the PSAS3 provides a comfortable ride along with its sporty feel).
PSAS3s inspire confidence. On roadtrips, the PSAS3 provides a reliable, fun ride that you don’t think about, which is a good thing – the equipment (whether a ballet shoe or a snowboard) should be the last thing you worry about when engaging in an activity that demands your focus. This does not mean the PSAS3 is forgettable – not at all. It means that when we hopped in the Avant to drive 600+ miles to visit relatives in Illinois last Summer, the tires were not something that we had to think (or worry) about. It rained quite a bit on our way there and visibility was terrible, but the PSAS3s handled changing conditions beautifully. Instead or worrying about grip or car control, we were free to break up fights between our two 8-year-olds.
Wear is even. Over the course of a year, driven both gently and spiritedly locally and on 2,000 miles of road trips, the PSAS3s are wearing nicely, and right on track to last Michelin’s promised 45,000 miles.
Grip is reliable. On takeoff and braking, on dry pavement and water the PSAS3 offers consistent grip and reliability. Takeoff is rewarding, cornering predictable, and water never an issue.
THE PSAS3 by SEASON
Spring in the Midwest is a cold and wet affair. It is not unusual for precipitation to alternate between snow and rain as temperatures fluctuate. Wet driving is where the PSAS3s truly shine, efficiently moving water out of the way to maintain the tire’s contact with the road. Puddles, which are plentiful as snow melts and rain falls, are no match for the PSAS3. Braking on the wet and cold pavement is also no issue, as the PSAS3 efficiently stops the car without any fuss. In my year of driving, I not once set off the ABS or slid while stopping on a wet street or puddle.
The summer challenge is usually heat, but the high temperatures we experienced last Summer did not seem to affect the PSAS3s performance at all. We took a road trip to Northern Michigan (12 hours of driving) and it was uneventful. Cornering and stopping were not significantly affected by the 96 F temperatures we had last September, and the tires continued to wear evenly regardless of the heat.
Fall in the Midwest means cooler temperatures, rain and falling leaves which can quickly become slippery on the road. The PSAS3 has water covered, and leaves on the ground did not seem to present any significant challenge for the tires. When temperatures continued to dip and rain turned to frozen rain or snow, the tires continued to perform beautifully, as long as snow accumulation was not significant on the roadways. We determined the tire performs quite well in Fall temperatures (30-40 F), and adapts nicely to changing Fall conditions as long as no significant snow accumulation (1/4 inch or so) is present.
As we got closer to the end of our year with the PSAS3, our region got hit by a serious winter storm which brought with it plenty of snow (12-14”) and well-below freezing temperatures. We had already driven on the PSAS3s last winter, so we knew what to expect with some snowfall. What we had not experienced in 2013 were temperatures well below freezing. So, just how well did the PSAS3 do when faced with the Polar Vortex?
When we tested the tire at NOLA, Michelin tire engineers told us that the PSAS3 maintains performance to -10 F. In our winter driving, we confirmed that when there is no snow acummulation on the ground, the PSAS3 does quite well in very cold temperatures. Even in -7F, the tire retains grip, which is impressive when you consider its compound is able to work effectively within a 100-degree range. Generally speaking, the PSAS3’s capabilities were not significantly diminished when driving on clean roads in very cold temperatures.
On winter roads (i.e., no significant snow accumulation on the roads, but leftover icy patches/bits of snow here and there), braking and cornering capabilities were somewhat diminished. Grip was present but somewhat lessened by the brutal cold, making it necessary to plan on braking a little sooner, but braking and cornering in these road conditions was fairly predictable.
The PSAS3 does have a winter Achilles heel: snow accumulation. As snow begins to fall and form a fresh coat over the pavement, the PSAS3 grip decreases significantly both in a straight line and laterally, resulting in longer braking times and highly diminished turn-in. During the January 2014 snow storm, we found ourselves driving no faster than 30 mph on city roads (55-60 on the expressways) and lifting well before stop signs and traffic lights in order to stop on time. Even when we used the throttle and brake gently, the Audi’s stability control deployed often during takeoff, and ABS was active during braking. To corner effectively, it was crucial to think way ahead, turn in early, and allow the car to drift through the corner. Although we occassionally enjoy sliding through corners, we can’t say most drivers would feel comfortable driving on this tire when snow is present. My husband and I both drove the Avant in these conditions, discussed the tire’s performance at length and agreed that the PSAS3 is not really what we would want on our family car in a Midwestern winter’s harshest conditions.
Want to see the PSAS3s in all their winter glory? Check out our PSAS3 Winter Test Drive video: Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 Winter Driving Test
Soon after we were prepared to deem the PSAS3 useless for winter, it hit us: here we are, driving on an ultra high-performance all-season tire in the middle of a serious winter storm – a tire which Michelin never billed as a snow tire – and we are getting where we need to go safely. Michelin promises “cold weather and snow mobility,” and it does deliver on its promise. We may be driving more slowly, we may be having to stop sooner, but this is the exact same ultra-high performance tire that came out on top at autocross and wet/dry braking exercises. It is almost unheard of to have a tire perform well in the ultra-high-performance segment and still hold its own in winter. We have driven the kids to school and driven to work in considerable amounts of snow, and the tire has gotten us there –we have not gotten stuck in snow even once. And that, by itself, is quite impressive. To expect more of this tire would be unreasonable.
All the above said, we would recommend that those of you who live in locations which experience true winter conditions purchase a set of winter tires and enjoy the PSAS3s from Spring through Fall, only because being limited to having “snow mobility” after experiencing the PSAS3’s exceptional performance during the rest of the year will leave you yearning for more.
Have you driven on the PSAS3s? Do you have questions or comments about these tires? Share your thoughts here!