This post brought to you by Cooper Tires. All opinions are 100% mine.
Do you think much about your tires when you get in your car? I don't as much as I probably should, but do we really have time to worry about every little thing on our cars? It should be a balance of awareness mixed with products that help relieve you of too much worry. A couple weeks ago, I was asked to review Cooper Tires and report back on their safety features and the technology behind them. So I flew to San Antonio, TX and spent a few days on Cooper Tires' closed wet and dry tracks and mud and rock environments to test not only Cooper's tires, but leading competitor tires as well.
(Corvettes ready to compare competitor tires with Cooper Zeon RS3-S tires on the wet track)
Wet Track Testing
Like a lot of people, I drove my new car off the lot with the tires the dealer put on it and hadn't looked back. In the last few years that I've had my car, I haven't had a lot of rain driving, but when I have, I've noticed that the back end can get away from me very quickly if I'm not careful. My solution has just been to be careful, but my experience with wet driving in my own car is why I was both eager for and nervous about the wet track driving.
For these tests, we were provided two Corvettes, two Mustangs, and two Chevy Tahoes. One car had Cooper tires while the other had competitor tires. I spent three laps in each car. The first was what we affectionately called our "granny lap", driving safely as you would be expected to drive in normal situations. The second lap was to get it right to the threshold, imagining you're really in a hurry but trying not to lose control. The third lap was for pushing boundaries and trying to both lose and regain control.
Outfitted with the Cooper Zeon RS3-S tires, the red Corvette performed well against the black Corvette with its competitor tires. The Corvette takes a bit to get sliding, but isn't very forgiving when you get it sideways, so the way the Zeons held the wet asphalt better than the competitors was impressive. I didn't manage to get either car too far out of control, but when I did, correcting was better riding on the Zeons as well.
The same tests were performed with the Mustangs, with Cooper Zeon RS3-A on the black Mustang and competitor tires on the white one. The Mustangs gave a little more warning about when I was going to lose control, but they were a lot easier to throw into a slide. I noticed a larger difference between the Zeon RS3-A tires and the competitors in both overall traction and recovery from a slide. After the normal tests, we also had a relay race with the Cooper Zeon RS3-A Mustang that I'm proud to say that my team won. Despite the speed and the wet surface, I left every cone upright and I think only 4 total cones were hit between both teams, which is incredible.
A little more daunting for me was the Chevy Tahoes. I like a low center of gravity and was afraid I might flip a Tahoe at these speeds. The Tahoes had Cooper Discoverer A/T3 versus competitor tires and I started slow but then opened it up a lot more towards the end. With these, I noticed about the same control between the two, but pushed a lot harder on the Cooper Tahoe. After three laps on the competitor tires and two on the Cooper tires, I had no problem opening the Tahoe up for the last lap.
Dry Track Testing
With some wet track testing behind me, I was given a chance to see what these tires could withstand on Cooper's dry track. First, I went out on more than a couple hot laps with professional drivers, Johnny Unser and Ali Aljibouri who both showed me how the Cooper Tire Zeons handled even when they intentionally drifted around the track. Those guys made it look so easy. After testing both the tires and my stomach, It was my turn to get in the driver's seat. With the Zeon RS3-S tires on the red Corvette, and competitor tires still on the black one, I put the competitor tires through their paces and then moved on to the Cooper Corvette. No matter how hard I pushed, I found it pretty difficult to get that Corvette to slip off the track. I did finally get it to slide off the track in my last lap with some prodding from the passenger seat to really open it up. When I did get it off the track, I managed to recover quickly without breaking a sweat. This can be seen in the video below. Those were easily the best four laps of the event for me (I had so much fun that I lost count and ended up with an extra lap).
Through Mud And Over Rock
After racing around the tracks, I was introduced to the off-road capabilities of the Discoverer A/T3 tires which have an interesting 3-ply weave to increase durability. We loaded up some jeeps and got seriously muddy. With what looked like about two feet deep mud, we got through pretty quickly on the Cooper tires and had a lot of dirty fun doing it. After the mud, we moved on to a 30% incline which included a smooth wet incline, a rocky incline, and another less smooth wet incline. The tires held much better than I anticipated, allowing me to stop right in the middle of the incline with three passengers and no slipping.
(A dead stop on the 30% incline with Cooper A/T3 tires)
When we had all tested the inclines, we headed to the rock climbing area and took some of the jeeps about 5-6 feet up a steeper rock incline. My trek up the rocks was entirely uneventful. The water smelled foul as they let it sit out there for weeks to get slick and slimy, but the jeep went steadily up the rocks and climbed out of the slick rocks like a champ. I felt pretty accomplished myself, having never done anything like it before, even though I didn't really have to do much at all.
The whole experience was educational for me as a driver and just incredibly fun. Throughout the Ride-N-Drive event, I kept a lot of my focus on comparing the Cooper tires against the competitor's tires. I wanted to know how they felt when losing and regaining control and, more importantly, how well they kept me on the road in the first place. While there, Cooper Tires stressed their offering of more value in a tire with a better price point, but it was my experiences behind the wheel that said what I needed to hear. After my experience, I'll be looking into Cooper Tires for my next set, too. Be sure to check out the Cooper Tires website and follow @CooperTire on Twitter.