FORT WORTH, Texas – You’ve heard this fact before, but it continues to hold true: Regardless of the type of vehicle you’re driving, whether it’s an exotic, hyper-sophisticated supercar, a basic minivan or utility vehicle, a jacked-up 4X4 pickup or an efficient little econobox, the vehicle’s only connection with the road is the four patches of tire rubber. How well those small patches connect with the road surface, regardless of driving conditions, is critical to the vehicle’s performance and safety.
Engineers keep digging for ways to improve the way those patches of rubber grip the road in all conditions and the folks at Bridgestone Firestone have created some new tire designs and construction techniques that show significant improvement. The tire manufacturer has been working since 2013 on the development of five new products it is proudly launching this year – the Bridgestone Turanza QuietTrack and Blizzak WS90, as well as the Firestone WeatherGrip, the Destination A/T2 and Destination X/T.
To demonstrate the advances built into these new additions to its tire lineup, the company invited media and selected dealers to participate in a testing session at Texas Motor Speedway. A series of driving circuits laid out in the infield of the massive racing complex, as well as an off-road course specially constructed on the perimeter of the property, were the venues for our test drives.
Bridgestone Turanza QuietTrack
Bridgestone found feedback from consumers indicated their priorities when looking for a new set of tires was optimum performance in wet driving conditions and superior wear characteristics. Bridgestone says its new all-season premium highway touring tire exceeds buyers’ expectations in both categories while providing a quiet, comfortable ride. It provides a 20% improvement in wet traction, compared to the previous-generation Turanza Serenity Plus, which it replaces in the Turanza lineup. It also delivers 44% better traction in snow and a 130,000-kilometre tread warranty.
Bridgestone has developed four new technology packages to achieve these advances, including HydroTrack Technology, which utilizes full-depth tread grooves with an interlocking feature, plus open shoulder slots to enhance water evacuation and reduce the risk of hydroplaning, and QuietTrack Technology, a new noise-dampening feature exclusive to Bridgestone that is precisely tuned to prevent high frequency noise and ensure a quieter ride. It works much like the noise-cancelling technologies automakers are incorporating into their vehicles, using offsetting noise frequencies to minimize or eliminate cabin noise. The QuietTrack’s new ComfortCruise technology leverages a rounded contact patch and optimized tire casing shape to reduce road vibration for a smoother, more comfortable driving experience, while the tire’s proprietary, full depth tread design, dubbed EdgePerformance Technology, works to ensure the QuietTrack maintains its performance levels throughout its 130,000-km life span.
While we’ll have to take the company’s word on improved traction in snow (Texas was hot and, thankfully, snow free during our visit), its claims of improved performance in wet conditions were aptly demonstrated in a comparison test on a water-soaked slalom course. Mounted on identical new BMW 330i sedans, the QuietTrack consistently showed better grip in cornering than competitive tires. There was virtually no understeer going into the corners and exiting was equally stable, giving the driver a true sense of confidence despite the wet road surface. Not so much with the competitive tires, which tended to push to the edge of the course when turning in and showed signs of being tail happy on exit.
The other new car tire introduced here was the Firestone WeatherGrip, the company’s first all-weather touring tire. It’s specially designed for year-round use, with added control in wet and snowy conditions that goes beyond the performance levels of traditional all-season tires. In fact, it is certified for snow conditions with the industry’s Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake rating.
This addition to the Firestone lineup is in step with the tire industry’s development of tires that can be safely used year-round, eliminating the need for that fall and spring ritual of changing between summer or “3-season” (all-season) tires to dedicated winter treads. Engineers here did concede, however, that for drivers who live where snow accumulation can be extreme, or where icy conditions are frequent during the cold season, dedicated winter tires are still the better choice. However, for many drivers who live where heavy snow is infrequent and icy roads are not the norm, the new all-weather, Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake-certified tires such as the WeatherGrip are suitable for year-round use.
This new Firestone product utilizes its newly developed Hydro-Grip technology package featuring a tread pattern designed with full-depth grooves and open shoulder slots for enhanced water evacuation and a rounded footprint that cuts through water to help reduce the risk of hydroplaning. It also features TractionTech, a new technology package exclusive to Firestone that leverages a full-depth tread design and interlocking sipes to ensure the tire maintains its wet and snow performance over its 105,000-kilometre limited warranty.
Again using identical BMW 330i sedans, the WeatherGrip was tested against a competitive tire from Goodyear on a water-soaked course that included a hard, ABS-assisted stop, as well as some higher-speed sweeping corners, plus a routine street drive around roads outside the racing complex. In the hard-stop test, the WeatherGrip’s stopping distance was consistently at least a car-length shorter. On the sweeping corners, taken at about 56 km/h, the Goodyear tires failed to match the Firestone’s level of grip, requiring more turn-in on entry and additional steering input through the corner. The WeatherGrip was also noticeably quieter during the street drive.
Firestone Destination A/T2 and X/T
The Destination lineup of all-terrain tires has been a solid performer for the brand in the light truck/utility vehicle segment, but the company is now breaking it into two separate lines, the Firestone Destination A/T2 tire and Firestone Destination X/T tire. Both models are engineered to deliver on-highway dependability and a quiet, comfortable ride, while also delivering off-road durability to tackle the most challenging terrain. However, the Destination A/T2 is designed for light pickups, SUVs and all-terrain vehicles, while the Firestone Destination X/T is engineered more for heavier trucks and extreme off-road applications, such as the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
Both new Destination models have been designed for enhanced grip in snowy conditions and carry the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake certification.
The Destination A/T2 features a new tread compound and aggressive tread design with stone rejecter technology. Its aggressive shoulder tread pattern helps improve off-road handling while its increased surface and see-through void in the tread helps evacuate water more effectively, improving stopping and handling grip in wet conditions. Full depth interlocking 3D sipe technology helps provide even wear and consistent performance throughout the 90,000-km limited mileage warranty.
The Destination X/T tire leverages many of the A/T2’s technologies, such as staggered shoulder lugs, full-depth interlocking 3D sipe technology and open shoulder slots to deliver long-lasting, heavy-duty toughness. It also features a specially designed tread rubber compound for durable on- and off-road performance and it delivers improved chip-and-tear resistance. The Destination X/T is backed by an 80,000-km limited treadwear warranty.
We were able to evaluate both tires in their intended environments – the A/T2 on a road course with water-soaked corners in the speedway’s infield, while the X/T also clawed through the mud, dips, and hills of an off-road loop outside the facility. Mounted on Toyota Tacoma pickups and 4Runner SUVs, the A/T2 and X/T tires both had noticeably better grip than the Goodyear Wrangler and BF Goodrich T/A KO2 competitive tires. The Destination models both turned in to the wet, sweeping corners with more confidence and precision and delivered better grip through the apex and exit. In particular, the BF Goodrich tire, one of the market leaders in this segment, proved to be extremely loose, both on turn-in and exit, compared to the Firestones, which felt more planted and inspired more confidence.
Off road, the Destination X/T was impressive. At one point, my driving guide told me to stop the Toyota just before the peak of a steep hillclimb, then start up again toward the crest. The tires simply dug into the dirt and away we went without a hint of wheelspin. Likewise, a trip through a trough of deep mud proved to be no problem, then on the straight run back to the base camp you could hear the muck being tossed from the tread – self-cleaning is another feature of the X/T’s tread design.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS90
This new winter tire, designed for cars and minivans, provides improved stopping grip and handling in winter conditions, due in part to 15% more block edges than its predecessor, the Blizzak WS80, and a new tread compound with larger contact area that improves performance on ice. In fact, testing by Bridgestone indicates the WS90 improves stopping distance on ice by 14%, compared to the rival MichelinX-Ice Xi3. The WS90 also features Bridgestone’s patented Multicell Technology that enhances road grip by using bite particles in the rubber that help combat slippage on ice. The WS90 also features 30% more block stiffness in the tread pattern, helping improve responsiveness and extending wear life – up to an extra season in typical use, compared to the WS80, Bridgestone says.
However, Texas in May is not the place to test winter tires, so we’ll have to take Bridgestone’s word on the WS90’s capabilities, at least until the snow flies again.
Bridgestone’s Turanza QuietTrack tire is available in 37 sizes, covering more than 86% of cars on the road today, while the Firestone WeatherGrip tire is available in 33 sizes that fit more than 60% of the most popular cars and crossovers. A unique feature of the WeatherGrip is that it’s backed by Firestone’s industry-leading “90-Day Buy & Try” guarantee – if you’re not satisfied with your purchase within the first 90 days, just return the tires for a full refund or exchange.
The Firestone Destination A/T2 is scheduled to go on sale in August and will be offered in 29 sizes, while the Destination X/T will also launch in August and will initially be available in 25 sizes, with more sizes to follow in 2020. Both tire lines offer the Firestone 90-Day Buy & Try guarantee.