Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2011   by Jim Anderton, Technical Editor

Grand Touring General

General's new G-Max AS-03 wades into the UHP all-season brawl ... with a big stick

Sonoma, California’s Infineon Raceway is a sight to behold. This legendary track hosts the big boys: NASCAR, IndyCar and the NHRA; but today, it’s a decidedly amateur group of tire dealers and journalists.
It’s a big place, but if you could only drive one corner of the narrow, verdant circuit it would have to be Six, a long, long downhill left hand corkscrew that feeds a short chute into Turn Seven. Here there’s a mercifully large runoff area which I intend to ignore, at least as long as the talent holds out. The carousel is taken flat, at least that’s what the driving instructor in front of me is doing, and I follow suit not without a little trepidation. I’m in a late model Mustang, a vehicle of which I’m fond (I own two), but hardly the ideal mount for an IndyCar-level road course. As if the tail-happy solid axle brute-force Ford wasn’t enough, the track is wet, with a narrow trail of dry pavement defining the dry line. If ever tires mattered, it’s now.
And tires are why we’re here, specifically General Tire’s new G-Max AS-03 ultra high-performance all-season radial. Besides Mustangs, there are powerful Audis and razor-sharp Mitsubishi Evos to thrash and drive, and the track conditions vary from dry to damp to outright rainy. It is ideal tire-testing weather and a sure way to check the “all-season” claim for the new General.
The G-Max AS-03 replaces General’s Exclaim UHP and adds a number of upgrade technologies. Three dimensional sipes interlock the tread blocks Lego-fashion, minimizing tread squirm and reducing chunking. An interesting treadwear and alignment monitoring system reveals the words “replacement tire monitor” as the tread wears and shows a pictogram of an alignment issue if the tread feathers or shoulder wears excessively.
V-shaped water evacuation grooves mean the tire is necessarily directional, while a design that incorporates what General calls “Acoustic Modulation Sound Technology” makes the product quiet for touring and everyday use. “Reactive Contour Technology” keeps the contact patch optimal under varying load conditions, and the G-Max AS-03 also carries some blocky groove features and considerable siping for winter use. In Canada, however, the G-Max like all “all-season” radials, should be in storage by the time the snow flies.
Construction is UHP “best practices” with two steel belts, chafers and a cap ply with additional sidewall rigidity provided by a high turn up body ply. The tread pattern is symmetrical. While the symmetry would seem to give away a ­little in the eye-candy boy-racer market, there is a very sound reason for using it in a UHP product: Alignment. Drivers of highly modified tuner cars (as well as many sports car owners) use “high-speed” alignment settings, including handfuls of negative camber. In street use, it’s possible to wear the inside shoulder of a tire down to the cords long before the contact patch wears out. Symmetrical patterns like the G-Max AS-03 allow side-to-side rotation to equalize wear and extend the life of the product, a strong selling point for value-conscious consumers.
Sizing shows the reach General intends for the new G-Max: Suzuki-ready 195/55R15 (V-rated) to a lofty 275/30ZR20, making the AS-03 suitable as an upsell and a replacement for UHP factory fitments. General has targeted competitive products such as the Goodyear Eagle GT, Dunlop SP Sport, Toyo Proxes 4 and Hankook Ventus 4V with a UTQG of 480 and traction and temperature ratings of “A.”
That’s tough competition and a huge range of fitments. Can the same product fill the needs of both Suzuki Aerio owners and Audi A8 pilots?
Infineon Raceway was the place to find out. Driven on platforms as diverse as Mitsubishi’s excellent turbocharged “Evo” and the powerful but solid-axle Mustang, the G-Max AS-03 demonstrated civilized manners at the limit with little noise and very little harshness for a UHP tire. Dry grip is competitive with class leaders like Goodyear’s Eagle, but two attributes stand out in particular.
The first is behavior at the limit. On the street and at track days as well, cornering performance is determined by driver skill at the tire’s limit of adhesion, which is different than pure lateral acceleration. A grippy tire that lets go with little warning can’t be driven to its limit by most drivers, making it substantially less effective than pure test results suggest. The G-Max AS-03 is very progressive, telegraphing the amount of available grip and the limits of that grip to the driver in a way that lets him or her explore cornering forces safely. The tire shows very little squirm and the softly rounded shoulder lets the tire roll over progressively, letting the driver know when the weight has shifted and when it’s time to rotate and accelerate. This makes the tire feel faster and in the hands of all but professionals, it’s faster “on the clock” as well.
The second key attribute is wet grip. In the accelerometer-equipped Evo, I measured over 0.8g of lateral acceleration, in the rain on a wet line. This is a considerable safety advantage and a surprise for a tire with good dry performance. The G-Max AS-03 would make an interesting rain tire in any racing class using DOT rubber.
The new G-Max AS-03 is both a savvy marketing move for Continental’s General Tire brand and a risk. General is not traditionally an enthusiast brand and the G-Max AS-03 plays in a market segment that overlaps Continental’s Euro-focused upscale consumer base. The tire is easily good enough to carry the more prestigious Continental brand, but cracking the lucrative replacement market for factory low-aspect ratio sport sedans and performance cars now into their mid to high mileages (meaning second and third owners) is too tempting to ignore.
Can General become a high impact performance brand? The “GT” branding helps. In fact, “grand touring” is an ideal application for the product, with its three-season capability and predictable handling at the limit. Will it steal from the Continental brand? It will likely steal from the competition, as the tire is good enough to carry powerful, prestige automobiles and their owners with safety, speed and comfort.
The all-season UHP market is a brawl and in a crowded bar, General’s General G-Max AS-03 punches above its weight.