Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2007   by J.D. Ney, Assistant Editor

Pirelli Puts on a Show

A perfect day for driving greeted a group of tire dealers, wholesalers and a few lucky auto journalists to Pirelli's ride-and-drive program in Brampton Ont., on May 9th. Upon arrival, the normally spa...

A perfect day for driving greeted a group of tire dealers, wholesalers and a few lucky auto journalists to Pirelli’s ride-and-drive program in Brampton Ont., on May 9th. Upon arrival, the normally spacious parking lot of the Powerade Centre was carved up into separate test tracks, each designed to highlight and showcase the various attributes of several new Pirelli models. After a short talk and presentation, it was time to jump into the appropriately equipped test cars, professional driver in tow, and find out what the new breed of tire can do.

First up was something of a surprise in terms of what one normally considers the bread and butter for Pirelli. In fact, instead of a high-end imported sports car, the new P4 tires were affixed to a Ford Fusion sedan. According to the Pirelli reps at the event, this particular market is one huge sandbox, that Pirelli is making a new push to play in, and while they currently only represent about eight per cent of the market, they feel as though this new P4 might be the answer to that particular prayer.

The newly designed purpose built touring tire, despite being bolted to a decidedly non-performance style vehicle, does still take its cues, and some of its design elements from its sexier older brothers, like the unique shark-fin tread elements found in the P Zero Nero. Unlike the Z-rated types however, the P4, designed for the family sedan is an all-season offering and comes with a 135,000km warranty and benefits from the incorporation of a silica rich tread compound. The added silica provides that “stick to the road” qualities that so many today are touting.

When it came time to actually put the tire through its paces, the results were impressive. Despite being decidedly out of their element on a lumbering Detroit sedan, the Pirellis stood up well. They obviously strained from time to time under the Rubeneque body rolls of the heavy vehicle, but the sidewalls proved largely up to the task, and grip was reasonably well maintained under all but the most aggressive of slalom lines. Noise too, was well dampened by the P4s, as they only voiced their concern on some of the more extreme manoeuvres.

Next up on the test track was the real reason many of the participants, or at least the gear-head auto journalists showed up: to bomb around on a set of high performance tires attached to a high-end European sport sedan. As such, identical BMWs were shod with P6 and P Zero Neros respectively. This is where the pedigree of the company really came to light. The P6, by Pirelli standards, falls somewhere just shy of the top rung, but is still considered a performance tire. With an aggressive tread pattern, the P6 is certainly a tire for the demanding driver, and the journalists on hand certainly tried their best to fit that bill, slamming the car into the corners, and looking for any excuse to abuse the tire. Fortunately, for the pros sitting in the passenger seat, the P6 stood-up admirably, with its reinforced sidewalls ensuring maximum road contact throughout the test runs. The final high performance test, however, was what the more serious drivers among the group came to experience, and the P Zero Nero did not disappoint. After hammering the test vehicle through the tight corners and high-speed zigs-and-zags, it became quite clear why Pirelli currently lays claim to some 50 per cent market penetration in the super high performance segment. Despite more aggressive driving, harder turning and put-pedal-through-the floor breaking, the P Zero Nero consistently pushed-back, giving the driver the impression that it could handle much more, all the while sticking to the road.

The third testing module had the participants running a few laps in SUV and CUV vehicles, both on the pavement, and one lap on a purpose built off-road course. Utilizing Pirelli’s Scorpion line, the two trucks proved perhaps the most surprising test runs of the day. What struck everyone the most was the noise level on both behemoths, as we cranked them through tight corners and hard-stops. What was supposed to be a loud, high-pitched experience, with the tires protesting each elongated U-curve, was actually a near silent ride, with both Scorpion models providing extremely consistent feel and performance. According to the company, the low noise has been successfully accomplished by integrating a new concept of “sweeping” curved grooves into the basic design and then siping the remaining tread blocks in a specific harmonic pattern. These sipes are very fine cuts in the tread blocks, which absorb the noise created by contact with the asphalt as the vehicle travels at speed.

While obviously the off road performance of the purpose built Scorpion ATR was impressive, providing slip-free starts and stops, it was its on-pavement drivability that got most of the attention. Seeing as many SUV drivers only take their car off-road on rare occasions, it would appear as though Pirelli has found a happy medium with its truck line.

In the end, the day worked well to prove the Pirelli point. While the brand may not be top of mind for many in the domestic car and truck market, rest assured that they are certainly angling to play a bigger role on that scene in the coming year. With products like the ones they showcased throughout the ride and drive, the company now seems to have the corporate will to make a serious push into this obviously massive OE market.

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