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Tire Test: Does cheaper tire drive as well as pricey one?

Newcomer Sailun Tire suggests people won't be able to tell the difference

Published February 26, 2014
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What are the people at Sailun Tires trying to prove?

They’re a newcomer to the automotive tire scene and they produce low cost tires in China: what could they gain by testing their rubber against more expensive tires?

Those were the questions on my mind when I was invited to their winter tire test session at the Hockley Valley Resort in the dead of winter.

Sailun was itching to prove something with a back-to-back comparison with another winter tire brand. Various automotive journalists were being given the chance to test Sailun’s winter tire, Ice Blazer WSL2, and compare it to another brand of winter tire on the same vehicles under the same controlled conditions.

This wasn’t a hard-core test with measured braking distances or lateral grip to definitively say one tire performs better that the other; this was a “seat-of-the-pants” test to see if we, as automotive journalists or expert drivers could feel the deference between two brands of winter tires.

I have an engineering background and these subjective tests don’t sit well with me. I like hard facts and data to analyze. Nothing works better for me than test numbers to crunch to determine which tire has better grip.

When Sailun Tires vice-president of marketing Brian Mielko spoke to this group of 14 journalists about the test, it became clearer what Sailun was trying to prove.

Sailun Tires has been building tires for about 12 years now. Compared to an established manufacturer such as Goodyear, which has been at this since 1899, Sailun is a mere toddler in the tire industry. It is based in China, which has the stigma of low quality and low cost associated with many of its manufactured goods.

According to Mielko, Sailun wants to show that the Ice Blazer WSL2 winter tire feels like a more expensive tire. Its intention is not to “compete directly against the premium quality tires such as Goodyear, Michelin or Bridgestone” says Mielko, but to how they work and feel as well as the “tier 2” tires such as Yokohama, Pirelli or Hankook.

“Why buy a more expensive tier 2 tire if the Sailun tire feels the same for a lower cost?” he asked.

Sailun provided us with four identical sedans in what they consider the mid-range market. For this test day, we were driving Ford Fusion AWD sedans with the Eco boost engine and 5-speed automatic transmissions. Two were white and mounted with brand A tires and the other two Fords were black and shod with brand B. It was a “blind test,” meaning tire names were scrubbed off so we couldn’t tell from the sidewall which tire we were driving on.

Two Fords were sent out for the road drive evaluation. We set off in one white and one black Fusion and we switched up after driving on some of Hockley Valley’s most scenic and snowy roads.

SO IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

The only difference I could tell was road noise on the paved portion of the rural roads. The results showed the Sailun winter tires were a little quieter that the control tire.

The other portion of the testing included a slalom, collision avoidance and emergency braking on a snow-covered parking lot.

In each of these tests, I could discern no difference in these tires. I am sure, in controlled tests, we could have measured the difference, but our driving experiences were not enough to prove one better than the other.

Sailun’s own survey results taken from the journalists show it was too close to call. Sailun proved its point: The average driver would not be able to tell the difference between the Sailun Ice Blazer WSL 2 and a pricier tier 2 tire — in this case, the Hankook i-Pike winter tire.

With a retail cost of about $184 per tire for the Hankook and $108 for the Sailun (according to Tire World in Brampton), price could well be the deciding factor.

I personally will always search for the tires that offer the best possible grip for safety and for performance.

But many motorists don’t put such an emphasis on tire performance and would be very happy to have a less expensive tire feel like its more expensive competitor.

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