It has been awhile since I attended a tyre launch event, but a blast from the past that’s still alive in the memory is the launch of the Michelin Primacy LC back in 2009. Held in Thailand, we were given big comfy sedans to experience the touring tyre (I drove a previous-gen Nissan Teana), which had silence as its USP. It was really quiet.
Time flies, we get older and tyres fade away. Michelin recently held a regional launch for the Michelin Primacy 3 ST, a new tyre that replaces both the Primacy LC and Primacy HP. There’s some consolidation going on as the LC is comfort oriented, while the HP is the sporty one in the Primacy range.
The Primacy 3 ST offers the best of both worlds, so to speak, and is targeted at passenger cars that don’t need expensive high performance tyres and the compromise in comfort that they bring. Everything from a Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla Altis to limos like the Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS are within target.
In fact, Honda Thailand has chosen the Primacy 3 ST as the OE factory tyre for the next-gen Honda Accord, which is already on sale in the Land of Smiles. However, our Accord will be locally assembled in Melaka, and is likely to use Malaysian-made tyres.
By the way, the French tyremaker’s Primacy range consists of touring rubber comparable to Bridgestone’s Turanza family, not to be confused with performance oriented Pilot Sport rubber, which goes head to head with Bridgestone’s Potenza and Goodyear’s Eagle F1 tyres.
Designed and developed exclusively for the Asia Pacific region’s extreme road and weather conditions (think of our less than smooth roads, potholes and thunderstorms), the Primacy 3 ST (for Silent Tuned) is the answer to the specific needs and expectations of drivers in this region, Michelin claims. The 3 ST will not be available in Europe, as drivers’ priorities differ between regions – for instance, quietness ranks high in Asia, but is not a main concern in Europe.
“We are listening to our consumers’ needs and have responded to data collected from them over a 10-year period in all countries in the region with extreme weather and road conditions. These range from extreme heat in the Australian summer to humidity during Southeast Asia’s rainy season,” said Beltran Yturriaga-Trenor, MD of Michelin Malaysia.
We were also shown a video of mileage tests done in Malaysia, featuring high mileage limo cabbies as test subjects. Our country was chosen for its variety of roads (lots of winding roads, nice highways and rough roads) and high average speeds compared to our neighbours.
“To develop this new, breakthrough tyre, Michelin conducted preliminary studies on tyres that had travelled more than 1.3 million km. We then spent 18 months designing, developing and deploying the research findings to produce the Primacy 3 ST in Thailand,” Yturriaga-Trenor added.
Product marketing manager Pierre Azemat admitted that this was a very tough assignment, and the hardest part was to balance the qualities (you can’t have a tyre with the best performance and best comfort, something has to give) and the launch was slightly delayed as a result.
But now that it’s out, Michelin believes that the Primacy 3 ST has the best blend of qualities, thanks to a combination of four proprietary technologies – EvenPeak, CushionGuard, Flexmax and Stabiligrip. They’re calling the suite Michelin Total Performance.
Let’s start with FlexMax, which improves grip via a combination of two features. A flexible tread adapts to the shape of the road for better contact and grip, while the chamfered tread block prevents distorting under pressure. Together, they maximise contact with the road, and a bigger contact patch translates to more grip. A positive side effect of a larger footprint is a longer lifespan, as wear is spread more evenly across the tyre surface.
Stabiligrip uses self-locking bands in the small grooves between tread blocks. These “interlocking bands” minimise tread block deformation and improve dry handling. The small grooves also allow the tyre to cut the film of water on wet roads for increased safety. Together with FlexMax, Michelin claims that braking distance for the Primacy 3 ST is 2.9 meters shorter compared to the average distance of leading competitors.
While an “aggressive” tread pattern design is crucial for safety and grip, it can also generate more noise. Michelin addressed this issue by designing tread blocks with a wider spectrum of sizes and positions. This enables the noise generated to spread across a wider frequency range, without peaks of noise, making the tyre “quieter” to the human ear. This is EvenPeak coming into play. Michelin adds that the LC’s silent qualities have been maintained.
Silence goes well with comfort, and CushionGuard is responsible for keeping the ride smooth. When the tread blocks make contact with the road, the FlexMax compound cushions the vibrations. This supple tread, together with a shock absorbent sidewall, forms the CushionGuard tech. Further, a layer of noise-filtering rubber also diminishes the vibrations. Together, these technologies provide a smooth and comfortable ride.
The regional media launch was held in the picturesque Khao Yai region in Thailand, specifically the Bonanza International Speedway. The long, flowing circuit was divided into several stations for Michelin to prove its point against competitor rubber – dry handling, wet handling, braking and NVH.
Tyre noise, or the lack of, is not an easy thing to gauge at a media launch, where one normally gets to go around a short course just once. But in a Camry and against the Yokohama db V551 (chosen for its branding) I did sense that the Primacy 3 ST emitted a lower, less audible hum when the car coasted on neutral.
Slightly more apparent was the smaller “aftershocks” on the Michelins when driven over a stretch plastered with wires. Keep in mind that the variances aren’t on a heaven and earth scale, but a fine one.
On to some real driving, where we hopped into the suprisingly rorty Volvo S60 DRIVe for the dry handling test. Here, the Primacy 3 ST was up against the popular Bridgestone Turanza GR90, and the difference in performance was apparent, in favour of the Michelin.
It wasn’t very easy to hold the exact same speed for both runs on the turbocharged Volvo, but I did manage one good back-to-back round where the Michelin clearly held on to its line more resolutely (less understeer) and required less steering angle to negotiate the 70 km/h bend. Couldn’t get a consistent slalom run so nothing to report from there.
The clincher was left till the end, where we got to play with water. Not quite as fun as songkran, but slipping and sliding on track always brings a smile. The rival combo this time was Camry (2.0, no VSC) and Turanza GR90, and the drill was one wet bend, one wet mid-corner change in direction and emergency braking to rest from 80 km/h.
The Michelins just about hung on at the recommended corner speed (60 km/h in a tight bend) when the Bridgestone shod car had a tail out moment. The Toyota with Bibendum’s black donuts was also more composed in the mid-corner obstacle avoidance exercise.
The Primacy also comfortably aced the emergency brake routine. After tabulating VBOX figures from our group, the Primacy 3 ST stopped 2.7 metres shorter than the Turanza GR90 on average.
It’s a good tyre, the Michelin Primacy 3 ST, blending the silence and comfort from the LC with newfound wet/dry grip and braking performance. It won’t outgrip a UHP tyre, of course, but is far more comfortable and suitable for most drivers and their requirements – why would Kia fit CSC5 tyres on a 109 hp Rio is beyond me. Strange trend.
I can also imagine the new Primacy as a good replacement tyre for locally assembled D-segment executive sedans, which are factory fitted with the 3 ST’s direct rivals. To be honest, I wasn’t at all surprised by the results of the above tests, simply because the newer tyre is usually the better tyre, and this is a new Michelin tyre we’re looking at. They don’t come up with that many new products, but when they do, it’s usually very good.
The Michelin Primacy 3 ST will be made in Thailand for the region, except for China, which will supply itself. It is already available in Malaysia with sizes ranging from 16 to 19 inches. 15s are available in certain markets, but that size is taken care of by the Energy XM2 here. With prices ranging from RM480 to RM1,040, the Primacy 3 ST won’t be the cheapest in its class, but it could well be the best.