High performance SUVs. You either love them or you hate them – and, since you’re reading evo, there’s a good chance you’re leaning towards the latter. But while a two-ton off-roader on stiff suspension and low-profile tyres appears completely at odds with itself, there’s no denying today’s top crop of super-SUVs are remarkably capable machines.
They also provide tyre-makers with a unique set of challenges, and Cooper Tires believes its new Zeon 4XS Sport is able to effectively meet them all. To test those claims, we headed over to the Red Bull Ring, home of the Austrian GP, to sample a Cooper-shod SUV.
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Our Mercedes ML63 AMG test car couldn’t have looked much further from home than it did parked in the pits of a Grand Prix circuit (the big SUV stands 1.8 metres tall), and it only served to emphasise how tricky a job the tyres faced – they’d soon be juggling 518bhp and 516lb ft of torque between them, with a hefty 2270kg to make matters significantly harder. That’s a serious workout on the road, let alone on a track…
A two-ply Rayon casing and extra layers of sidewall reinforcement are key ingredients that Cooper claims give the Zeon 4XS Sports enough strength to cope with such an ordeal, and their effects are immediately noticeable as turn one is dispatched without any of that wallowy feeling conventional SUV tyres give under hard driving. It’s also pretty clear that Cooper’s new rubber has no intention of ever venturing off-road, but no off-road claims are made for the tyre.
The Zeon 4XS Sports were also able to effectively manage a car that, to put it bluntly, struggled to contain its own mass. The body ducked, dived and leaned through corners, while hard braking sent a worrying, slow-motion wobble through the whole car as the suspension fought to keep the body flat. But, even in these conditions, the car braked straight and true, with no intervention from the ESP to keep things pointing ahead.
A morning of hard laps on track not only confirmed that these tyres offered consistent, dependable grip, they were also proving very durable, with minimal signs of wear on all four corners.
Admittedly, this durability did appear to be slightly at the expense of ultimate grip, as the tyre’s adhesion to the asphalt was more comparable with a sports summer tyre than the stickiest of ultra-high-performance products. But this sort of compromise makes sense in the performance SUV sector – the vast majority of Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport SVR and Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 (the ML63 AMG’s successor) owners will never venture on track, so a tyre with consistent and dependable grip will likely appeal over one that chases the ultimate lap-time.
Though we weren’t able to test it during our dry session, Cooper also claims that the tyre’s silica-rich tread helps it achieve a Grade A for wet grip, emphasising the security 4XSs could provide. With all of this in mind, if you must own a high-powered SUV, a set of Cooper Zeon 4XS Sports deserves a place on your replacement tyre short-list. Sizes range from 215/70/R16 to 295/35/R21; maximum load rating is 825kg per tyre and maximum speed rating is 186mph. Pricing is to be confirmed in the coming weeks.