Laurens Proving Grounds is a secured facility situated in Laurens, SC, which is about 40 miles outside of Greenville, SC. This 3000 acre site houses something like a dozen test tracks where Michelin (and auto manufacturers) can test their tires performance in terms of wet and dry roadholding, ride quality, road noise, hydroplaning performance, durability and braking performance. Unfortunately, I (mis)understood that due to the sensitive nature of much of the testing that goes on there, outside photography and videography would not be allowed. So my bag of gear stayed back at the hotel in Greenville. I found out when we arrived at LPG that we were allowed to snap our own photos and video, but it was too late. The good news is that Michelin hired a professional photographer who took the snapshots seen in this article.
Once we arrived at LPG, we were whisked into a portable building where a crew of Michelin staffers introduced themselves and the new Pilot Exalto 2 (aka PE2™) tire. During their presentation, the actual meaning of Exalto was never revealed, but don't let the name distract you - these are some pretty serious donuts.
The PE2 is designed to serve as Michelin's entry into the Sport Compact market, with fitments ranging from 15- to 19-inch rim diameters. Positioned just below their flagship street product (the Pilot Sport 2, or PS2™), the PE2s promise comparable levels of performance in both wet and dry conditions, at a more affordable price point than the PS2. Michelin says the PE2 borrows much of its technology from their WRC racing programme. Highlights of the design include a Variable Contact Patch architecture, which optimizes the contact area of the tire during extreme cornering situations. The PE2's asymmetric tread pattern appears a little conservative to the casual observer, but the circumferential grooves in the center of the tread and the radial grooves on the inside shoulder aid in water evacuation, while "massive" tread blocks on the outside shoulder provide for "superior grip in both wet and dry conditions". Yes, those quotes come from the press release, but after thrashing the tires the way we did, those words ring true.
Other technologies employed in the construction of the tire include Michelin's BAZ Technology (spiral-wrapped nylon Banded At Zero degrees to the tire's rotation). If you're like me, that acronym whizzes right over your head. So again, I will defer to the press material: "Michelin's BAZ Technology helps control the shape of the tire and improve handling characteristics by resisting high-speed centrifugal deformation." Okay.
In the final part of the press material that I will reference, Michelin highlights the "acoustically tuned asymmetrical tread pattern" for reduced noise, a rayon carcass with "ultra-reinforced" sidewalls and lightweight rim protectors, and last, but not least, a "Life Maximized Adherance ™ (LMA)" compound which is said to provide maximum wet and dry performance throughout the life of the tire. This last piece may sound like a bit of an outlandish claim, but one of the tests planned for the day was designed to hammer this point home.
This all sounds great, but aren't press releases pretty much boilerplate these days? How do the tires actually perform? Read on...