Project Beast: Fitting New Boots (Falken Azenis FK453CC)

The one & only thing ‘wrong’ with Project Beast when we bought it was the rubber – as the rears were right on the legal limit at the pre-sale MOT.

And with Winter here and the roads thick with mud and slick with rain, ice and maybe even snow if we’re lucky, the right thing to do for safety and stability when bombing about in a 400bhp, 140mph, 2.5 tonne monster like the huge, supercharged Project Beast was to fit some new boots… nice, quality, grippy rubber boots.

Tyre choice is so critical, and so often overlooked. I’m in serious danger of repeating myself here, but your tyres are the only point of contact you have with the road. Fit rubbish and your grip levels will be rubbish – ruining the driving experience and compromising safety. And why would I want to do that with such a cracking car as Project Beast? And especially because it’s such a great big, heavy lump of an SUV and so darn fast. It should have cracking, capable rubber. End of story.

But what brand? Well, with a car that cost £90K new, it had to be a premium brand. And after having spent a wonderful time with the team at the Nürburgring 24-Hour in 2013 and seeing how dedicated their tyre technicians are to the rubber cause – not to mention seeing their Porsche GT3 R running at the front of the N24 (& coming forth in 2014) – I plumbed for the relatively young (launched in 1983), but immensely successful, establishment rocking brand that is Falken Tyres.

Back in January 2012, the Japanese tyre boffins at Falken launched a “new sports SUV-specific tyre delivering improved stability and handling with innovative construction and a novel tread pattern offering better high speed stability, feel and lower noise levels for performance SUVs.”

That tyre is Falken’s Azenis FK453CC – pitched directly at owners of premium SUV’s like the Range Rover & Sport, Porsche Cayenne, BMW X6, X3 and Audi Q7 – and it has proved to be a cracking seller, famed for its ability to improve the stability and feel whilst reducing any noise issues for SUVs.

fk453cc01

Falken’s Azenis FK453CC is available in 14 SUV sizes (with V, W and Y speed ratings) and is specifically created to meet the exacting demands of the performance SUV market – a huge growth sector (now the forth most popular in the UK and Germany).

Falken says: “To deliver the unique stability and higher speed requirements, coupled with the increased loading experienced with sportier SUVs, the Azenis FK453CC features a more warp-resistant casing construction than comparable tyres in its segment.

Secondly, the “NUR-Spec” design incorporates an additional, nylon-reinforced cover ply and more rigid sidewalls to improve stability, even at speeds up to 300km/h (186mph). This construction is complemented by a rounder tyre shoulder shape to optimise pressure deployment on the tread area. The result is a 21% improvement in steering stability over the previous S/TZ01 offering.

And with larger rim sizes and lower profiles commonplace on performance SUVs – like Project Beast’s 255/50×20 – Falken has also addressed a noise issue that is widely experienced and endured by drivers and passengers (although not really that much on the class-leading Range Rover, it has to be said).

“Thanks to the rounder shoulder and phase-shifted tread bars, pass-by noise is reduced by 15 percent compared with the tyre’s predecessor,” says Yukio Yoshida, Falken Tyre Europe’s corporate planning director.

Falken Tyres pride themselves on its ability to provide exceptional, sporting performance often at lower price point and this much is so true for the massive Range Rover rubber – coming in at just over £520 for a set of four (bargain!) – which are so big, you need a Range Rover to transport them!

IMG_3774

Over the years, the Silica percentage has been increased over the Azenis FK453CC’s predecessor to achieve “stronger interaction with the road surface, further enhancing steering responsiveness and handling.” Falken says dry handling in particular is improved, with grip levels up 14%.

Rigorous testing and benchmarking, including an extensive evaluation at the Nürburgring, leads Falken to believe its FK453CC surpasses its competitors in terms of high speed stability, wet and dry handling and hydroplaning resistance.

These are big claims. But, having seen what the N24 team are capable of and how humble Falken are about their highly capable brand, I am inclined to agree. And I’m certainly happy to buy into that.

“Resistance to hydroplaning, critical for heavier and taller SUVs, is up seven percent improvement thanks to advances in tread pattern,” continues Yoshida. “Three central tread grooves in the tread design allow efficient water deflection. In addition, the staggered sipes integrated into the first tread bar at the tyre shoulder break up the water film more effectively than conventional tread patterns.”

And it’s the tyre’s ability to deal with standing water that was the biggest thing I noticed on first testing impressions…

This Falken SUV rubber is SERIOUSLY good at ploughing through deep puddles – at S/C 400bhp 2.5 tonne Range Rover speeds – with no horrible aqua-planing, loss of traction or any worrying lack of stability. And that gives huge confidence to press on when its wet, which is fabulous in a big, quick SUV like this. The same is true under heavy braking, where the grip and associated security levels are certainly vastly improved over the worn rubber that was on the car. And the Range Rover is less prone to pushing its nose wide with understeer when deliberately provoked with a stupidly fast turn-in now. Impressed? Yup.

We’ve not had a chance to test the rubber in the dry yet, or the snow and ice. And we will also be taking Project Beast into its rightful environment soon too – off the beaten track on mud, wet grass, sand etc. (even though the Azenis FK453CC is a road rubber/soft road tyre, not one of Falken’s true off-road rubbers) – so we will report back on how the Falken rubber fairs, and indeed wears, over time and in different conditions.

But, for now, in the depths of Winter – when wet, muddy, slippery, leaf-covered roads full of deep puddles are the norm – we could not be happier with our choice of boots. They suit Project Beast well.

Falken’s Azenis FK453CC may be difficult to remember, spell or indeed pronounce, but should I be able to do any of the aforementioned, I’d very, very happily recommend them to fellow Range Rover and SUV owners.

Fitting @ STS Tyre Pros

We fitted the Falken tyres, as per usual, at our fabulous, local STS Tyre Pros (Wymondham, Norfolk branch, run by Simon & David).

I’ve had rally cars, track cars, offr-oad cars and project cars galore and as such, have been through a LOT of rubber in my life. As a result, I’ve been to many tyre fitting centres – but none as pleasant, fast, efficient, modern, well-equipped, neat and knowledgable as the STS brand (who pride themselves on top customer service)… and specifically, this branch.

Even in the deep dark grime of Winter, the garage is cleaner than most vets, whilst the customer waiting area (transparently open to the workshop) is warm and loaded with a plasma TV, fish tank, magazines and an awesome hot drinks vending machine, to amuse while you wait. There’s even a super clean loo!

But, best of all, the enthusiast chaps doing the fitting inspire extreme confidence with their expertise and warm, open, friendly customer service. They are consummate professionals, taking pride in their work – which is just what you want, where you’re in for one of their free Winter checks, a wheel alignment tor for a full rubber swap on a premium SUV with 20-inch rims like Project Beast. And as well as being friendly and fast, STS did the fitting at a very affordable price too. Thanks folks – you offer a rich, rewarding “one-stop-shop” tyre fitting experience. STS Tyre Pros has over 40 centres across England and offers all major tyre brands, from budget to premium, with a wide range available for both cars and 4x4s.  The helpful staff pride themselves on offering expert advice and quality service, including laser alignment at all centres and basic servicing items at many too.

For your nearest location and details of any special offers, visit www.tyrepros.co.uk. Highly recommended chaps.

See a load more pics of the tyres & fitting on our Facebook page.

IMG_3781

IMG_3780 IMG_3787 IMG_3785 IMG_3789 IMG_3798 IMG_3801 IMG_3811 IMG_3810IMG_3808 IMG_3807