As a boy racing youth, pretty much everything I spent on my hot hatches was with one thing in mind – more power, leading to more speed… or so I thought anyway.
But the older I’ve got and the more motorsport and track miles I’ve done, the more I realised power is one factor for aiding speed, but if you want to be really fast there’s one thing that’s more important than any other component… proper rubber.
It’s very obvious I know, but the only point of contact you have with the road surface – your tyres – really, really matters. And the better the rubber, the more contact they will have and therefore the greater the grip they will generate, in very simplistic terms.
And it’s grip you need for speed… but also for safety. And it’s safety that’s the primary concern for our run-about Project UP!
As the Road Magazine family daily driver – designed with transporting the most precious cargo about on a daly basis – safety is paramount. Especially with the slippery leaves of Autumn falling onto increasingly wet, then Wintery, cold, icy roads.
Being brutally honest, the tyres on Project UP! have never been in the greatest condition from when we bought it earlier this year. In fact, the rears were on an advisory on the January MOT – and that was before I started hooning around in it. My tyre demolition habits are well documented.
So new boots were definitely required for Project UP! And the main aim was for a pair of really good wet weather Winter wellies, to see us through the dark, slippery months safely.
Enter a brand I admire who know more than a thing or two about dealing with wet, slippery, muddy, difficult conditions – rallying experts Kumho.
Go to any rally event in the UK (or indeed further afield) and you will find a ton of the field Kumho-shod. And for good reasons.
The Korean test centre are exceptionally talented at manufacturing tyres designed for dealing with difficult dirt, mud, water, ice and snow. Although, that’s not to say the brand – consistently in the top 10 tyre brands in the world – is all about dirty, wet weather tyres. Their successes in Formula 3 are documented and growing, along with other circuit racing activities. And they were recently worn to set an unofficial road car record at Goodwood by the phenomenal BAC Mono.
All of this adds up to a company who know how to make proper rubber, and at great prices too. And if they’re good enough for the special stages and record breaking rocket ships like the BAC Mono, they’re certainly going to be good enough for the 75bhp Project UP!
The tyre we went for is new to the range in 2015, the Kumho ECSTA HS51 (c£50 per tyre in the 185/55×16 we needed & depending where you go to get them of course).
Kumho says: “With wet weather on the way, you’ll need some tyres designed to handle the ever unpredictable UK weather and the ECSTA HS51 should certainly do the trick! Our latest high-performance offering, the ECSTA HS51, was awarded a ‘recommended’ rating in the recent test by the highly regarded German consumer magazine, ACE Lenkrad. The HS51 made its impact during the aquaplaning and wet braking challenges, showcasing its ‘strong wet road performance.’ Now, that’s something you want to hear from a tyre!”
Indeed it is!
First impressions of the tyres are superb. Is it weird to say they are good looking? Well, even if it is… they are. Even my wife says so.
I’ve fitted, used, abused and tested a LOT of tyres in my time, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen such deep circumferential grooves, and the lateral grooves are really wide too. All of this is designed for optimum water displacement, which is just what I want, to avoid the dangers of aqua-planing and to help find grip on wet Wintery roads.
As usual, we go to our local STS Tyre Pros in Wymondham for fitment of the new Kumho tyres. The STS lads are quick, efficient, careful and offer a nice, clean, relaxing, coffee-fuelled, WiFi-assisted waiting area too – not that you ever wait long, as they are rally service area quick, which is fitting for a rally-heritage-rich set of rubber! And they even fitted nice looking chrome valve caps FOC. And you can’t say fairer than that eh? Cheers chaps!
Post speedy fitting, it’s perfect testing conditions for us – dry on fitting day and raining cats and dogs the next.
Going from balding, barely legal tyres to fresh rubber is always going to feel good, but the difference really is phenomenal.
Believe it or not, Project UP!’s 75 wild horses were actually capable of breaking traction quite regularly on the old rubber – even in the dry – where wheel spin from setting off too sharply (old 60-foot drag racing habits die hard!), from too much speed on turn-in and from getting on the power too early, or deliberately provoking the tail into a slide with a big lift-off was easily done. Unsafe, in the wrong hands…
And in the wet, the old tyres always felt like they could let go, even at normal speeds, pretty much anywhere.
Not so the Kumhos. These sticky little, deep grooved monsters gripped like a toddler to her mum after a big trip and fall – and that’s in the dry, riding new-found, hitherto inexperienced levels of traction for Project UP!
And in the wet, they are just superb and even more impressive.
To give you a real world example, there’s a bend near our office (on a private track), which is open to see if anyone’s coming and I regularly like to go in too fast – provoking understeer – then lift off – provoking oversteer. Just for “testing” purposes, of course…
Well, entering the bend at the same (if not more speed) than usual – and with the slippery, mud-covered rural lane tarmac covered in wet leaves – the little UP! just turned in and stuck to its line. No understeer. No need to lift and slide the tail around. No fuss. In fact, even when I repeated the run and did provoke the back end, it barely moved. And blitzing through standing water, deep puddles is a breeze – with those big, deep grooves channelling the rivers of water away no worries.
I’m really impressed.
And they are quiet too, which I didn’t expect, or indeed really care about (the UP! is good at many things, but quietness and low NVH ain’t its strong suits).
I’m pretty sure the only downside of all this grip will be a potential drop in fuel economy due to the increase in rolling resistance – but that’s not something you need to worry about in a 1-litre, three-cylinder UP! that’s capable of 70mpg (if you believe the Volkswagen figures that is, but the less sad about that for now, the better!). So all things considered, the new Kumho tyres are fantastic: They look great and generate monster grip, in dreadful conditions.
The ECSTA HS51 is available for 15 to 18 inch rims, in widths from 185 to 245mm, and V and W speed ratings. So, before you buy Pirelli, Michelin, Continental or whatever… stop. Think Kumho…