Tires can make or break a car. It’s no more apparent than in racing, where in Formula 1 the difference between the “soft” and “hard” tires is as much as 1.5 seconds a lap. That is an eternity. It translates to road cars: Not only do good tires affect the level of cornering grip, but they also affect steering feel and preciseness, and aid in acceleration and deceleration as well. Go further and they impact ride quality and fuel efficiency. Tires really do mean everything. On a sports car, tires mean even more.
With my Miata desperately needing to shed its factory, too-old-to-be-safe, and hopelessly worn summers, it was time to pursue the options. The tires would need to be daily-driver, road-trip, autocross, mountain road, and commute capable on my little Mazda. Our good friends at Michelin stepped in and sent over a set of their PS4S Ultra High-Performance tires for test. I’m happy to report that, as a self-admitted tire snob and obsessor, I am pleased with the max-performance summer tire’s competence in, well, every condition.
First impressions: Holy ride quality improvement moly. It didn’t take half of my two-mile commute home to realize the ride quality. Given, the existing, OEM eight-year-old tires were dry-rotted, extremely worn, and, yes, as hard as hockey pucks. The city is hardly the place to examine at-the-limit cornering. It is, however, absolutely is the place to see how a tire deals with real-life, in-your-spine realities. But immediately, minor imperfections all but disappeared. It was truly like putting new suspension on the car. Potholes, construction joints, any uneven or broken road surface: The PS4S has proven soft enough to absorb bad pavement well, but hard enough to maintain the rigidity of the sidewall even under hard cornering load.
Out on the highway proves pleasant as well. The Miata is not a quiet car to be in at cruising speed, but the OEM tires were always the loud point prior to the PS4S installation. Now it’s wind noise, as road noise has largely subsided. Proves how bad and bald the old tires were.
When the first day of heavy rain rolled around I did what any enthusiast would do to have some low-speed, slidey fun: Disabled traction control. But in this case, it was to see how the PS4S fared in the wet when left to its own devices. The answer? Remarkably. The Miata is a low-powered car but even so, prodding the throttle with vigor was hardly able to get the back end out. Traction proved truly difficult to break free of. There’s one corner on my commute home that, with my old tires, I could slide even in the dry. With the PS4S, it’s difficult to drift even with traction and stability control off. The confidence these tires inspire is astounding.
That becomes even more apparent on the drive to-and-from my parents’ house. It’s a route about 25 miles door-to-door. A full half of that is on twisty, winding backroads. They weave through the woods, rising and falling, with every kind of corner you can imagine. There are long sweepers, banked tighter and wider turns, some of decreasing radius, and so on. It’s a test of a car and of tires. The first time I did the drive on the PS4S I laughed half the way to my parents’ house because of how much grip the car gained and how easy it was to go double-digit speeds faster than before.
For reference, on my last few “runs” I’ve kept up with cars of much higher power figures (and prices) than my little Miata. You manage your speed with the gas pedal and the steering wheel, not so much with the brakes. The PS4S allows you to maximize this. Momentum car, yes, and with the Michelins, there’s hardly a time you have to slow down much. Which is why they’re such a great tire. The Michelin PS4S simply optimizes the Miata’s strengths.
Is the tire too good? Does it detract from the MX-5’s playfulness? Does the car still feel light on its feet? I was worried that eliminating some of the scares that made the old tires exciting would in turn make the car less fun. That’s not the case. Now it’s just comically impressive in the corners. Braking is hardly necessary around town. And on the tight Connecticut back-roads, they don’t stand a chance. Entrance and exit ramps are min race-tracks. More so than before, the roads feel like the Miata’s personal stomping grounds. It’s not a fast car, never will be, but now it sticks like one.
As impressed as I was with Michelin’s X-Ice Xi3 winter tires, the PS4S has gone even further. While I haven’t yet had a chance to try them out in an autocross event, the plan is to do so before the season is over. I haven’t yet been able to explore their performance at-the-limit. But I expect more of the same in regards to the grip and predictability.
I’ve put about 5,000 miles on the Michelin PS4S tires since installing them on my Miata this spring. In that time they have barely worn while providing a high level of ride comfort thanks in part to the lack of noise. And, of course, relentless grip. The kind of grip that brings such a massive performance gain (at least in my case) that it incites laughter. The city roads and mundane commute life that the Miata has been resigned to in 2020 aren’t kind to tires. Or sports cars at all for that matter. But the PS4S has impressed me in every way, from helping mitigate potholes to clawing ferociously around every corner I’ve hucked the little Mazda. Installing the Michelin PS4S proved transformative, in only the best of ways. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.
[Disclaimer: Michelin provided this set of tires free of cost.]