When it comes to safety and performance of any car, it all comes down to one thing. Tires. Regardless of engine upgrades, suspension tuning, weight reduction or anything else you do to your vehicle, all that tuning still has to go through those four little rubber patches to meet the road. Tires have long been thought to be a small piece of the performance puzzle, with recent advancements in tread design and rubber compounds, the tire has become a much higher point on many enthusiasts’ lists.

One company that has seen large success over the last few years is Cooper Tires. Thanks to a growing portfolio, a smattering of consumer awards and an aggressive pricing strategy, Cooper is moving to the top of the aftermarket hill. To demonstrate some of its newest wares the Cooper Zeon line of tires, AutoTalk was invited to the Cooper Tire Testing Center just outside of San Antonio Texas, for some competitive comparison driving.

The tires we would be driving were the Cooper Tires Zeon RS3-S summer tire, and the Zeon RS3-A all-season tire. The competitors they would be lined up against were the BF Goodrich Sport COMP-2 and the Toyo Proxes 4.

The day started with a pair of Corvette convertibles and a wet skidpad. The Pad had a lengthy course marked by cones with varying turns and chicanes to test foul-weather handling at the limit. While the wet surface did little to aid feedback from the tires it is worth noting that my best time in the BFG tires was about 59 seconds, while my best time on the Cooper Zeon RS3-S tires was almost three seconds faster at just over 56 seconds. After some time at the wet pad we took the Corvettes over to a dry handling course. In the dry, the tires provided more feedback, and subtle differences began to emerge. We found the Cooper Tires to have a stronger “on-center” while the BFGs provided a higher level of general information. Both tires are extremely closely matched, and it is hard to choose between the two on performance alone. We do have to add that we did not have a chance to explore the tire on long maintained speed runs, so the tire noise and general ride quality was not evaluated.

To give us an example of what the tires were capable of in the hands of a professional driver, we were taken a round the dry track in a mildly modified Mercedes C63 AMG, by one of Cooper’s full time test drivers.

After the time we spent in the Corvettes evaluating the summer tires, we switched over to a pair of Ford Mustangs to test the all-season Zeon RS3-A against the Toyo Proxes 4. This entire test took place on the wet skidpad, and immediately there was a massively pronounced difference. The Toyo tire on the wet skidpad demonstrated dramatic loss of handling and performance. It felt more akin to driving on snow, than merely hydroplaning through some water. While traction was negligible, we can say that the car was still controllable, but only just. The Zeon tires, however, proved to be quite adept at coping with the water. A solid and stable ride was present at speed much higher than those attainable in the Toyo equipped Mustang. As we managed to reach the edge of adhesion the car gracefully started to slide and demonstrated very predictable characteristics. This gave us the ability to easily control the vehicle beyond the limit in the wet.

While we regret that we were not able to test some of the “livability” factors of the tires, we still felt that a valuable level of knowledge was gained. Most consumers will never receive a chance to competitively test and compare tires back-to-back, and we revel in the ability to share our knowledge and experience. Our overall takeaway from the experience is that Cooper Tires is pushing the boundaries of what tire manufacturers are currently capable of. While there is little difference between the BFG and S model Zeon RS3s, the incredible improvement presented over the Toyo tires on the wet skidpad is enough to sway our judgment in favor of Cooper.

Just how impressed were we with the all-weather Zeon RS3-As? We plan on swapping the Continental ContiProContact tires on our daily driver for a set in the very near future.

Bravo Cooper Tires.

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