Pros: Street tires comparable to racing tires without the cost and wear issues
Cons: Availabilty, Treadwear
Wow, it's been almost a year since my last Epinions review... I've been busy racing my car and working on them, and in that time, I discovered a little secret called Falken Azenis tires. These are possibly the stickiest street tires for your price that is currently out there. If you could compute a tire's amount of stickiness per dollar, I think this would be the winner.
At the price of your average economy passenger car tires, you can get some serious race-slick-like performance tires. Who can resist that? Most tires in the "performance" category for, say a 15" wheel size, will cost you around $120-150 a tire. Azenis Sport tires cost about $65 a tire. And the secret is, that these tires actually perform far better than any of those "well known" performance tires out there.
Most notable feature of this tire is that the tread blocks are huge and chunky. A big percentage of the tire surface is in contact with the road, which translates to bigger "contact patch" which in turn translates to lots of grip. Another feature is the softness of the rubber compound. You can literally dig your nails into the tread (though not quite like the way you can with a true racing tire). This tells you that the compound is soft, and that's one of the easiest way to make a sticky tire. Of course, the tradeoff of that is tire wear-- don't expect to get 50,000 miles out of these tires, because you will not. It's probably closer to something like 7,000 miles depending on your driving style (and whether you race on them or not).
Another important property of this tires is the sidewall stiffness-- they are very stiff. This means that the side of the tire facing out is less willing to bend (or "roll over" we say in racing) under hard cornering conditions. You will almost never hear these tires "squeal" (which is the sound created by a sidewall that is rolling over).
And lastly, you will notice that the sidewall is almost perpendicular to the tire tread area. It doesn't gradually curve from the sidewall to the tread area like most other tires. What this means is that for a given tire width, the Falzen Azenis Sport will have a wider width than other comparable tires of the same "width" amount: a 215mm Azenis is wider than a 215mm other tire. There is more tread contacting the road than most other tires. This again, translates to better grip.
In case you missed the point, these tires are all about maximum grip. For a "street" tire, I should add. All of its features and design exist to maximize grip.
I bought a set of 205/50VR15 Azenis Sport mounted on 15x7" wheels for my 1986 MR2, so that I could have a set of wheels that I could run on the street and when it was raining. The only other set of tires/wheels I have for this car are racing tires, which are dangerous/scary to drive on the street when it's raining.
For the kind of street driving I do, I noticed that the car is very responsive to steering input, and on corners, it grips very well. So I just had to "test" my street tires out on an autocross course to do a comparison to my racing tires. What I found out surprised me.
I'd estimate that these tires have about 75-80% of the grip of my dedicated racing tires, yet have the advantage of: 1) being able to run on the street, 2) being able to run in the rain, 3) costing a lot cheaper, and 4) lasting a lot longer. One wet day at the autocross track, a co-driver and I both were able to beat everyone in our class (who were running race tires) with my Azenis.
For the racers, I'd simply say that the biggest difference between the Azenis Sport and your typical racing tire is that the breakaway characteristics of this tire is slightly more gradual. But like a racing tire, there is no audible response from the tires when it's about to lose grip, which is typical of a street tire.
I've ran these tires also on a road track (Lime Rock Park in Connecticut), and they held on fine. And the best part is, that I still have so much tread left on my tires! It's very convenient to just drive up to the track, run with the same tires you came with, and drive back home. No need to switch to race tires. For someone doing it for "fun" (and not particularly concerned with winning), this is a perfect setup.
One other bad thing about these tires is availablity. Both in size selection, and retail store availability. These tires, unfortunately, only come in 6 popular sizes at the moment:
So if your car/wheel setup cannot use the above 6 sizes, then you cannot run these tires. I'm hoping that Falken will add a few more sizes to their selection in the coming years.
Also, there aren't that many places to buy these tires from. A lot retail stores in my area don't stock them. And online, you can get them from two places that I recommend: 1) Discount Tire Direct (www.tires.com) and 2) Vulcan Tire Sales (www.vulcantire.com). Their prices are comparable, sometimes Vulcan having cheaper prices once you work out the shipping costs. I'd recommend buying them online and having a local tire shop install them on your wheels for you. Make sure to tell the installer to use a lot of soap/lubrication when mounting the tires because of the unusually stiff sidewalls.
You can check out photos of these tires on my car here at: http://community.webshots.com/user/mike325ci (cut/paste into your browser). You'll see what I mean by perpendicular sidewall and you can see the tread pattern of my tires.