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In the automotive journalism space, when you hear the words “product launch,” you immediately think a manufacturer is launching a new model of car, and they want some journos to go lash it around to see how well it performs and measures up against the competition. Every so often, a tire manufacturer will latch onto a launch event, letting the media test the new vehicle with a tire that suits its characteristics, so I was a little confused when we got an invite from Michelin only to test their new Pilot Sport 4S tires. Little did I know, the event, which they appropriately call an “experience,” would blow many OEM launches I’d been on in the past out of the water.

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We arrived in Palm Springs, California, to learn we would be splitting our day up between two driving events to test the Pilot Sport 4S (PS4S): one in and around Joshua Tree National Park, and the other at The Thermal Club racetrack. As someone who just finished his last season on a set of very well used Pilot Super Sports – the tires that the PS4S has replaced – I was really looking forward to seeing how the new Pilots would measure up.

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The “4” in the PS4S’s name stands for fourth generation, as in the fourth in the lineup of Pilot Sport models - Pilot Sport, Pilot Sport PS2, and Pilot Super Sport (PSS) being the predecessors. As well as expanding on everything the PSS offered, the PS4S also borrowed some technology from one of its older brothers, the Pilot Sport Cup 2, in the form of a hybrid belt made from Kevlar and nylon, which helps the tire keep its shape at high speeds and increases the variable contact patch design the tire carries. Michelin developed, patented, and manufactured two types of rubber that make up the multi-tread compound construction of the PS4S. The inside shoulder of the tire sees an increase of silica, adding cornering stability and bolstering braking performance in the wet, while the outer features a carbon black material that dissipates heat for better dry grip.

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Our first batch of testing for the day would be behind the wheel of a Ferrari California T, followed by an Audi R8 V10, and finally a Mercedes-Benz C63S AMG, all of which were, of course, equipped with PS4Ss.

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We were able to push these cars (except for the R8 due to a killjoy park ranger) with some aggressive braking and cornering against the picturesque landscape, in and around Joshua Tree. Doing straight lines as fast as we could after each other in the C63 felt very comfortable and planted, encouraging some pretty late braking. Also, the noise from the tires spinning against the road was fairly low while doing their work, allowing the fantastic noises the engines and exhausts on these cars made to flood the cabin instead.

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After finishing up on the streets, we were greeted to the sounds of Porsche CUP cars practicing on the track when we arrived at the gorgeous Thermal Club facility. The rest of our day was made up of testing the PS4Ss on M model BMWs on the track, and on 340i Bimmers on the auto-x course.

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On the track was a lead and follow exercise in M3s, chasing an instructor in an M2. The racing instructor was on a one-way walkie-talkie the whole time, encouraging myself and a colleague to push the limit of our driving, saying we had the grip to do so. He was never wrong. There were times when I would think I’d lose it because of how far I thought I was pushing the tires, but the grip was always there, keeping myself and my M3 planted as we progressively took corners faster and faster. The trickle down effect of motorsport technology, especially from Michelin’s experience in LeMans, is extremely evident when these tires are pushed.

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Moving to the auto-x course, a sprinkler truck had just finished laying down an extremely wet first corner for us to come into. After that corner, we would move onto a challenging series of turns and obstacles, as laid out by pylons, all the way until a braking section at the end of the run, which measured our 60-to-0-mph braking distance.

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As we acclimatized ourselves to the track and improved our times, we then swapped over to a competitor tire on a different 340i. I hopped into the Pirelli-PZero-Nero-GT-equipped BMW, hearing really positive reviews about the tire and thinking it would be very comparable. Turns out I was wrong. All the newfound confidence I had found with the PS4S was soon dashed with the PZeros, as I found the rear becoming unrulier, and could hear protest from the tires as they struggled to cling to the track while whipping around pylons. The stopping difference was also very noticeable, taking about nine extra feet to come to a complete stop at the end of the lane. Getting back into the PS4Ss right after to feel the difference again sealed the deal.

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Twenty-sixteen saw many tire manufacturers closing in on the Pilot Super Sport, which held the ultra-high performance tire crown for the longest time, but the PS4S has now propelled Michelin even further ahead of the pack. After spending a full day in Palm Springs ripping around on Michelin’s latest, comparing it to the predecessor from daily use, and the competition in competitive driving, I can confidently say that Michelin’s Pilot Sport 4S tires are above and beyond any performance tires I’ve tested thus far. For more information on Michelin tires, visit https://www.michelinman.com.

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