WATCH: Continental launches SportContact 7 with a stern warning

Tyre testing, or the launch of a new tyre, is not something that commonly attracts the attention of South Africans.

Compared to the debut of a new car, the announcing of a new tyre isn’t as well broadcasted on local soil as it is in Europe.

Tyre testing: Pay attention

Over on the Old Continent, the chance to get acquainted with a new tyre, and test it, happens on a regular basis and often involves a racetrack and an assortment of heavy metal with lots of performance.

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In a sense of irony, it can be seen as worrying that little care is being payed to tyres given the conditions of their roads and, it has to be said, our lax attitude in general.

Arguably, many South Africans simply view tyres as items that will continue without fault forever, only to express horror at the notion of replacing them once the canvas starts showing.

This is then followed by the age old perception of “all tyres are the same” and “why do I need to spend a fortune when I can buy cheap ones? There is no difference. Tyres are tyres, right?”

ALSO READ: Treading the line between budget and premium

As a means of disapproving this once and for all, Continental used the unveiling of its new SportContact 7 last week to simulate what is likely to be an all too familiar phenomenon in South Africa; a high-powered car driven in anger without due care in wet and dry conditions on cheap and quality tyres.

SportContact 7 has been in the works for six years.

Although well vested in what was to come after experiencing the difference three years ago at the Aldo Scribante racetrack outside Port Elizabeth, now Gqeberha, the cars on offer were anything but the Ford Fiestas and BMW 320is driven at said event.

With the launch taking place at the Zwartkops racetrack, both the cheapies and the new SportContact 7’s were bolted on Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S and C63 S supplied by the AMG Driving Academy.

New rubber

Before being let loose on the track though, there was the business of getting familiar with the SportContact 7 which, after six years, replaces the SportContact 6 as Continental’s new flagship tyre.

Continuing a lineage stretching back to 1994 with the debut of the SportContact 1, the SportContact 7 put emphasis squarely on high performance as it comes in sizes ranging from 18-inches to 23-inches, width measurements of 225 mm to 335 mm and a Y-rating that allows for a speed up to 300 km/h.

New rubber not only an improvement over the old SportContact 6 in the wet, but on average, four second better off than the budget brand.

Already approved by Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, Audi’s RS division, Porsche, Lamborghini, McLaren, Renault for the Megane RS, Volkswagen for the Golf R and Mini for the Cooper S, Stellantis has also given the thumbs up for use on the Maserati Levante and Quattroporte, as well as on the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde (QV).

What makes it so special?

Compared to the SportContact 6, the SportContact 7 features an adaptive tread pattern designed to not only shift loads better in dry conditions, but disperse water in greater quantities when the surface becomes wet.

As part of the pattern, the SportContact 7 boasts a new macro block tread on the outside should of the tyre, as well as what Continental calls force clustering for the actual carcass designed to specifically to suit the weight of the vehicle it will eventually go on.

New adaptive tread pattern and macro block design.

The final ingredient is the Harmonised BlackChili compound Continental says “balances out various conflicting objectives to achieve excellent handling characteristics, while also significantly increasing mileage”.

Based on internal tests, the inclusion of the compound has resulted in the SportContact 7 being 17% longer lasting than the SportContact 6, 10% better on the racetrack, six percent better in dry braking conditions and eight percent better when braking in the wet.

Put to the test

The proof of the various changes then had to be experienced in practice and in three different conditions; wet, dry and mixed using the skidpan and the Zwartkops track.

For the first test, it was off to the skidpan where two C63 S’ waited; one fitted with the SportContact 7s and the other with the budget rubber.

Both were set to Sport+ mode and as the course was a dual slalom over two laps each, we had the opportunity to experience both tyres twice.  

In wet conditions, the SportContact 7 shows its mantle by inspiring confidence whilst remaining grippy.

Needless to say, the outcome was shocking as the budget tyre made the C63 S difficult to handle and prone to understeer on turn-in.

With almost no grip, each prod of the accelerator activated the traction control as well as provoking oversteer with each direction change.

Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen with the SportContact 7 as the level of control and grip was such that more use of the throttle beckoned as a result of the confidence to do so.

Sharp turn-in maintained both speed and traction whereas the budget brand resulted in a spin.

The second test, also with the C63 S’, involved a short stretch of the track, but only with the SportContact 7 as a way of demonstrating the adaptive tread pattern and macro blocks.

At full almost full chat, the tyres coped without drama despite the massive cornering forces exerted, plus the rapid reverse rotation of the anchors being applied from high speed.

As the case had been on the skidpan, a slalom had been set up and despite fears of potentially spinning out, the tyres gripped without letting go in spite of being punished as C63 S’ weight came down hard with each turn from left to right.

Side-to-side load shifting didn’t upset the balance or result in a loss of grip.

For the final test, the budget tyres returned and like the SportContact 7s, bolted onto the CLA 45 S for an everyday common occurrence; a sharp turn-in onto a wet and then dry surface.

Trying the SportContact 7s first, the CLA glided through the wet patch and remained under control with no loss of traction or grip.

Changing over the budget tyres though, it immediately lost rear wheel traction and needed quick hands on the wheel to correct the slide as it hit the wet surface.

The second time around, the inevitable happened as the tyres lost their hold and despite this writer’s best attempt to catch the slide, the CLA rotated with its nose facing the direction it had just come from.

Conclusion

As had been the case at Aldo Scribante, the entertaining aspect of spinning out is prone to have the opposite effect in real life than in the controlled environment we had been in.

It was, in fact, scary to know that vehicles with the same, or more power than the ones we had been driving are fitted with inadequate tyres, simply because of the owner’s reluctance to fork-out for a recommended brand in spite of the car’s six or seven figure price tag.

In the case of the Continental SportContact 7, the six year gap between it and the SportContact 6, as well as the final result, made for an impressive conclusion, in addition to finally denouncing the adage of “all tyres are the same” in the most graphic way possible.

For more on the Continental SportContact 7 range, click here.

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