GT Radial are on a mission to prove that Chinese tyre companies aren't all alike, and they seem to be succeeding. With a group turnover of over $4billion, they're one of the top ten tyre manufacturers in the world, and have over 32,000 staff distributing in more than 130 countries worldwide.
The latest tyre from GT Radial is the SportActive. Designed to be fitted in 17" and above, it's GT Radials first attempt at a ultra high performance tyre since investing heavily in European R&D (coincidentally located in the same town as Continental), and also their first sports tyre to take advantage of having bases of operations at seven test tracks around the world, resulting in year round development and testing.
Even with all this investment, GT Radial are being sensible with their aspirations for this round of development. The new SportActive isn't meant to be a Michelin or Continental beater, but GT Radial hope it gets them on terms with their better known, and more respected rivals such as Toyo, Nexen and Maxxis.
In order to prove how far GT Radial have come with the SportActive, we were invited out to the renowned circuit of Ascari to test the SportActive against the very competitors they hope to benchmark against.
While objective testing on the day was limited, we had a good opportunity to drive on the SportActive in the dry and the wet. The wet tests were carried out using a MK7 Golf GTI wearing 225/40 R18 and put the new tyre up against the Maxxis Victra Sport VS01, and the dry tests used an Audi TTS wearing 245/40 R18 against a Toyo T1 Sport, alongside a Mini Cooper S JCW wearing 205/45 R17 tested against the Kumho Ecsta LE Sport KU39.
The wet west circuit at Ascari highlighted the advantage the new GT Radial has over the Maxxis when the rain starts. Over the short lap, the Golf GTI had a better turn in, higher levels of grip mid corner and a better balance, with less snap oversteer. It might not have had the ultimate balance or grip of a premium tyre, but it fared very well against its peer.
In the dry tests the Mini and the Audi offered very different characteristics of cars to test, and the SportActive proved to be excellent on both. During the testing on the Mini, the GT Radial felt balanced, strong on the nose and had a good consistent weight on the steering. In direct comparison, the Kumho was disappointing, offering notably lower levels of grip in the dry, with the steering offering little communication and plenty of understeer if you tried to throttle out of, or brake into a corner.
On the TTS, the Toyo might have had the slight advantage in overall grip, but the GT Radial delivered what it had with more accuracy. Where the Toyo had a light, almost numb center steering feel, and was slightly hesitant to obtain slip angle, the GT Radial felt much more direct on the front axle which resulted in a more enjoyable driving experience. This will likely translate to the Toyo having a slight comfort advantage on the road, but we'd need further testing to confirm this.
The other big point GT Radial were keen to make is the wear of the new tyre. GT Radial had the independant test body IFV run wear tests on the SportActive, with the results showing an estimated tread life of 40,000 kms on the front axle.
Compared to a similar test run by Dekra with the premium manufacturers, the test winning Michelin was only projected at 30,000 kms under similar driving.
Under the EU tyre labeling the new GT Radial scores a wet braking result of B, rolling resistance of B or C, has a nice sporty feel and promises to wear extremely well. When compared to well established rivals such as Toyo and Kumho, it proves to be at least an equal in the limited driving we've had on the tyre.
While the premium manufacturers don't have to worry just yet, GT Radial have proven Chinese tyre manufacturers shouldn't all be tarred with the same brush, and have made a tyre with an excellent price / performance ratio.