The name Cooper might not bring up mental pictures of high-speed racing like Formula One or NASCAR, but the company certainly knows what it’s doing when it comes to a high-performance street tire.
Providing tires for racing series throughout the world, like the British Formula 3, and the US F2000 racing series, Cooper has experience making tires that stick. They also have some experience torturing tires, providing rubber to a number of Formula D drifting teams.
With that in mind, we set out to test Cooper’s new Zeon RS3-S ultra-high performance summer tire on a car down for its drift-ability, the Scion FR-S.
WHAT IS A ULTRA HIGH PERFORMANCE TIRE?
An ultra-high-performance (UHP) tire is meant to provide the ultimate levels of grip and handling in dry, and even a bit of wet. They’re not at all made to deal with snow and ice, and colder weather will turn them into hockey pucks. With an asymmetric design (meaning they have a different pattern across the width of the tire) and a square footprint, the Zeon RS3-S tires aim to put as much tire on the road, so that you’ll have grip no matter the circumstance.
If you’re used to looking at all-season tires these UHP ones will look a little bare. There’s no siping to deal with snow and slush. However, there are a few important features in the design of the rubber. Closer to the outside of the tire, the tread blocks are thick, helping to optimize grip and handling, while reducing noise. There are also larger tread patterns closer to the outside of the edge to improve high-speed stability. On the inner half of the tire, the tread is optimized for wet conditions with multiple lateral grooves. It’s also important to point out the large ‘spine’ that goes all the way around the tire, which helps prevent hydroplaning.
For specs the Coopers have a 300 tread wear rating, AA traction rating and A temperature rating, they are also available in W and Y speed ratings. Other UHP tires feature better tread wear ratings, so the Cooper offerings might wear out sooner than the competition. In terms of appearances, the Coopers look slick and clean, making your sports coupe or sedan look serious with these equipped. Our test car was equipped with 215/45/17R (which is the OEM size for the FR-S) and were wrapped around a gorgeous set of 17″AXIS Xplode wheels, available exclusively from Tire Rack.
1. The Cooper Zeon RS3-S tires are available in a number of sizes from 17 to 20-inch diameters.
2. Widths range from 205 to 275.
For reference, we have a set of Michelin Primacy HP summer tires, the stock rubber on our Scion FR-S test car. As the OEM choice for both the FR-S and BRZ, the tires are fairly quiet, and provide little rolling resistance, which leads to better fuel economy. At the limit, the stock tires give up quite easily, however, and will quickly send the rear wheel drive Scion and Subaru into a hero-esque drift. Surprisingly, they’re also only rated at a 240 tread wear meaning they should deteriorate at a faster rate than the Coopers.
Tested at our usual track, we managed a 1:28.627 lap time. The Michelin’s aren’t ideal for quick times but they do make the car fun to drive, letting you hang the tail out easily but also recover with little effort. What we wanted to see is how much extra grip the Coopers would deliver and if these UHP tires would stop the car from drifting entirely, diminishing the fun-to-drive nature of the car.
ON THE TRACK
After having loads of fun (sideways) in the Scion FR-S on the Michelin Primacy HP tires, we switched them out for the Cooper Zeon RS3-S tires. Immediately, the extra grip from the Cooper tires could be felt through acceleration and braking. The new rubber also grips considerably better and holds on much longer than the Michelins in the high speed corners. Steering response is improved, making the sharp FR-S feel even more agile.
It’s at the absolute limit that the Coopers act particularly interesting for a UHP tire. Where many affordable alternatives hold on to their limit, then break loose without warning, the Zeon RS3-S provide a considerable amount of audible feedback before the car gets sideways, and is easily controllable once you reach the limit. In fact, the best way to describe the Zeon RS3-S tires is that they’re like the Michelin Primacy HP tires but with a higher limit.
The Cooper tires whipped the FR-S around the track in 1:26.607, about two seconds faster than the Michelins, and it’s no surprise why. With much stiffer sidewalls and sticky rubber keeping the FR-S planted to the track, the little Scion is able to accelerate sooner when exiting a turn.
The new tires resulted in greater lateral and longitudinal G’s on the aftermarket tires. Even better was how composed the car is when trail-braking (braking and turning at the same time.) In every measurable statistic, the new Cooper tires are an improvement over the Michelins. Even braking feels better, and we ended up braking later for turns than we did on the stock tires.
The extra grip is much appreciated, and it’s amazing how a set of tires transforms the car, getting it around the track much faster than before. It’s also worth mentioning that the Cooper Zeon RS3-S are cheaper than many of its rival UHP tires (a quick online search found them half the price of the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2.)
While prices will vary, we found the Coopers for as little as just over $100 a tire, whereas the stock Michelins run $198 a piece.
MINOR ANNOYANCES, IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE
Off the track the Coopers are significantly stiffer than the stock Michelins we had on the FR-S. While this certainly helps in high-speed cornering, it was a noticeable, if minor annoyance on the road.
Confidence in the rain and wet conditions is, however, quite high, something that’s not common for UHP tires. Finally, tire noise was about the same as the stock Michelins, which isn’t bad at all.
Overall, we drove away impressed with Cooper’s Zeon RS3-S UHP tire. Not only did it make for a noticeably faster car, but in our test it retained the Scion’s carefully planned and extremely unique driving dynamics too.