When a tire brand reaches out about a tire test day, what you typically expect is a bit of time at the wheel on a closed course, packaged with hours of brand execs preaching to you about the countless ways they believe that they are the best game in town. While the first half of this was true about my recent test session with the folks from Sailun Tire, the brand’s communication practices were equal parts refreshing and informative. Sailun tire is no small organization, having first opened its doors in 2002 in Qingdao, China—smack in the heart of where the majority of Chinese manufacture tires are produced. The brand has been growing steadily in the North American market over the years, continually proving themselves as a manufacturer that delivers solid quality and great value, as well as exceptional customer service and support.
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Not Just Another Chinese Tire Brand
Sailun knew going into western markets that there would be some general pushback on account of the public misconception that Chinese manufactured goods are often subpar, and to be fair there are a handful of god awful no-name tire brands from that area that only have value if used as a planter in your backyard, but not Sailun.
The brand positions themselves as a value tier tire manufacturer—the most affordable entry point in the space—yet many of their products are competitive with tires that live in a higher bracket. These value tier tires are quickly outpacing the more costly original equipment (OE) tires with consumers on vehicles in North America. As you may have seen in our test of their Terramax HLT tires, we were very impressed with their overall capabilities to the point that we would be happy to consider them in the place of factory OE tires on everyday crossovers and SUVs.
The Flagship Inspire
Getting back to the tires at hand, this time we were invited to take a spin on the Sailun Inspire, which is the brand’s ‘flagship’ all-season touring passenger car tire. Sailun put quite a bit of R&D into building the Inspire, and looking at it from a tech/spec level we see a lot of design and materials features that we’ve come to expect from higher tier tire brands. 3D sipe technology is used to help clear water and debris from the tire, a staggered tread pattern helps limit overall road noise from the tires, and lastly a proprietary tread compound helps to provide an impressive 70,000 mile warranty without compromising handling and braking characteristics.
Rather than booking a test car, fitting the tires, and spending a week or two at the wheel, it was time for some blind comparison testing to see how Sailun stacks up to the competition. The process was simple. We had a fleet of identical sedans and crossovers, a fairly tight autocross circuit at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and no idea which car was fitted with which brand of touring tire—Sailun hid the manufacturers’ names usually found on the tire sidewalls on every car to ensure there was no knowing which car was fitted with what tire.
All we knew was that one vehicle was equipped with Sailun Inspire tires and the other had a leading big name brand touring tire on it. This is by no means a new method of testing (and actually something Sailun does relatively frequently with its customers), but the process definitely works in letting you feel and form your own opinion. Consistency is key, as is repetition. Over the course of the morning and afternoon test sessions, I would repeatedly run the course in pairs, alternating between the two tires back to back, ensuring that I paid close attention to dry grip, wet grip, braking, and cornering.
Now here’s where things get interesting. The whole point of this ‘blind tire test’ exercise was not to convince us that the Sailun Inspire is a far better tire than say a more expensive major brand—Sailun knows where they stand as a more affordable alternative, and they aren’t trying to pull a fast one on anyone. The goal here was really more about providing a direct comparison in a variety of tests to show how nominal the differences are in the grand scheme of things, specifically when it comes to quality and performance.
If you ask the team at Sailun, the Inspire is more than just another touring tire in their wide range of consumer products. It oﬀers premium features and uses advanced technology on par to meet and in some cases exceed more costly major tire brands out there at a surprisingly more affordable price.
Don't Go Easy On Them
“Our proven design philosophy meant we weren’t satisﬁed until we had something to rival the best touring tires on the road,” says Wayne Cuculuzzi, Director of Consumer Products at Sailun Tire Americas. “We’re tremendously proud of what we came up with after testing a variety of new compounds, formulas and advanced construction techniques. The new Sailun Inspire really checks all the boxes to deliver impressive overall value.”
Through the test course, we were told to go relatively aggressively through our laps, and as we did so, after a few passes tiny hints started coming to light as to which tires were which. That said, the differences you would find are measured in inches. The tires may chirp a bit sooner when cornering hard, and in both wet and dry your braking distance maybe a hair longer, but the reality of the matter is that we as drivers are fallible. We are human.
Our reaction times won’t be 100% exact from one lap to the next. Some of the bigger companies pride themselves on things like better stopping distance and more lateral Gs of grip, but once you put that data into real-world scenarios behind the wheel, it begs the question—is it worth spending up to 40-50% more on a tire that’s really only nominally better in track testing versus real-world driving conditions? And even that ‘nominally better’ could count as subjective—Sailun does have 3rd party testing to show that their tires can and have come out ahead of many of our favorite top-tier tire brands.
Much like my perspective on the popular Sailun Terramax HLT, I can easily see siding with the more affordable value-driven camp here. If I was talking about a sports car that you love to huck around those local mountain roads, then not necessarily. If it was me in that scenario I’d be buying the stickiest high-performance rubber I could find, and not an everyday run-of-the-mill all-season tire anyway (regardless of brand).
Although all-season touring tires don’t often evoke the same thrilling images and excitement of ultra-high-performance tires, they aren’t meant to be bland and boring either. The Sailun Inspire ﬁlls the gap somewhere between fun and functional. If you’re fitting tires on your daily driver—your Altima, your Camry, hell, even your BMW 3-Series or Audi A4 —I’d be quick to argue that without driving a new set of each tire back to back on a closed course test track, you’re not going to notice a difference in everyday driving, except in your wallet with how much money you saved at your local tire shop by choosing Sailun.