“Despite the fact that the E36 M3 is now a twenty-year-old car, it will be a car that is forever special to BMW’s fleet,” commented BMW CCA member Nick Owen as he put a 1998 example through its paces up Palomar Mountain outside of San Diego, CA. “It really brings the E36 M3 back to life, making it an even greater pleasure to drive such an iconic car on a well-developed tire. The Michelin PS4S felt THAT good.”
Michelin’s vaunted PS4S tires have been quite a hit with eighteen-to-twenty-inch-wheel market since launching their Phase 1 last year. Meanwhile, drivers of older cars—generally with smaller wheels—have been clamoring for these tires for their cars. Michelin’s PS4S Phase 2 is upon us, and it includes the stock staggered 225/45-17 and 245/40-17 sizes for the 1996–1998 E36 M3. But before these tires were launched this past week, Michelin was kind enough to get us a set for members to test.
These were not tire tests you might see by scouring consumer-oriented magazines or other fine automotive monthlies. And these were not comparisons to other specific tires. These were opportunities for members with different types of automotive backgrounds to give us real-world feedback about how the tires felt and performed on an E36 M3. We first heard from club member and professional race-car driver Samantha Tan and then from 30-year veteran automotive technician and club member Eric Sorenson. And now we hear from San Diego Chapter member Nick Owen, himself a BMW service technician with more than twelve years of experience. He is now shop foreman at BMW of El Cajon, overseeing technicians’ repairs and assisting them with problem isolation.
Nick is also familiar with the E36 M3 model. “I got my first E36 M3 when I was 19; it was my number-one motivation tool for myself during the development and training of my automotive career, which now includes being an instructor for autocross and HPDE schools,” Nick recalled. “Once I moved to San Diego, I spent a lot of time looking over and working on other people’s E36 (and E46) M3s. After a while, I ended up with a 1997 63k mile, Dinan S3-R package E36 M3, which I’ve since sold.” Nick now has a 1995 E36 M3 Lightweight in his driveway. “Either one of those cars is just so much fun to drive!”
“When it comes to tires, feel is everything,” Nick explained. “So when I got into this E36 M3 with the new Michelin PS4S tires and drove down the road toward Palomar Mountain, I took into account how the tires felt when compressed. Coming into a sharp turn and having to really load up the front end and ride the outside tire, I was impressed at how the sidewall of the Michelin PS4S compressed yet held its grip and gave excellent feedback. As we progressed up the mountain, there were a lot of these turns that forced the car and tire to go to work. But that was when the tire really started to shine. In this E36 M3 with the OEM-size PS4S tires, the feel was still there! I guess that just goes to show how well Michelin has developed this tire.”
This wasn’t all a coincidence. Much of what Nick discovered has been recounted by other reviewers. Patrick Long, in this review in Road & Track in March 2017, gave some detail about what Michelin did with these tires. “They’ve come up with construction methods which they call ‘Dynamic Response Technology,’ which allows the tire to perform differently (and predictably) under heavy corner loads and heavy braking,” the review states. “Michelin has used multiple rubber compounds across the contact patch…this is really the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ part of the equation, so that consumers can access really high performance across an even wider variety of conditions, all on one tire.”
Funny he mentioned a wide variety of conditions—and not just because that review found 46-degree temperatures and rain in the California desert. Nick encountered similar conditions on his drive.
As we ascended up the mountain, we ran into patches of wet and dry all while temperatures plunged from 70 degrees at the base to 36 degrees at the top–yep, we heard the BMW temperature bell! “It was kind of funny because one turn would be wet when the next three were dry. Then the next two turns were wet and the next one would be dry,” Nick described. “Either way, I would enter a wet turn fast, brake, load up with front suspension, turn the wheel and let the tire do its thing. I would give it some throttle to intentionally induce understeer and the tire didn’t really bark back at me. In fact, it was rather quiet! I anticipated some understeer so I would play with my steering wheel and throttle inputs, turn by turn but it didn’t matter. The tire took it like a champ! Now, as we went up the hill and ran into patches of dry pavement, this is where I really noticed how well developed this tire is. I had noticed the outside grooves by the sidewall of the tire were cut larger than the Pilot Super Sport and I’m sure Michelin has all sorts of secret reasons why they did things like that for this tire.”
It’s funny Nick mentions the Pilot Super Sport, as a “deeper dive” from Automobile magazine cited the same comparisons, quoting Michelin. “[Drivers are] going to notice a difference compared to the PSS right away,” they quoted in January 2017. “It’s a step ahead of our competitors as well as our own tire line. Handling—the level of grip and lap times—is better. Also, they’ll have more confidence going into a corner compared to the PSS. Braking, for sure, both wet and dry braking.”
Nick found the same. “As we went through turn after turn, wet or dry, the tire felt the exact same. The road feedback was very consistent and it allowed me to enter turns at speed, even though it was wet and we had the windshield wipers moving. The confidence these tires gave the car truly spoke out at me and made me want to get a set of PS4S on the Lightweight!”
A former BMW CCA board member, Nick appreciates more than the tires’ performance. “This is my first drive and review of the Michelin PS4S, and I tip my hat in gratitude to BMW CCA and Michelin for allowing us the opportunity to experience this tire in advance so we can share it with the members of the BMW CCA!” Nick said as he began expounding on the benefits of BMW CCA membership and involvement. “By joining the BMW club, you may not initially see all of the benefits of being a member right away. Aside from the discounts and monthly magazine, you really need to get out and meet some of the other members in your area and see what the events are all about. From there you will discover the true value of the club and comradery that comes with it. This is where you see the cost-efficient programs like Autocross and High Performance Driving Education events, the social gatherings where you can talk about BMWs with other BMW owners and more. You may even meet a club sponsor that wants your feedback on their new product…maybe? Give it a chance. At $48 per year, that’s nothing in terms of cost versus the reward in so many ways.”