Keeping on track with the right tyres

By Steve Berry

I recently decided to change my own runabout – a perfectly respectable 2013 Mazda3 SEL-Nav – for something a little more fun. After all, my daily commute takes me through the Peak District on some brilliant driving roads so why not enjoy it to the max on the days where I have no press car?

A must-have list of, sporty, rear-wheel-drive and great handling, inevitably led to a short-list of two: Mazda MX-5 or Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ.

The Toyota/Subaru was beyond my budget unless I wanted to go for tatty high-milers, so when I saw a 10-year-old Mk.3.5 Mazda MX-5 with only 10,000 miles on the clock – that was within budget – I snapped it up.

The 1.8 20th Anniversary model had been a bit of a garage queen, only coming out in the summer months and being SORN’d and garaged during the winter. Everything was in top-notch shape and original – including the Bridgestone RE050A tyres.

Although they appeared to be perfectly serviceable with around 5mm of tread and no signs of age-related cracking, I decided to replace the tyres and spent a good few hours researching what other MX-5 owners recommended in my size of 205/45R17.

As you might guess there were a few different opinions but one tyre that kept cropping up was the British-engineered Avon ZV7 which was a reasonable price at £79.90 from (fitted).

The equivalent Michelin Pilot Sport was a full £40 more expensive per corner despite having exactly the same EU ratings for fuel-efficiency, road-noise and wet performance.

A top-rated EU label of A for wet-grip was essential for me as the Peak District seems to get more than its fair-share of rain during the year, so that sealed the deal and the Avons were ordered.

Once fitted, the difference in ride quality was night and day over the old Bridgestones. Whereas the original tyres thumped over imperfections in the road, the Avons rode them much more sympathetically which led to less jarring.

This could, largely, be put down to fresh rubber and more of it, but the most striking difference was the road-noise – or lack of it on the Avon ZV7s.

I won’t pretend you don’t hear any road-noise in a soft-top MX-5 but the “thrum” of the old tyres has completely gone and I can see why the ZV7s have such a reputation of being grippy but quiet.

The distinctive tread pattern of the new Avon ZV7 is designed with large circumferential grooves that clear water quickly and efficiently to reduce aquaplaning in the wet. It also features sequenced tread blocks to reduce noise generated from the road, providing a quieter driving experience.

They have a rating of just 69 decibels while rivals start in the low-70s and two or three decibels makes a difference – especially over longer journeys.

And a longer journey was what I was about to take with a planned tour of North and Mid-Wales over  four days, culminating in a hike up to the summit of Mount Snowdon – although the MX-5 would be staying firmly at the foot of Snowdon.

With the new Avon ZV7s barely “scrubbed-in”, I set off with my passenger for Machynlleth, just on the southern edge of the Snowdonia National Park.

Once through Chester an onto the A483 we then hit the A458 through some beautiful Welsh countryside and I got a chance to test out the new rubber on some truly cracking driving roads.

The car felt superb through the twisties and although 124bhp meant I never really had to worry about putting too much power down on the bends, the car felt quick and very agile – certainly enough to put a large smile on your face.

Turn-in was predictable with the little sports car simply eating up the bends with no hint of under-steer. Maybe the 2-litre MX-5 with its limited-slip differential would be even more fun but I’m certainly not complaining.

The Avon ZV7 tread pattern features 3D sipes, which have interlocking three dimensional points inside the sipe. These sipes provide the same benefits of a traditional sipe – including helping the tyre warm up and providing enhanced wet grip – but limit the amount of flex in the tread block which helps control the amount of heat generation in the dry and keeps the tread block stable.

But how would we fare in the wet? Well, we didn’t have long to wait as our second day provided downpours on our way through Corris and Dolgellau heading North to the heart of Snowdonia.

Despite plenty of standing water on parts of the road, the Avons cut through the worst of it with ease and superb confidence.

I was a little cautious at first, especially with the tyres being new, but confidence soon grew with every change of direction and the car never once put a foot wrong and proved fully-deserving of their top-class A rating for wet grip.

After covering around 2,000 miles on the Avon ZV7s they have remained just as quiet and comfortable while maintaining superb grip in both the wet and dry. They appear to be wearing very well too as they still look new.

If you’re looking for an excellent performance tyre that delivers on its promises of grip and comfort, then you should certainly consider the Avon ZV7. It’s a true British-engineered bargain.

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