Staggered?

 

You might be when you come to change your tires.

 

I hadn’t even noticed. Not until I found myself back at the tire shop for the third time in six months since I bought my Jaguar XE 35t RSport. The Pirelli PZero rubber bands that come standard weren’t up to the demands of driving on actual roads. Fairytale roads and racetracks, perhaps, but actual, American roads destroyed my PZero’s in rapid succession. The 20-inch ‘propeller’ wheels fitted to the RSport are gorgeous. So, no, tire guy. I’m not getting smaller rims. Ultimately, after doing a bit of math, he persuaded me to buy a complete set of Hankook Ventus V12’s with a slightly taller sidewall (higher aspect ratio), which would fit my lovely rims and clearance limits, but provide more practicality than the OEM size, and cheaper too. Scanning the receipt, I noticed he had fitted 245/40’s on the front and 275/35’s on the rear. Wait a minute. The rear wheels are a different size to the front? Cool!

If anything, the fatter Hankook’s seemed to handle better than the PZero’s, far exceeding my expectations. Lateral grip in the dry was phenomenal. Not only that, but I could also drive around the city without sweating over every pothole. In the wet, they proved a tad unpredictable, but the Ventus V12 is a summer tire and performs accordingly. Life was sweet… for about 7,500 miles.

An Evolution in Cool

All of BMW’s M series, Aston’s, AMG’s, 911’s, Alpha’s Quadrifoglio, the faster Mustangs, and, yes, Jaguar’s RSport line, the list of cars that come from the factory with a staggered wheel set-up is getting longer. Once the preserve of exotic marques like Lambo and Ferrari, staggering is de rigueur when it comes to rubber these days. Okay, so there are countless articles, blogs, tall stories, detailing the pros and cons of having slightly wider wheels, and therefore tires fitted to the rear of a rear-wheel-drive car. I will save the uninitiated a great deal of time and effort by summarizing the key arguments here:

 

The Good:

Grip - more tire means more contact area means more grip.

It’s cool - that giant slab of rubber poking out from the rear fender is a beautiful sight, and states categorically that the wearer of this shoe is a true sports car.

The Bad:

Wear (I’ll come back to this).

Sure, you’ll find a lot more stuff out on the internet; possible issues with handling at the limits, understeer could increase in the wet, and so on. Trust me, once you strip away the dubious and the downright smelly, you’re basically left with that.

The Manufacturer’s Warranty

When you blow through three tires in six months, you start taking more notice (though, not enough in this case) of tire warranties. The Hankook Ventus V12’s come with a 30,000-mile warranty. It is, of course, more complex than that, but to summarize, as long as the tires are fitted correctly, by competent people, on the correct size rims, they are guaranteed for at least 30,000 miles. Nails, debris, and hubris notwithstanding. Oh, and of course, you must rotate the wheels every 7,500 miles.

Perhaps for the first time in over 20 years of car ownership, I followed the tire manufacturer’s recommendations exactly, taking the Jag in to have the tires rotated as soon as I had completed the 7,500 miles. Tire guy was a bit surprised to see me back so soon. The conversation went something like this:

Tire guy (as he rubs his chin): Can’t do it.

Me (feeling stupid): So, you can’t even take them off the rim and switch them?

Tire guy (speaking as if to a child): No. They’re asymmetrical and directional, it’d be like putting the left shoe on the right foot.

Me (what the...? asymmetrical and directional?): Oh, right. Yes, of course.

 

Thou Shalt not Rotate

So, staggering is all the rave with manufacturers of sporty, RWD cars, but tire manufacturers have also been busy in development over the last decade. Asymmetrical tread patterns (whereby the pattern on the inside shoulder is different from that on the outside) are now common on performance summer tires and boast improved handling in diverse conditions. Directional patterns (which must be fitted so they roll in a given direction) boast improved all-around performance, water displacement, and many other things. Some, of course, are both and when you combine this with a staggered setup, you can’t even rotate the wheels laterally.

The Small Print

Just 16 months and 14,278 miles later, I returned to the tire shop. The front tires were down to the thread, and the rears, although wearing uniformly, were close to the legal limit. Now, to be fair to Hankook, I drive spiritedly, I’ve been working from home long before COVID made it the norm, and I live 30 minutes drive away from one of the best canyon roads on the planet, which is where my Jag does many of its miles - so I must expect increased wear. Nevertheless, I mentioned the warranty to the tire guy. Of course, he was ready, and quickly drew my attention to the small print:

“For vehicles with a staggered fitment (different size on the front and rear axles), Hankook will cover half the number of warranted miles as the mileage warranty when the end-user cannot rotate tires at least once every 7,500 miles” Hankook, Patron Pledge Plan.

In retrospect, it was optimistic to assume that because the tire design prevented me from rotating them, I would be exempt from the clause requiring it in the warranty. The same is true of Michelin and Continental, whereas Bridgestone will give their front tires a full warranty and 50% on the rear, for a staggered setup. When you do a bit of research on the subject, the results tend to suggest that they lead to increased rear tire wear, but in the absence of any scientific data, I would suggest that it has as much to do with the driving style of performance car owners coupled with their inability to rotate the tires front to back (as recommended by all manufacturers) that leads to ‘increased’ wear.

New Rubber

How much the additional one inch of rubber in my staggered setup improves performance is impossible to define since as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been any definitive testing made public. I do love how it looks. As for the wear, we shall see. Tire guy has thrown a set of Continental ExtremeContact DWS06’s on my Jag. They are a step away from the semi-slick PZero’s or the Ventus V12’s, but I might be heading to colder climbs this winter. The DWS06 is a unidirectional, asymmetric tire, so I will be able to rotate them laterally. They come with a 50,000-mile warranty - which equates to 25,000 for my setup. At this point, I’ll be very happy if I can get anywhere near that. Tire guy certainly thinks I will, and he wouldn’t lie to me, I’m his best customer.

My Hankooks front tires after 14,000 miles

Guy Pickrell

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller

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