by Guy Pickrell
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 came standard weren’t up to the demands of driving on actual roads. Fairytale roads and racetracks, perhaps, but the depleted asphalt of Southern California 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. 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). The Hankooks fit my lovely rims, appeared to have plenty of clearance, and would 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 Hankooks seemed to handle better than the PZeros, 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, Astons, AMGs, 911s, 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 Lamborghini and Ferrari, staggering is de rigueur when it comes to rubber these days. Okay, so there are countless articles, blogs, and 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:
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.
Tread wear (I’ll come back to this).
Trust me, that’s it. Yes, 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. But 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 (although 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 suitably sized 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:
(rubs chin thoughtfully) Can’t do it.
(feeling stupid) So, you can’t even take them off the rim and switch them?
(speaking as if to a child) No. They’re asymmetrical and directional, It’d be like putting the left shoe on the right foot.
(asymmetrical and directional?) Right. 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 to roll in a given direction) boast improved all-around performance, water displacement, and many other things, and when either are combined with a staggered setup, all means of rotation are lost.
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 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 Hankook's tire design prevented me from rotating the tires, 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 rears for a staggered setup. After carrying out a little online research, findings suggest staggering leads to increased rear tire wear, but in the absence of any scientific data, I would argue that it has as much to do with the driving style of performance car owners coupled with their inability to rotate the tires (as recommended by all manufacturers) that leads to increased wear.
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 their durability, we shall see. Tire Guy has thrown a set of Continental ExtremeContact DWS06s on my Jag. They are a step away from the marginally siped PZeros or the Ventus V12s, but I might be heading to colder climbs this winter. The DWS06 is a non-directional, asymmetric tire, and I can only 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 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.