- Erik JP Drobey
Not a Tired Subject
When I ordered a new set of wheels and summer tires for my 2015 FR-S, I assumed I wouldn’t write about the upgrade on this site. After all, the EveryDay Driver podcast and video content (not to mention my fellow contributors to this blog) have already extolled the virtues of equipping cars with appropriate tires for given conditions--whether for snowy winters, occasional autocross events, or weekend canyon runs. Heck, Todd set up his own former FR-S with wheels and tires (summer and winter) and posted several videos about that.
During my first canyon drive in the newly-shod sportscar, though, I knew I had to add to the chorus.
My son and I have been taking drives in the FR-S every weekend, a joyful ritual. We typically leave our San Francisco house around 6:00am, and my son drives about two-thirds of a twisty route before swapping with me. Getting on the road early spares us heavy traffic and affords us splendid views of sunrises and our verdant surroundings. It’s also a great way to spend time together. When my son leaves for college this Fall, I will miss these weekend drives with him quite a lot.
All along, my son and I have enjoyed the 86 chassis’s excellent handling and fun-to-drive dynamics during these drives. Subaru and Toyota/Scion created just about the perfect (and affordable) formula for chucking into corners during canyon runs or carving around cones at autocross events. Almost perfect, that is.
The “Prius” stock tires are… well, not good (something I knew before purchasing my FR-S); in fact, the car handles well in spite of those tires. When taking a corner soon after purchasing the car, I heard a disconcerting sound somewhat reminiscent of a stick of chalk scraped lengthwise across a board. At first, I feared there was something wrong with the suspension, but after a few more corners, I realized the tires (which, to be fair, were also getting old) were making that infernal noise.
I planned on replacing wheels and tires, but I was still enjoying driving the car. And though this upgrade is among the easiest “mods” one can make, it’s not one of the cheapest. I decided, then, to take on the expense when I needed to replace the tires.
And that’s exactly what I did. In early January, my local mechanic let me know the treads on my rear-wheel tires were nearing the “replace now” line. Because I waited, I had already researched options and budgeted for the expense. I called my favorite performance shop (Werkshop, for fellow Bay Areans) and ordered a set.
Given my location, I can run summer tires year-round (I’ve kept the stock wheels for winter/other tires should I move to a place that has actual seasons). Though pricey, I opted for Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, about which I had heard and read nothing but praise. For wheels, I stuck with 17s and chose Enkei RFP1s, which are lightweight (shedding about 5 pounds at each corner) and also have a great reputation. Specifically, then, here’s what the FR-S now sports:
Enkei RFP1 17 X 9 35mm offset
Michelin PS4S 245/40 R17
I chose this setup for two reasons. First, I wanted to maximize the benefit of such an upgrade. If I’m going through the trouble of replacing wheels and tires, I might as well splurge (within my budget) for the best and most appropriate options available. Second, because the FR-S is my daily driver, I wanted to avoid getting something that would involve fender-rolling, lowering the car, and/or upgrading the suspension. Maybe I’ll take that route at some point, but (a) I like the suspension as-is and (b) I live and drive in an area with lots of uneven pavement, speed-bumps, and other bottom-scraping hazards (as I’ve learned with my Miata), so the current ride-height is just fine, thanks.
So I was prepared for this upgrade. I even followed my own modding advice and chose the right package for my needs and budget. And, of course, I listened to the experts, including Todd and Paul. Swapping the wheels and tires felt like a foregone conclusion--because it was. I was already familiar with the benefits of such an upgrade after having done a similar mod with my Miata. I expected significantly better driving dynamics, and I looked forward to driving the Scion with the Enkeis and PS4Ses, but when I ordered the parts, the experience overall lacked drama or excitement; the whole thing felt ho-hum, even.
Until that first weekend drive, that is.
“Wow!” That’s how my son reacted to the first corner along Skyline. As a passenger, I could feel how planted the FR-S was around that corner. I mean PLANTED. Had I not known any better, I would have guessed the car was lowered. Turn-in was much sharper. The ride quality and road noise improved, neither of which I expected, considering what I’d heard about the PS4Ses. My son reported that instead of pushing and coaxing the Scion around corners, piloting the car felt almost effortless.
By the time I took the wheel at Alice’s Restaurant, we were grinning like idiots. “I’m taking La Honda,” by which I meant the mostly downhill stretch of Highway 84 between Skyline and Highway 1 (if you live in or visit the Bay Area, this is a must-drive). La Honda is a technically-demanding road, one which I’ve enjoyed driving many times in many cars, including the Miata and the FR-S. Immediately, I could appreciate how the new wheels and tires allowed the 86’s chassis to live up to its design. What a difference! I carved La Honda like a holiday roast. The Miata, what with all the suspension and chassis-stiffening upgrades I added, can handle that road nearly as well, but, capable as the NA’s Yokohamas are (and I do really like them), they’re no match for the Michelins.
The takeaway? Listen to Paul and Todd when they wax poetic about tires! And if you like spirited driving along twisty roads, consider putting summer tires on whatever you drive.
Erik JP Drobey lives in San Francisco. He chronicles some of his culinary and vehicular adventures on Instagram as @zjpd.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.