New Tires – Mastercraft Avenger Touring Opinion
I’m going to admit this up front … I’m not really a car guy. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a fast car as much as the next guy. I’ve lusted after a Corvette since I was a kid – either an early 60′s split window or maybe a 1967 convertible like the one in the picture to the left. I watch Top Gear regularly and keep up with the world of supercars. I even work on cars (most recently changing the entire front disc brake system from the proportioning valve forward including calipers and discs on my F-150). But when it comes time to spend my money on a car for daily use, I just can’t do it. I currently drive a stock 5 year old Toyota Matrix with over 100,000 miles on it. This car replaced a 6 year old Honda Civic which had 189,000 miles on it when I traded it. None of these cars had aftermarket rims, performance exhausts, or anything else attached to it. Hell, I didn’t even replace the radio. For me, a car is a tool. It gets me to work and back again. As long as it does that reliably and with a minimum of fuss, I’m happy. Cars are not status symbols for me, nor are they investments. I don’t give a shit about scratches and dings or small dents. I rarely wash them, never wax them, and almost never change the oil (I average about 50,000 between oil changes). So I consider the replacement of the basic consumable parts of a car (like tires) a royal pain. I know some people research these things like they matter, but not me.
Which all leads to my most recent adventure – replacing the tires on my Matrix. What lead to this? I got screwed, literally. Arriving home on my train last Wednesday I found my right rear tire flat. After driving home I discovered what appeared to be the shank of a drywall screw embedded in the tread. Since these tires had close to 60,000 miles on them, it was time for four new ones.
[Skip the rest of the bullshit and jump straight to the review...]
Given my attitude about things automotive, I was willing to put all of three hours total into the process of getting new tires. This isn’t something exciting for me … I don’t enjoy researching the latest tread compounds and wear promises from manufacturers. I want something decent that can get done quickly so I can get on with my life.
What I Wanted
I did put enough thought into this to at least come up with my list of priorities:
- Tire should be quiet when driving.
- Tire should be available locally and able to be on my car in under two hours from the time I arrive at the store.
There was my comprehensive list. Notice cost and tread life aren’t on the list. Tread life isn’t terribly important for me anymore, because, thankfully, I now have a job that I commute to by train. Last year I drove all of 6300 miles. Really. So even a shitty 30,000 mile warranty tire should last me close to five years. And price isn’t on the list because I am willing to pay to not have to research and deal with the hassle of comparing tires between retailers.
So, I hopped into my car and drove off to my local Town Fair Tire store. The guy there started showing me what they had in the 205/55 R16 size I needed, beginning with the cheap $79 specials and working up from there.
Let me point out that just because I hate researching tires and shopping for them, doesn’t mean I don’t care what they drive like. On the contrary, I care very much. Tires are one of the most important parts of the car. No other part affects all the critical performance features of the car as much as tires do. Stopping distance, wet and dry cornering, ride comfort, and quietness – all largely determined by the tires. So I want something decent. On the other hand, I know that my stock 1.8 liter, 130 horsepower engine isn’t exactly going to stress the rubber like a Bugatti Veyron. So high performance tires might be a bit of a waste.
My Research Rant
Which leads me to my biggest lament: researching tires is a waste of time so you never know what the hell you’re going to get. Seriously. The number of permutations of cars and tires make it utterly impossible for someone else’s review to have any meaning to you. Couple this with the fact that most people in the world drive like shit and are idiots, and getting a decent opinion on the web is utterly hopeless. The major objective reviews available from places like Consumer Reports and Car and Driver only touch a fraction of the brands and models available in any given year. And the variability between tire models within a single manufacturer’s line means that the manufacturer’s performance in one test for one type of tire can’t be extrapolated to another tire model. And the chances of the magazines testing tires on the same make and model car as you have are so slim that most test results are meaningless. I mean, will a given touring tire perform as well on your Honda Accord as it did on some test BMW? Chances are it won’t. You could rely on the subjective reviews on various web sites, but really – do you trust the four sentence reviews of people you haven’t met? Hell, knowing how my friends drive, I don’t even trust the reviews of most of the people I know, never mind strangers. Think of this simple example: I grew up in rural northeastern Pennsylvania driving on winding back roads in very hilly country and living on a dead-end dirt road. I then went to college in southwest New Hampshire and worked winters at a ski area in Vermont where I had to be to work every day no matter the conditions, and where the season after Winter is known as “mud season.” Now I live in Central Massachusetts where we average just shy of 70 inches of snow a year. Trust me on this — my definition of “good winter traction” is significantly different than someone who lives in Indiana or Maryland. Think of that the next time you read a tire review online.
The Buying Process
So here I am standing in Town Fair Tire today. The first shocking thing was how many brands of cheap tires there are that I’ve not had any experience with. Hankook tires? Really? Kumho? Fuzion? WTF? Never mind the ones I have heard of but had no experience with, like Yokohama, Sumitomo, Toyo, and others. So I tell the guy to narrow down the choices based on my criteria: quiet ride, in stock, and middle of the price range. I end up with three tires in front of me:
This was putting me in the roughly $100 range per tire, about $20 below (per tire) the meat of the Goodyear, Michelin, Dunlop, and other recognizable brand name lines.
My immediate problem was that I had some experience with the Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires and I hated them (they were on my previous Civic for a while). The others I never heard of. While the guy was talking about sidewall strength etc. I did some quick research on my iPhone. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who’s never heard of Mastercraft tires either. And I quickly determined that the Hankook was basically a cheap Korean OEM touring tire. But I was intrigued by the Mastercraft for some reason.
Who the Hell is Mastercraft?
Turns out Mastercraft is the budget or “private-label” division of Cooper Tire. Cooper is a perennially on-the-verge-of-bankruptcy (or as of the summer of 2009, bankrupt) American tire manufacturer. They have a decent reputation as a replacement tire option with solid wear and good, if not stellar performance. You know, just what you need on a 1.8 liter economy car. Mastercraft is Cooper’s “private label” brand of tire. For those not familiar, private label products are products made by a major manufacturer using much of the same technology and equipment as their own “white label” products, although often up to a generation of technology behind. The advantage to the manufacturer is that it lets them use excess plant capacity and old (depreciated) tooling to produce products at a low cost, which discount retailers can offer as an option to established brands. The products are typically sold wholesale at a low price compared to similar quality name-brand products because private label products aren’t burdened with high marketing and other costs. The advantage to retailers is that it typically gives them a brand that they can price competitively with similar quality brands but for which their profit margins are higher due to the reduced acquisition cost.
So I get why Town Fair Tire is stocked with several Mastercraft models and why they probably show up on every list that the Sales Guy makes – Town Fair makes more money on them. I’m not morally opposed to that mind you, if they are decent products.
So I listened to the guy’s pitch and decided to take a chance. And had them mount up four Mastercraft Avenger Touring (H rated) tires. I was out the door, mounted and balanced and with a front-end alignment about 90 minutes later. Total price: $560.64 including 6.25% Massachusetts Sales Tax and mounting, balancing, front-end alignment, lifetime road hazard replacement, and disposal of old tires. The plan also includes a bunch of stuff I’ll never use like free rotation and free snow tire changeover.
And before anyone tells me I could have gotten a better deal from Tirerack.com or some other place, remember my criteria. I am more than willing to pay $100 more to have gotten this done in two hours so I could go play with my daughter.
Are The Tires Any Good?
How the hell should I know? I’ve only driven on them for 30 miles. Not nearly enough time to tell yet. Yes. I like these tires a lot, see updates below. But I’ll start this review by talking about what I’ll be comparing them to.
My most recent set of tires was a set of Goodyear Assurance Comfortread tires. They were decent. At best. Overall I’d say that, although they worked pretty well for 50,000 miles or so, they had a noticeable drop in traction after only 20,000 miles. And they were never that great in the wet to begin with. And Jesus H. Christ they were noisy. Unbearably noisy toward the end of their lives. They definitely didn’t go quietly. But their gas mileage was good as was their dry traction. And I’d say the wear was great, considering the fact that I barely rotated them more than twice in 50,000 miles.
Prior to that I had an OEM set of Continental ContiTrack touring tires. They were fucking horrible. If the road was so much as moist you felt like you were taking your life into your hands. These tires were scary-bad in wet weather. Not only did they slip all over the place, but they hydroplaned if there was anything more than a molecular film of water on the road. Truly so horrible that I will never buy another set of Continental tires again as long as I live. They weren’t much better when it was dry either.
On my prior Honda, I had a set of Michelin Harmony somethings. They were OK, but they wore oddly, showing signs of scalloping long before they should have. And I know it was the tire not the inflation or car etc. because the set of Goodyear Eagle RS-As which replaced them never showed the same signs.
For additional opinions, I did find a few things on the Internet. Several people think that the Mastercraft Avenger is the same tire as the Cooper CS4, which has some good reviews. But I can tell you that the tread pattern isn’t the same. See for yourself:
I’ve now had these tires almost two months and have finally put a thousand plus miles on them. My quick impression thus far is that they offer good dry traction, excellent wet traction, and decent mileage. They seem only OK as far as quietness – they are definitely louder than the Goodyear Comforttreads when they were new.
Starting and cornering when the road is wet is definitely better than with my old tires, and when driving through some absolutely huge puddles (more like minor flooding) from big thunderstorms at road speed I can say they do not hydroplane easily. I’d call them excellent tires in wet conditions. I have no complaints about dry traction either. They are, however, relatively noisy compared to some other tires. They are a marked improvement over the worn tires they replaced, but they could be quieter.
Overall I’m pleased and I would recommend these tires to others.
We have had a simply ridiculous winter this year. Not that there’s been more snow than normal, but there have been no thaws so it’s all still sticking around. But at least all this snow has given me the chance to test
the winter traction of these tires.
And I have to say, they may be the best all-season radials I’ve ever had in the snow. Seriously – and I’m basing this on the fact that I’ve grown up and always lived in cold climates – for all-season tires, these are about as good as it gets. My wife has a set of Continentals on her Ford and there are times that she can’t even make it up our tiny driveway when my car motors right up.
Whether plowing through slush on main roads or driving over snow covered back roads, these tires are excellent. They’re even good at getting me out of parking spaces in the Commuter Rail lot after the plow guy leaves a 14″ berm behind my car. So as far as winter traction goes … a big thumbs up for these tires.
Town Fair Tire
I’m not in the habit of giving free promotion to stores, but when a place does something good, I’ll let people know. One poster in particular has been ranting in the comments about how Town Fair may be ripping people off with some kind of Chinese tire scam. I have no idea what he’s talking about and I don’t think he does either. But maybe this story will put some perspective on it.
As I mentioned, my wife has a Ford and she was concerned that she needed new tires. So one Saturday morning she drove to Town Fair with our daughter – I agreed to meet them later since I needed to finish something for one of my graduate school classes that morning. So we have the beginning of a perfect scam story. A single woman, in a rush with a kid, driving a nice car, convinced she wants to buy tires. No problem closing that sale. Only the guy at Town Fair didn’t. He asked questions, and then took a tread wear gauge to the tires. And they still had plenty of life in them. So he recommended a reasonable rotation and alignment and my wife was on hr way. No rip off and certainly no Chinese tire scam. So after all this I recommend Town Fair in Shrewsbury, MA too.