Putting together spectacular grip, a smooth ride and the best treadwear warranty of any tire in the world is not supposed to be easy, but Michelin certainly makes it look that way. Michelin’s Defender has caused quite a splash in the industry, both among professionals and customers, primarily because of it’s industry-first 90,000 mile treadwear warranty, but also because of it’s extraordinary performance as a Grand Touring-style tire.
- Smooth. As. Silk.
- Excellent wet and dry grip.
- Did I mention 90k miles?
- Do NOT expect winter capability.
Silica-Enhanced Rubber Compound: The tread compound contains very high levels of silica, which is “not so easy to do” according to Michelin’s engineers. “It’s like baking a cake. If you think more flour is good, well that’s easy to think, but if you keep adding flour at some point you just can’t mix it anymore… There’s a lot of secret behind how you incorporate that amount of silica into the tread compound and actually be able to process it, and manufacture the tire.” High levels of silica gives the tread compound more grip while reducing rolling resistance.
Helio Compound: Derived from sunflower oil, Michelin’s proprietary Helio biodegradeable rubber compound provides excellent cold-weather grip.
IntelliSipe Technology: Yet another industry name for 3-dimensional interlocking sipes, the technological breakthrough that allows dense patterns of small cuts in the tire which improves both wet grip and snow grip without allowing the tread blocks to flex too far, which can cause both “tread squirm” and much higher wear. The sipes interlock due to a complex topology inside the siping pattern itself, which keep the tread from flexing.
Variable Thickness Sipes: Unlike interlocking sipes, variable thickness sipes are designed to open up wider in wet conditions, improving wet grip, and close down in dry conditions, reducing unnecessary tread block flexing.
MaxTouch Construction: The tire carcass is built to maximize the contact patch, evenly distributing acceleration, braking and cornering force for longer treadwear. This seems to be a further development of Michelin’s Variable Contact Patch 2.0, which was first introduced in Michelin’s Pilot Super Sport, and derived from ALMS racing tires. The tread blocks are slightly angled to even out pressure and temperatures under high g-loads, which also tends to even out wear and prevents high temperature damage (chunking).
EnergySaver Construction: Derived from Michelin’s GreenX technology, EnergySaver construction allows the tire to roll easier, reducing fuel consumption.
I had the chance to drive the Defenders on a 1000-mile road trip this fall, giving me the opportunity to evaluate them in both wet and dry as well as city and highway conditions over the course of several days. I was seriously impressed. The first thing that struck me was the ride feel, or rather, lack of any feel at all. Grand Touring tires are made to have a smooth ride first and foremost, especially on the highway at speed. The Defenders ride so noiselessly smooth that it’s difficult to detect that there are tires at all. They ride so smooth that I literally kept having visions of high-end chocolatier commercials where they pour out that ribbon of melted chocolate that’s so sexy you feel kind of dirty just watching it.
Another thing I tend to notice in particular about touring tires is the firmness of the ride. Bridgestone’s Ecopia, for example, rides like there are pillows mounted on the wheels, while Yokohama’s Avid Ascend tends to ride much harder. There’s not necessarily a good or bad to that, it’s mostly a subjective matter of which you like best. Defenders, on the other hand, occupy a near-perfect, Goldilocks-style middle ground between hard and soft ride quality. They seem to be just right
The Defenders have outstanding wet and dry grip. Keeping in mind that I was on public highways and city streets at all times, besides a (deliberate) panic stop during a pouring rainstorm I was unable to find the limits of the tires’ grip. Even in a panic-stopping slide the Defenders were progressive and controllable at all times. While they could not really be said to be sporty or performance-oriented, they are definitely quite responsive and fun to drive in their own quietly confident manner.
The Bottom Line:
Michelin’s Defender definitely lives up to most of its larger-than life billing. Both ride feel and grip are outstanding, and with more than 15,000 miles already on the tires that I drove, treadwear was hardly noticeable and seemed perfectly even. They are by far the smoothest, quietest and most agreeable touring tires I have ever driven. There are many tires that are much more fun to drive, but few if any are more pleasant.
On the other hand, although Michelin claims decent performance in light snow conditions, both I and many other customers have noted otherwise. Although I have no doubt that the sunflower oil-based Helio compound that Michelin uses for many of its all-season tires is excellent on cold dry pavement, there is just not enough of a siping pattern to give any real grip in even the lightest of snow. Don’t count on these as winter tires.
All in all, the Defenders really are fantastic tires, and the long treadwear makes them worth a bit of a premium over many other touring-style tires. Keep them rotated and aligned to avoid any irregular wear creeping in, and you are unlikely to be disappointed.