My experience with tyres on my 9000s

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Tyres, along with oils, are among the most emotive subjects I have come across in Saab circles. Much of this is to do with the wide variety of tastes, driving styles and other considerations encountered. Consequently, when one asks n Saab 9000 drivers for their recommendations on tyres, one will probably receive n different recommendations.

To put the comments below into context, I have made performance a priority with all three of the 9000s I have owned. That doesn't, of course, mean that I have always chosen the best performance tyre available. Some of them I couldn't afford, while for some of those I could afford, I was not aware for some time that they were available. It also took me some time after driving lower performance cars to realise how much difference a performance tyre could make.

Please note that these are my own opinions based on my own personal tastes, driving habits and budgets. They are purely subjective.

If, after reading the opinions below, you feel you can recommend a tyre that might suit my enthusiastic driving style (and reasonable, but not unlimited budget), please feel free to send some feedback.


The five 9000s I have owned to date are:

  • 1987 9000 2.0 Turbo Manual - 205/55 15" wheels
    I now realise that the handling on this car was never as good as it could have been - I bought it at 168K miles with, as I now suspect, rather tired suspension (you live and learn). Therefore, the tyres probably had less influence on the performance than they otherwise might have. It was still probably the best handling car I had owned up to then.

  • 1990 9000 CD 2.3 Turbo Manual - 205/55 15" wheels (transferred from the 1987).
    I grew to loathe this car. I now believe many of its shortcomings may have been down to poor choice of tyres, although the soft CD suspension certainly didn't go well with the way I chose to use the 200HP available. It was certainly fast in a straight line, if I could keep the tyres stuck well enough to the road to stop the traction control from backing the throttle off to practically zero (not that easy...).

  • 1996 9000 Aero Manual - 205/55 16" wheels.
    This is a performance car requiring performance tyres. I have never considered skimping on tyres for this car. Perhaps it is because, on my third 9000, I am starting to appreciate the importance of tyre choice. Since acquiring this car, I have modified it to produce around 300hp and over 300lbft of torque and also modified the suspension. I have entered it in several track days. Good grip is of the utmost importance. Since some of the track days have been in very wet conditions, wet performance is also extremely important.
  • 1995 9000 CSE 2.0LPT Manual - 195/65 15" wheels.
    This is my "touring" car. As such, my priorities for tyres are slightly different from those for the Aero. While I still require reasonable performance in both wet and dry conditions, this car does not demand as much grip from the tyres as the Aero does and low noise and comfort are major considerations.
  • 1996 9000 CSE 2.0LPT Automatic - 195/65 15" wheels.
    I run this car for my father. He does not push the car hard and the priorities for tyres on this car are safety coupled with fairly comfortable running, low cost and long life.

Below is the list of tyres I have used on these cars, along with limited data and comments on each.

Michelin MX
205/55 15"
These were fitted to my '87 9000T when I bought it. I subsequently bought some part-worn MXs for the same car. This being my first 9000, and realising now that the suspension was probably quite worn, I do not have much to compare these tyres to. However, they seemed adequate at the time. Don't take this as a negative comment. I simply don't have enough experience of these tyres to say whether they are good or bad.
Firestone Firehawk
205/55 15"
These tyres seemed great when they were fitted, but new tyres always do, don't they? I subsequently became aware that they didn't grip as well as other tyres might, but they seemed to wear well, which was important at the time as I was commuting about 80 miles per day. And for 50 quid each (back in 1995)...
Continental ContiEcoContact
205/55 15"
I bought these tyres shortly before I bought the 9000CD 2.3T and transferred the alloy wheels and tyres from my '87 9000T to that car. In contrast with the Firestones, these tyres consistently impressed me with their handling characteristics. Remember that I hadn't had much experience of good performance tyres. I don't know if they were quiet, but I can say that I certainly didn't notice if they were noisy.
205/55 15"

These tyres are an "own brand" sold by Just Tyres in the UK. While I have many reasons to recommend this dealer, these are without a doubt the worst performing tyres I have had fitted to any of my 9000s. I remembered the Michelin "Roadhog" range (perhaps I'm getting old?) and only realised my mistake afterwards.

These tyres seemed to have almost zero grip and kept the traction control and ABS very active. I remember approaching a pedestrian crossing at about 30MPH in the rain, seeing a pedestrian about to cross and braking, in what should have been plenty of time, before ABSing very slowly to a stop halfway across the crossing. The pedestrian gestured me to continue!

They wore well and were on the car when I traded it in for the Aero. Perhaps some unfortunate is still trying to figure out how to get 200HP through them and thinking what an awful car the 9000CD is!

I came to the conclusion that whatever tyre you buy and whatever your priorities, the Saab 9000 (especially the more powerful versions) requires at least some consideration concerning tyre grip!

Footnote: at a recent track day (March 2003), one of the entrants was a classic 900 with Roadhog tyres fitted to the front. The owner sought me out because of this review (he owns a 9000 as well) and told me that he found they performed well. Perhaps they have improved in the last couple of years or perhaps they work better on the 900 than the 9000. Either way, I thought it only fair to mention.

Pirelli P6000
205/55 16"

I test-drove my '96 Aero on Michelin Pilots worn down to the legal limit. The weather was good and I was very impressed with the handling (I owned the 9000CD at the time), but other than that, cannot comment on the Pilots.

However, after negotiation with the dealer selling the Aero, they agreed to replace as many tyres as necessary to get the car through the MOT test (UK annual inspection). I estimated three tyres needed to be replaced, the dealer reckoned two. Imagine my joy when I arrived to pick up the car with four new Pirelli P6000s fitted!

These tyres impressed me with their performance. Having tried other tyres since, I realise that they were also quite quiet and gave quite a soft ride. Consistent with the low treadwear rating, they didn't last long (about 6 months for the front tyres). However, remember that I was still having fun with my first Aero!

I looked around for some more P6000s, but could not find any for less than about £135. I've since been told that they can be bought for almost half that price, but in the meantime, I looked around for maximum performance at a reasonable price.

Yokohama S1-Z
205/55 16"

Apart from the difference in price between this and the Pirellis, I was also impressed to find that this tyre is original equipment on the UK-spec Porsche Boxster. I originally ordered Yokohama A-520s, and the dealer got them in stock for me, then promptly sold them to another customer!!! The A-520 has a reputation for harshness and noise, a no-compromise performance tyre. It is also directional, a problem for me as my behaviour at roundabouts tends to require swapping tyres from side to side to even out the wear.

The dealer had S1-Zs on the shelf the day I called to pick up my (now someone else's!) A-520s, so I had two of them fitted to the front of the car. They grip well, and when they give way, they do so silently. The stiff sidewalls make the steering feel more precise, but they ride harshly and are quite noisy on cornering. I have bought about 10 or 12 of these tyres. The relatively low price compared to Michelins or Pirellis makes these tyres good value for money for a driver interested in performance tyres.

Avon ZZ1
205/55 16"

I had to buy two front tyres in a hurry. The nearest dealer didn't stock Yokohama, nor did they stock Bridgestone, which I thought I might try when the Yokohamas wore out. They offered me 3 different tyres, and when I expressed a preference for performance, recommended the Avon ZZ1. Having had no time to consider, the only thing I had to go on was the dealer's recommendation.

The ZZ1 is a directional tyre. Due to my driving style and the fact that I drive round a lot of roundabouts, I tend to wear out the left front tyre first. Being directional, I cannot swap the ZZ1s to equalise wear and feared I would have to change both when the left front tyre wore out. However, this fear proved unfounded and the tyres wore quite evenly, with a bias towards wear on the left. The ZZ1 supposedly offers good wet performance. I don't like driving hard in the wet, so can't comment much. However, the 9000 Aero could probably break traction easily in the wet on any tyre. It certainly can with the ZZ1.

I found the dry grip of the ZZ1 to be fairly good, although I don't think it was as good as the S1-Z. It is difficult to tell because of the ZZ1's overriding disadvantage: it squeals! I hate that!
My cornering speed was often limited more by noise than available grip. Although the noise level dropped slightly in the first month or two, it never became acceptable. I have since been told by a 9000 owner in Canada that he found the 17" ZZ1 not to squeal at all.

When driving sedately or in a straight line, the ZZ1 was more comfortable and certainly quieter than the Yokohama S1-Z. Although more compliant, they didn't make the steering feel much less precise than the super-stiff S1-Zs.

In a 1998 review, Max Power magazine found the ZZ1 the worst performing of the ten tyres they tested (Bridgestone S-02 came top). However, they did comment that they looked good.

Bridgestone S-03
205/55 16"

After the Avons wore out, I finally got round to replacing all four tyres with Bridgestone Potenza S-03 Pole Position, which has received excellent reviews, as did the S-01 and S-02 before it. Writing this one week and 1000 miles later, what can I say but "Wow!"?

These tyres offer very good dry grip - certainly better than any tyre I have tried so far, and handling is very precise. My car now handles exceptionally well in the dry. They give a fairly comfortable ride and don't seem too noisy, although I'm not very discerning in that direction.

If that were all, these tyres would be worth every penny. However, their wet grip is simply amazing! I can almost throw the car around in the wet as I do in the dry. A few experimental emergency stops in heavy rain have left me speechless and a couple of inches of water at the side of the road pose no problem at all. I always assumed that wet weather performance was an oxymoron.

For all-round road driving, I have the tyres inflated to 35 PSI, as recommended for the Aero. For track days, I've found that 38 PSI gives better performance.

Anyway, I may have found the ideal performance tyre for the British climate.

Update: I have now had the chance to experience these tyres on the track and I must say I'm still very impressed. Despite 100+mph aquaplaning on standing water in torrential rain, they have handled wet weather as well as any tyre can reasonably be expected to. In the dry, they have given enough grip that I have been able to match the handling of a Lotus Elise around the Goodwood circuit, albeit with the benefit of suspension modifications. I plan to upgrade to 17" wheels shortly to accommodate bigger brakes, and will be trying the 17" version of the S-03s.

Lassa Impetus 60
205/60 15"

Lassa are a budget manufacturer based in Turkey. These tyres are from their performance range and an almost-new set was fitted to my CSE 2.0LPT auto when I bought it. I'm not the main driver of this car, so I have had limited opportunity to assess these tyres, but I have managed to form an impression of them.

Performance-wise, dry grip is reasonable, but nowhere near the performance of the S-03, and not as good as the Dunlops, despite being a lower-profile tyre. Wet grip is mediocre. Comparing two CSEs on the same wet road on the same day, the CSE with the Dunlop SP Sport 01s (see below) proved much more confident.

As far as ride is concerned, these tyres do ride a little harshly and produce significant road noise. They're not overwhelmingly noisy, but the noise is quite noticeable.

I don't know how much these tyres sell for, but if they're cheap (less than £40 each), then they are probably worth considering as a budget performance tyre. I believe there is now an "Impetus 2" range, so the "Impetus" range may no longer be available.

Dunlop SP Sport 01
195/65 15"

I was looking around for tyres for my CSE 2.0LPT manual and my priority was comfort and low noise, as this is my "cruiser" for long distances. Some measure of performance was desirable too. I suddenly realised that in all my 9000 ownership, I had absolutely no experience of buying this sort of tyre, as my bias has always been firmly towards performance with little compromise. I asked for recommendations and among many useful comments, someone mentioned that these tyres were supposed to be one of the quietest available, and that Northway Tyres (who have branches in Watford and St. Albans, both local to me) had them on special offer. Off I went to Watford and had a set fitted.

I like these tyres a lot. They are without doubt the quietest tyre I've ever driven on and give a very soft, comfortable ride. Not only that, but they perform very well. Both wet grip and dry grip are very good, although not up to the "ultimate performance" standard of the S-03. The steering feels very precise.

I can thoroughly recommend this tyre to anyone who is less interested in performance than comfort, but values the safety afforded by good grip and predictable handling. And when you do want to throw the car around on the odd occasion, these tyres won't let you down.

Footnote: I recently (March 2003) got the chance to take the CSE on the track and raised the tyre pressures from 32psi to 37psi to cope with the high-speed driving. On a totally unmodified car I was amazed at how well these tyres performed throughout the session. On leaving the circuit, I realised that the higher tyre pressure hardly affected the ride quality at all and the car now handles much better on the road. This experience has impressed me even more with this tyre and I think I will maintain the tyre pressures at around 35 psi or so.