Michelin’s Pilot Sport Cup 2 Connect Is an Excellent Street Tire With Track Prowess
Incredible street performance and comfort but slightly compromised for the track, and definitely not good in the rain.
Even for enthusiasts, tires can be unsexy subjects for a lot of folks. They’re expensive, have a mind-bending array of choices, and influence much more than outright grip. It’s almost like replacing your dishwasher. But I’m hoping more eloquent prose on the subject, like that below, will push the needle toward better understanding.
And I’m starting off with a good one, in particular with the 240-treadwear Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 Connect. The tires promise track performance without compromise, and with over 1,500 road and track miles, I found out if that promise is true.
It’s positioned in an interesting place in the summer tire arena, as it costs much more than grippier, slightly lower treadwear tires like the Falken RT660, Kumho V730, and Hankook RS4. It costs about as much as a Bridgestone RE-71RS or Yokohama Advan AD09. But, it’s the only tire in its class that is sold as original equipment on production cars. Meaning it will have a strong road bias.
So how did Michelin’s Cup 2s fair with my 2019 Honda Civic Type R? Here’s what I found.
Looks and Technology
The Cup 2 is for the weekend car. Thus, it needs to work well in the best of conditions and look cool. Michelin packed the tire to the gills with technology, all to make it a better all-around performance tire, as well as some neat little visual tricks that make it look unique.
These Michelins do look extremely cool. There are a few variations of Cup 2 design, some with curb protection and others with a conventional round sidewall. These are the latter, with prominent checkered race flags rendered in Michelin's patented velvet texture that is cast in when the tire is molded. These tires present incredibly well and look substantial.
The overall look is assisted by the tire’s huge, almost uninterrupted outer shoulder of tread. The tread block itself, however, is light on features in contrast to the more complex blocks of the road-oriented Pilot Sport 4S. There’s an entire span of tread right in the crucial part of the tire that features just a single radial groove and no sipes. Great for maximum dry traction, but it makes rain a bit tougher.
That said, according to Michelin, the inner part of the tread is designed to be more tolerant to wet weather, as it features some minor grooves.
My retail version features two different tread compounds, including an aggressive outer compound for maximum dry grip, and a more wet-oriented inner version. Underneath, Michelin’s proprietary aramid and nylon (as opposed to steel) belt tech makes the tire carcass stronger while maintaining crucial flex characteristics, as this helps the tire “find” grip.
These tires are designed to be the ultimate road-centered performance tire solution, with cars like the Porsche 911 GT3 and C8 Chevy Corvette Z06 coming standard with Cup 2s. Basically, these tires should be like eating cheesecake every night for dinner while still losing weight. So are they? Yeah, they are.
Shockingly Comfortable and Efficient
All of Michelin’s road car experience was blindingly obvious during my first few miles, though it took a mile or two for some strangely excessive noise to wear off. Once they bedded in, the tires became impressively quiet. Mind you, they weren’t silent, with a broad low tone that sunk into the background. It’s a similar experience compared to other extreme-performance summer tires.
They’re equally impressive in their ride quality as impacts were nicely glazed over. That’s pretty unheard of in a tire that can set lap records. The overall effect on my rough-riding Civic Type R was night and day. It felt like my dampers were made softer, with the tire construction clearly interacting with the overall damping character of the car.
I’ve experienced the previous 200-treadwear Michelin Cup 2, and plenty of unique Cup 2s from Porsche, but none have had this characteristic. They were also much louder and rougher. But these Cup 2s were dead impressive on the road.
That said, I did observe a relatively minor drop in my highway fuel economy compared to my car’s Yokohama Advan Apex tires. It went from 29 mpg to 27.6 mpg over the same 110-mile highway loop. It’s minor, but something to note.
They Get Better in the Canyons, Though
Once the going gets twisty, the comfort of the tires doesn’t diminish their performance. These tires have excellent cornering feel and attitude.
At spirited speeds, the tires dance with the pavement, and their limits are communicated extremely early. To get incredibly nerdy with it, this tire’s yaw gives cornering an addictive carving feeling. Previous Cup 2 variants had too much of this characteristic making them feel vague, but the Michelin engineers clearly worked on making this version far better.
The lateral grip that these tires can produce is possibly the least impressive thing—it’s all about the feel. This also translated into a nice, heavy on-center steering feel with a decently linear effort curve. It didn't build up weight all too aggressively, making the tires feel responsive, but it was difficult to modulate the tire slip angle. Even at low speed, you need to commit to a turn late and settle in.
It has the nice side effect of letting you drive slower, as you feel the forces before reaching more dangerous speeds. This means you have more fun, saves your tread, and allows you to drive with a much bigger safety cushion. The car settles early, inspires confidence, and has a slight tendency toward light understeer to keep things in check. Combine this with the plush ride, and these tires offer an incredibly unique blend for a street tire.
I did have a chance to drive these tires in extensive wet weather conditions, thank you California rain. It’s not really what they’re meant for, but they are a street tire. I can tell you with certainty and a mild case of post-traumatic stress that the Cup 2 doesn’t do rain well. It’s fine if the surface is damp, but breakaway is sudden and alarming. And forget about driving if there’s standing water. Truthfully, you shouldn’t be using these tires in severe conditions, but it’s something to note if you have to drive home in a freak storm.
I packed up and took to Buttonwillow Raceway in the California central valley to test what these tires are claimed to be best at: track driving. I found there was a real compromise for all of that on-road greatness.
The Michelin tires’ grip is prodigious, sure, but that glorious on-road feel did not translate into a communicative track tire. It also didn’t have the absolute grip of cheaper, more aggressive tires. While the tires could get good lap times once they warmed up, my best of the day was a 2:03.1. Not great, but getting a clean lap was impossible thanks to traffic. This tire could go close to the two-minute barrier or below but would require a cleaner lap.
The issue, however, was I didn’t fully trust the tire. Committing to the high-speed 100+ mph sweepers of Buttonwillow takes trust. That nice, heavy steering feel became light and slightly vague on the track, with the effort curve flattening beyond the limit of grip. This means the steering stays the same weight regardless of the actual load on the tire, making it hard to find the true outer limit of the rubber. I won’t rule out this being specific to my Type R, however, so your mileage may vary here.
It’s a brilliantly grippy tire, but for it’s a compromise on on-road and on-track performance. For an outright track rat, this isn’t the right tire. But it will let you drive to the track, set a blazing lap time, go home in comfort, and then go out for a date.
For my 265/35/18 tire size, the Cup 2 is $355 per tire. Comparing it to other tires in the extreme performance summer category, it’s right at the top, only behind the Yokohama A052 are $360 per tire. The Cup 2 is much slower than the A052, but wears better while having similar comfort. The next closest competitor is the Yokohama AD09 at $362 per tire, which I haven’t tested yet.
It gets cheaper from there as the Bridgestone RE-71RS is $329 per tire, which is an excellently fast tire that wears out quickly. The hard-wearing Hankook RS-4 is $317 per tire, then the stunningly grippy and sharp, but rough-riding, Falken RT660 punches in at $298 per tire. The real budget proposition in the segment is the Kumho V730 at $215 a tire, which is an excellently sticky and livable tire. You also have the old Falken RT615K+ at $187 per tire, likely a price Falken set to get rid of old stock.
So these Michelins aren’t for those on a budget.
Stunningly Capable, But Clearly for the Street
Michelin likes to talk about how capable the Pilot Sport Cup 2 is on track, citing lap time improvements and track longevity over long stints. But, if we look at the evidence, the tire is ultimately designed to be original equipment on high-performance road cars. It has baked-in compromises that don’t help it as a track tire, such as its prodigious grip and amazing feel on the road. But that doesn’t quite jive with the sharpness it needs on the track. That slight compromise in track feel is what makes it such an excellent road tire.
So the Cup 2 customer is a very specific one. It’s for someone who isn’t a track rat but does the occasional track day. For someone who has a high-performance car that they still want to street drive without the harshness of a proper track tire. Its only concession, track performance, isn’t even that great of a compromise.
To understand the Cup 2, you have to look at the totality of its achievements and not focus too much on it being called a track tire. It isn’t a streetable track tire. It’s a trackable, amazingly competent street tire. Sure, it’ll cost you a bit more, but if you don’t need or want outright lap time and prefer more fun on a canyon, this is that tire.
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