Friday, April 20, 2012

Less is more: Rediscovering the joys of my car

This spring, as it was time to take my snow tires off, I went shopping for new summer tires. In times past, I had always stuck to the same formula when choosing a summer tire: buy something that would handle well, grip well (I recognize that grip and handling are related but different qualities), not be too expensive, and every other consideration be damned. Thus, my otherwise essentially stock 1992 900T with plus-one tires (205/55-15) on 15x6 rims handled very smartly and was a pleasure to drive on twisty roads and exit ramps. However, those rare pleasures came at the expense of virtually every other moment I drove the car. Thus, I was determined to find a different solution this time.

In some ways I felt I was conceding something to my middle-agedness in considering this change. Perhaps. Maybe it was just a concession to the driving I actually do. I commute 110 miles a day, with 80 of those miles on the highway. This time around, for the first I can remember, I was determined to buy tires whose principle attributes were quietness and smoothness. They also had to handle reasonably, and have a carcass that would their shape for many miles. I had grown weary of feeling every imperfection in Massachusetts roadways. I was even more insistent on finding tires that didn’t howl like a helicopter after the first few thousand miles. Thus, I ended up with Michelin MXV4 Primacy 195/65-15V tires on my car, essentially the OEM-equivalent tire.

They look a bit lame, and I am certain that I will never push the car on ramps or the great sweeping curve on Soldier’s Field Road where one lane drops away (Boston area driver’s will know what I mean), but I don’t care. I am thrilled with my purchase. The 900 is totally transformed. It glides on the Interstate, and I don’t have to clench my jaw at every expansion joint or poorly patched pothole. At speed, suddenly I hear sounds I had forgotten: the wonderful mechanical churn of the 900 power-plant, the baritone of the exhaust (subtle but present, even at speed), and even my radio, which I now realize sounds worse than I thought it did before. I find I am much more relaxed at the end of each drive, which is not to say that this is some sort of Novocain-riddled driving experience and that I’ll be trading my Saab for a Buick any time soon.

Instead, I’m appreciating different things about the car which had been masked by the uncompromising tires. Because I am no longer focused on the racket and unforgiving feel, I like driving this car on all roads, even the twisties. Somehow, the car feels “right” in a way it hadn’t before when it was over-shod. After a really lousy day yesterday, on the commute home I entered the Storrow Drive tunnel, and with the windows and sunroof open, the resonating exhaust tones and engine/transmission song made me smile. Sure, all of that was there before but my perspective was blocked by those damn tires.
At times when I feel I am caving in to my advancing age, I might need to remind myself that maybe I was just plain wrong all those years. Older? Yes. Wiser? I guess so!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi there - visiting your blog from Aus, via a link from Swade. Harsh tyres must certainly be hard to live with, long term.
I am very tempted to go in search of an Aero/SPG 900 to replace my normally aspirated 2.1L 900i but one thing that makes me just a little hesitant is the ride quality for everyday motoring. Similarly to the differences you describe I am fairly sure that an Aero with it's less forgiving suspension and ride height might be harder to live with for chugging around in, despite having significantly more character overall. Why not keep both I hear you ask? Well we also own a '91 T16 auto 5 door and 3 900's would probably be one too many for our household.
PS The Michelin Energy XM1's on my 900i have now done 48,000km and should make 50 whereupon they will have well and truly exceeded my expectations.