It was only until we were a few hundred feet off the ground before I could appreciate the scale what surrounded us. In all directions was nothing but the horizon, dark brown earth, a smattering of buildings and large, expansive swathes of asphalt. The monotony of the landscape was only broken up by the dull whomping of the helicopters rotors above us.
A few moments later, the pitch of the rotor changed and the chopper declined rapidly towards the ground. We flew out over a large, wet square of asphalt where a smallish Melbourne Red blur streaked around the grey slab – kicking off massive rooster tails in its wake.
Before having a moment to even fix my attention on the tail-wagging M235i, we’re hovering no more than 10 feet above the carbon fiber rooftop of a Performance Driving Center F80 M3 festooned with the M tri-colors and sponsor names monstering around the dry traction circuit.
As the pilot cut us left to right pitching the tiny chopper to follow the Alpine White sedan the familiar smell of acrid tire smoke rose into the cockpit as the M3 roasted a set of Continental ExtremeContact DWS rear tires. Simultaneously, my stomach felt about as unloved as the M3’s rear tires.
In that instant, we were whisked away to another portion of the circuit – beneath us Audi A4s and Ford Escapes ran a damp road course doing their best to fight the inevitable understeer in the wet. Not long after, we found ourselves settling back the ear near a row of brand new Mustangs buzzing along a stretch of tarmac to measure braking distance. This had been quite the day to be introduced to Continental’s refreshed ExtremeContact DWS06 Ultra-High Performance All-Season tire at Continental’s own, massive Uvalde Proving Grounds in Uvalde, Texas.
Interestingly, the DWS06 which we were brought in to sample would seem to be, by its nature, a paradox. All-Season tires, by their very nature, are not known to be “Ultra” or “High Performance” in terms of suiting the likes of, say, an M235i – a car all about handling…perhaps even known to hang its tail out a bit the situation allows.
Continental’s focus with the ExtremeContact DWS (Dry, Wet, Snow) is to provide an excellent all-rounder; a tire that is adaptable to nearly any situation and with the comparable levels of dry performance found in a typical sport tire. To accomplish this balance, Continental has brought with the all-new DWS06 its SportPlus technology which, coupled with the revised X-Sipe and groove technologies, strong snow traction is maintained from the last generation DWS tire while the DWS06 can now achieve much higher thresholds of dry and wet weather traction.
Upon reaching Uvalde, we were given a brief overview of the facility and a stern warning to tread lightly if we strayed too far into the bush as there were numerous snakes, spiders and other critters looking to happily avoid human interference. Beyond that, the day was laid out in a manner allowing us to visit multiple stations to test the DWS06 back-to-back in a variety of settings with its direct competitors.
First up was a dry handling circuit in M235i and MINI Cooper S models to see how the DWS06 stacked up against its rival the Bridgestone Potenza RE970AS Pole Position. Peeling off thru a slalom and down into the first, long left-hander with a nasty hook.
Thanks to the N55 motor and strong front grip the little BMW dug in and carried good speed through the sharp left hander, rear gripping quickly and allowing for a bit of early throttle application to push through the bend and on up through the esses that followed.
Hitting the last corner, I was able to lay on the right pedal and build up corner speed through the long, progressive turn.
Interestingly, the DWS06 proved to have high levels of grip and a confidence-inspiring sense of communication. Its limits were undoubtedly attainable but progressive enough that I could be comfortable touching and holding right at the limit of adhesion.
Tackling the same corner with the same enthusiasm in another M235i sporting Bridgestones, the RE970AS tires quickly found their limit and a willingness to break away much quicker and less predictably than the DWS06. The same tires lent to a near off-circuit excursion in the first corner thanks to quickly diminishing levels of grip when pushed. In higher speed corners before hard braking to dive into the slalom, the Bridgestones also seemed to require a bit more time to recompose before I could settle the car down to dial in the steering angle. The DWS06 likely held the slight advantage as a result of a Sport Sidewall Insert Continental has installed to improve handling.
Later in the day we found ourselves standing next to a massive slab of asphalt soaked in a quarter inch of water – specifically designed to mirror the effect on grip a driver might experience on the road during a heavy rain. Lined next to the track were a pair of M235i cars accompanied by two 2015 V6-equipped Mustangs( a little piece of me was heartbroken by the lack of the 5.0L Coyote motor).
Interestingly, the M235is were equipped first with a set of the brand new Conti DWS06 tires and then the previous generation of DWS for comparison. One of the Mustangs was equipped with the DWS06 while the other sported Yokohama ADVAN SportAS tires. Slipping onto the skidpad lined with cones to mark a tight circuit, I was tasked with testing all four vehicles and their respective rubber.
DWS06 vs. DWS
First up, the M235i with the DWS06. Right away, high grip levels allowed me to get up to a moderate speed in third gear before braking for a hairpin. Thanks to high levels of lateral grip, the DWS06 proved to be predictable in that I could brake a bit later and turn into corner without the front end entirely washing away. Moving into a sweeping left-hander I was able to pick up speed and use prodigious applications of throttle to steer the rear of the car before jumping hard on the brakes to thread through the first of two slaloms. To my surprise, the DWS06s held the BMW to the tarmac in most all things I threw at it outside of incredibly erratic steering and throttle inputs. Motoring off and switching to last generation DWS tires was eye opening.
The old generation tires immediately gave a heightened sense of “edginess” and not in the interesting, McConaughey “True Detective” kind of way. Grip levels felt less confident, turn-in at the same speeds I’d accomplished on the DWS06 resulted in heavy understeer and the need to relinquish control and time to the tires to allow them to grab hold of the circuit once more before I could be on my merry way.
Stepping from the Bimmers to the Mustangs yielded a similar result. Generally, the DWS06s maintained high levels of traction and communication in the wet but of the two alternatives provided to be in stark contrast and generally noticeably more sloppy.
Admittedly, the long nose of the Mustang proved difficult in allowing me to comfortably assess where exactly the front of the car was in tighter hairpins.
Coming away from the day was a pleasant experience mostly because my stomach had stopped taking copious G forces and I wasn’t bitten by any critters on the Uvalde facility. More than that, though, I came away impressed with what Continental has been able to package in the ExtremeContact DWS06 tire. While I never had much of a chance to test it from a comfort/noise standpoint, it met and soundly beat many of the challenges thrown at it. Massive dry weather grip, easily controllable in the damp and very forgiving at its very limits it had shown itself to be an exceptionally capable tire. The overriding word to describe it is confident. In the wet braking tests and on all of the handling circuits, the DWS06 never let me put a tire loose unless I was simply overdriving the abilities of the car and the thresholds of the tires.
For those looking for all all-year tire with loads of traction and performance, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try out the DWS06.