It’s rare that people test drive tires the same way they would test drive a car before shelling out for it. For one thing, test driving tires is hugely impractical. Who wants to spend the day changing tires over and over again? For another, tires don’t really matter that much, right?

Well, no. As it turns out, tires can have a huge impact on a car’s performance, and picking the right one is well worth the hassle.

Michelin demonstrated this at the recent launch of its newest ultra-high-performance tire, the all-season Pilot Sport A/S 3, available to consumers in May 2013. Blessed with resources that the average consumer does not possess, Michelin provided the assembled crop of journalists with a series of cars, identical but for their shoes, so that we could test the Michelin offering against its competitors.

We’ve told you about how important it is to have the right tires for your vehicle. The virtue of all-season tires is, as one might expect, that they can operate effectively in both cold and warm weather, and they know what to do with a little rain.

What All-Season Tires Can Do

Doug Brown, Michelin’s ultra-high performance category manager, explained that all-season tires are designed to operate in a different temperature range than winter or summer tires, which will falter if asked to perform outside the extreme conditions they were designed for. According to Brown, “[Summer tires] don’t have the pliability and flexibility to have good grip in very cold conditions. And winter tires in the summer have so much grip that compounds tend to kind of fold over. They just give up.”

What this means is that all-season tires are the ones that make sense for most of us most of the time. If you’re not interested in buying several sets of tires and diligently changing them with the seasons (and, let’s face it, most people aren’t), the versatility of all-season can be a blessing. Having said that, if you plan to do a lot of driving in wintry climates, snow tires still have great value.

Snow Tires Have Their Place

Northern comrades, beware: all-season tires aren’t really meant for our winters, and while they may handle a dusting of snow with grace they shouldn’t be expected to plow through eight inches of fresh powder. We are big fans of snow tires in winter. For other seasons of the year, a good all-season tire is a must.

Michelin’s Improvements to the All-Season Tire

Michelin has put significant effort into engineering a superior all-season tire, which it has done with a few key improvements. First, the tiremaker changed the tire’s makeup to include more silica, a component that improves grip. The new tire also has an asymmetrical tread design, which allows it to better evacuate water when the road is slick, and variable-thickness sipe technology, which aims to improve grip in wet conditions without compromising performance when it’s sunny and dry.

The Pilot Sport A/S 3 compared favorably with its competition in each of the tests the Michelin crew had arranged on a gray, chilly day at the NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans. It turns when (and where) you tell it to turn, it stops when you tell it to stop, and if you push it past its limit it allows you to pull it back under control instead of leaving you spinning across the road.

Looking for Performance?

If you’re not driving your car for performance (although, really – why aren’t you?), those differences may not mean much to you. And, in point of fact, this tire, with its ultra-high-performance designation, isn’t designed for drivers who just want to get to work and back every day without major incident. Michelin hasn’t released pricing on this tire yet, but it is almost certain that drivers who don’t need or want thrilling performance from their cars will be perfectly happy with a cheaper tire.

More of a Risk-Averse Type?

Where the Michelin product made its best case – especially for the risk-averse, safety-minded driver – was in the braking distance test. In identical cars, with tires set to door sticker pressure, the Pilot Sport A/S 3 consistently came to a stop (from 60 mph, tested on wet and dry surfaces) ten or more feet sooner than its competitors. In an emergency, that’s the difference between a collision and a near miss. And that’s pretty compelling.