General Tire is not a name that springs readily to mind among driving enthusiasts, although Steve Saleen did use them as original equipment on his in the late 1980s. Coming into the new millennium, the brand, now owned by Continental, was pretty much a marketing retread, with no new development.
Continental, however, has seen potential in the brand that traditionally offered good performance at a competitive price, so in 2007 Continental retooled the General corporate mold. Working with their strongest name, the Grabber light truck tire, General started making tracks in off-road truck racing, followed by the Altimax street tire. Now the General has re-targeted the important and challenging all-weather ultra high-performance street tire market with the G Max AS 03. Interestingly, General says the AS 03 replaces the Exclaim summer tire and not the all-season Altimax.
The new G Max takes an enthusiast's stance on all-weather tire: dry pavement performance is important, but meaningful grip in the wet and snow are vital because the tire won't be swapped seasonally for dedicated winter rubber. To that goal, the G Max sports a highly refined vee-shaped tread. The two main center and multiple series of diagonal grooves are sculpted into large and narrow channels as necessary to accommodate varying water volume, and are provided with short backflow voids at the groove intersections to reduce flow-inhibiting turbulence. The result is more organized, higher-volume water flow.
For snow performance, generous siping is provided, but with an ingenious twist to preserve dry handling. Inside the slit-like sipes, a series of tiny male and female blocks are provided. These allow the sipes to do their job of flexing the tread blocks in a snow-biting fore-and-aft direction, but the sipes lock together under lateral loads to form a more rigid, precise tread block in dry cornering. Snow performance is also augmented with detailing in the main grooves to help lock snow in the treads. This provides better snow-on-snow traction—think of how a snowball grows when rolled in snow, and the difficulty in trying to shear a snowball apart.
General has also incorporated some crafty maintenance features. Besides the usual tread wear indicating blocks, the tread center is molded with "replacement tire monitor." This scrubs to read "replace tire," presumably at the appropriate level of tread wear! Along the outer tread edges a light squiggle pattern is molded in. These Vehicle Misalignment Indicators wear quickly, revealing in the first several hundred miles if the tire is seeing excessive camber or toe-in wear depending on how the inner and outer squiggles wear relative to each other.
Driving tests provided by General at Infineon Raceway showed the AS 03 against select competitors. Dry performance approached some of the most aggressive names in traditional performance tires, but ultimately the all-weather AS 03 could not quite match the dry performance specialists. The AS 03 proved very progressive breakaway traction in the dry, meaning grip gave up earlier and faded gently, clearly telegraphing to the driver that the tire was approaching its limits. At race track intensity the AS 03 hung in there with satisfying performance, but with relatively large slip angles.
Wet Weather Performance
On the wet handling course, the AS 03 was definitely ahead of the benchmarks, some of which were more expensive, up-market names. The AS 03s definite wet advantage was in both higher grip and quicker, more agile recovery of grip after big puddles or major tire-scrubbing slides. Snow performance was not tested.
General Tire has enjoyed large growth, even in the latest economic doldrums thanks to the combination of good performance and high value. The AS 03 will continue the winning trend with drivers looking to keep dry performance while enjoying fine winter and wet traction. Look for the G Max AS 03 in no less than 63 sizes in 15- to 20-in. fitments by August.