If you drive a crossover, SUV or light truck, would like to save money on fuel, and don’t already have low rolling resistance (LRR) tires, we’d recommend you consider switching to them when it’s time for new tires.
Obviously a hybrid or EV will net much greater efficiency than a mere tire swap. But for people budget-restrained to keep their vehicle longer, or who need a larger vehicle and haven’t found a hybrid or plug-in meeting their needs, one effective tweak is minimizing fuel-robbing road friction from your existing vehicle.
To test this theory, since the end of last year we’ve accrued just shy of 3,000 miles evaluating one such SUV/LT grade tire, the Bridgestone 422 H/L Ecopia. On average, fuel economy has gone up from one-quarter to a full mpg or more. At the same time, performance aspects are on par or improved over the previously installed general all-season tires.
In other words, it’s been worth the tradeoff.
The LRR tire market is competitive, and Bridgestone’s entry in this hotly contested field of fuel-saving tires is its Ecopia line.
We chose a (non-hybrid) Honda Element to see if it was a wise decision to go with LRR tires instead of another set of the more open-tread-style Yokohama Geolandar H/T-S G051 tires previously used.
This is not to pick on the Yokohamas, as they do OK. They’ve had fans repeat buying them in the past, but tires keep evolving and what was well-regarded a few years ago is less so now.
The Ecopias are a fairly fresh design, retail for $173.99 each, are engineered from the ground up with fuel economy in mind with several design features contributing.
Their tread rubber is silica-based with nanotechnology called “NanoPro Tech.” Silica is a form of sand blended into the rubber matrix. Bridgestone’s nanotechnology is intended to control the interaction between polymer, filler materials and other rubber chemicals at the molecular level.
The result is improved wet traction while minimizing rolling resistance. Continuous-rib treads also improve traction, while reducing noise.
Around them are circumferential grooves that reduce heat buildup and channel water away to prevent hydroplaning.
Even the sidewalls contribute to fuel-efficiency, and are said to return energy more effectively than a traditional sidewall.
Bridgestone says Dueler H/L 422 Ecopias in size P215/70R16 demonstrated reduced rolling resistance by 42-percent compared to its same-sized Dueler H/L Alenza.
This is a big improvement, and assuming the still-current Alenza is a competitive tire, the Ecopias likely offer improved efficiency over other tires in its segment.
The Dueler H/L 422 Ecopias are rated for 65,000 miles, so even a smidgen of mpg improvement can add up to dollars over the tires’ lifespan.
Naturally, with fuel consumption improvements, CO2 and other emissions are proportionally reduced as well.
On the Road
The stock 2003 all-wheel-drive Honda Element EX, EPA-rated at 20 mpg combined, is surely not a sports car, or even super efficient. This one is well maintained, and has an mpg-decreasing roof rack.
It was driven on-road from mid December through the winter with the Ecopias inflated to 32 psi in conditions from sunny dry, to windy rainstorm, to driving snowstorm.
Immediately noticeable from the start was reduced road noise, particularly at higher speeds. The continuous ribs offer less resonance than more open tread patterns. At the same time, tread squirm is relatively negligible. The vehicle feels as solid and in control as a box-on-wheels can when traveling down the highway.
Cornering traction is also acceptable. The Ecopias do not squeal unless pushed harder than one would ordinarily want to with a relatively top-heavy, body roll inducing car.
Exiting off-ramps at a good clip, or even pretending the vehicle is a sports car in twisty back roads is not nerve wracking, and confidence builds.
One of the early complaints with first-generation LRR tires was they could offer only marginal grip and some brands suffered a harsh ride. While there are grippier choices available, the evolved Bridgestone LRR tires do not subject you to these penalties just to squeak out better mileage.
Similarly, braking performance is within spec. Sudden low-speed stops will activate the ABS as they would with most any all-season tire, but during controlled hard braking, the Ecopias again inspire confidence.
Wet weather performance is also nothing alarming. Sane highway speeds even in steady rain are possible and resistance to hydroplaning is evident, but in heavy standing water, they can hydroplane. During wet braking and cornering you do need to account for less traction but the Ecopias hold the road acceptably.
In the snow, the all-wheel-drive Element does have an advantage over front- or rear-wheel-drive vehicles, and helps make up for any tire’s traction.
This said, the Ecopias handled up to 6-inch snow acceptably, if not amazingly so. One could stop and start even on a hill, but of course sliding does occur with sudden movements, and sometimes even when care is taken. That’s what you get when driving on frozen water!
When they do let loose, it’s predictable, assuming smooth movements. Bear in mind snow driving is a skill, so if you’re not great at it, these will not put you over the top. And in any case, purpose-built winter tires are always a better choice for those who will see their share of the white stuff. But for those accustomed to it, the Ecopias work OK, within the realm of other all-season tires of similar design we’ve driven.
As for that critical fuel economy, we’d taken a few combined fuel mileage samples with the previous all-season tires, and the mpgs have notched up for the Ecopias. To further qualify, we did not run back-to-back on the same closed-course tests, so mpg estimates are based on random trips driven with reasonable care and varying speeds on backroads as well as highway.
In all, average fuel economy has increased on the low side from nothing, to as much as 1.25 mpg. Since this is a non-scientific result, we will not extrapolate our exact fuel savings in dollars over the life of the tires, but will concur with Bridgestone that the tires are worth some savings.
Bridgestone does however extrapolate an estimated savings. Its fuel savings calculator estimates an average savings over the life of these tires. For an SUV rated at 20 mpg, and using $4 per gallon gas, the company projects savings of $735.85. If this is accurate, that means these tires pay for themselves almost one-and-a-half times.
On the conservative side, assuming even a half mpg improvement from 20 mpg to 20.5 mpg, this is worth about $195 in 40,000 miles assuming $4 per gallon. In 65,000 miles, it’s worth about $315. This shows the Ecopias can partially – if not fully assuming better results – pay for themselves with no downside perceived. The Ecopias are actually quieter and more comfortable, and the previous all-seasons are not missed.
As our low rolling resistance tire primer shows, there are many brands and LRR designs available. Your anticipated use must weigh into the decision, and we’d recommend you shop around.
Aside from acquiring LRR tires, properly caring for whatever you are rolling on is critical. Keeping them inflated and your vehicle properly tuned also play into your results.
An estimated 86 to 91 percent of Americans have improperly inflated tires and fuel economy is chopped by up to 3 percent when underinflated by 20 percent.
This means you can buy the most fuel-efficient tire in the world, and still get no better mileage if you don’t keep them inflated.
For that matter, you can also plummet the advertised 50 mpg efficiency of a Toyota Prius to only 35 mpg if you drive like you’re racing Dan Gurney or Danica Patrick. The care you take in driving smoothly and at reasonable speeds will absolutely make or break your actual results.
Qualifiers aside, tires are among the most important automotive maintenance choice you can make, not just for mileage, but also safety. They are your only contact with terra firma and if anyone has told you there is no difference, do not believe it. Either that person does not drive hard enough to ever discern differences between tires, or has never sampled enough different tires to know.