Billed as a premium tire for crossovers and SUVs, the Continental CrossContact LX20 with EcoPlus technology attempts to balance many attributes including fuel savings.

Although the company’s web description avoids calling the all-season radials “low rolling resistance tires,” that’s essentially what they are.

“We’re fully committed to building advanced tires and improving the environment – reducing CO2 emissions, reducing our waste and researching new and innovative ways to advance tire technology,” said Bill Caldwell, vice president of sales and marketing, Continental Tire.

But as important as that is, a tire has to do more than save fuel. In fact, earlier generations of harder-compound low rolling resistance tires that made efficiency the prime directive could compromise safety by requiring longer braking distances and permitting less grip in corners or evasive steering maneuvers. Even today, it should be noted, there is always some trade-off between characteristics such as long life and good grip requiring a softer tread.

On the face of it, these may even be seen as mutually contradictory characteristics, as generally speaking a softer tread stands to have better potential adherence to tarmac than a harder one while wearing out faster. On the flip side, a harder tread compound generally adheres less well while reducing rolling resistance and potentially wearing out not as quickly as a softer tire.

In reality, however, things are not so cut and dried. While the laws of physics have not been eliminated, tires today – with the LX20s being a prime example – do an outstanding job of making an acceptable compromise. This is thanks to the closely guarded “secret sauce” of tire chemistry which is an ever-evolving, ever-reaching endeavor to balancing as much of everything as possible.

Indeed, this is now expected, and all-season tire makers are required to provide a balance of ride quality, comfort, acceptable noise levels, wet and dry acceleration braking and cornering performance, and even light snow traction. Add to this durability – and the CrossContact LX20 promises a 70,000 mile / 72-month limited warranty.

In attempting to do all this, the CrossContact LX20, which was first released to market in summer of 2011, features its proprietary EcoPlus Technology. Continental says this keeps rolling resistance at a competitive level with premium brand tires, and allows it to balance fuel efficiency with excellent wet grip and long tread life. More specifically, EcoPLus technology is comprised of temperature-activated Tg-F polymers to increase compound bonding, and an additive called +Silane to improve wet-weather traction and extend tread life.

When they were first released, Continental said they provided up to 34 feet better braking distances than competitors, and they yet stand well against other tires in their class.

Evaluation

We have used these in stock size 215/70-16 on a daily driver Honda SUV since late June 2016, and now have 15,000 miles on them. Equipped with Honda’s Real Time AWD, the car is primarily a front-wheel-driver, and rear wheel drive automatically kicks in if slippage occurs. Inflation pressures – vital to getting maximum life and performance from any tire – were kept within manufacturer specifications.

A nice design is the tires’ flanged lower sidewall which helps, pardon the pun, curb the potential for curb damage because they protrude a bit from the wheel’s lip. While this does not guaranty one determined to “drive by feel” from scuffing the wheels, it does provide a space cushion before contact with rims or hub caps is made.

Fuel economy was a bit above rated which over the life of the tire can help offset their cost. Continental says the CrossContact LX20s “can save the average driver up to 2,500 miles of fuel over the life of the tire.”

As for ride quality, the symmetrical tread with intermediate tread blocks and notched outer shoulders provide relatively quiet and smooth running. Not a winter or off-road-oriented tire, they are biased toward keeping the decibels down better than other truck or SUV tires with chunkier tread designs, while still providing footing for occasional forays onto gravel or dirt or snow.

Steering response is also relatively crisp – a qualified term with a high center of gravity vehicle and relatively tall 70-series aspect ratio. Naturally, shorter, stiffer sidewalls, and other chassis dynamics go into whether tires feel at all sporty, and these inspire sufficient confidence, but your abilities as a driver also are very important.

This said, in the right hands, they are good enough to hold a relatively fast line around off-ramps and curvy sections of road. That makes them at least adequate to shake off one of the countless drivers who love to speed and tailgate on straights in sporty sedans, but who suddenly become less bold about riding your bumper when navigating a bend under increasing lateral acceleration.

As one might therefore expect, the CrossContact LX20s brake better than many original equipment fitments, and warn with progressive squealing – as true also in curves – when their limits of adhesion progressively approach.

This does not mean they’re truly sporty however, nor are they expected to be as low rolling resistance units. And on that note, most alternative-energy cars, except some high-power Teslas and others, come with LRR rubber, and these simply can never be the equal of true sporting summer tires which use rubber chemistries that grip the pavement better, but which wear quicker and cost more to own too.

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The Contis are a decent balance, as noted, and like any tire will give up their life faster if driven hard too. Accounts of them going to their advertised mileage are out there, but some drivers have reported them not lasting as long as expected and/or advertised, for whatever reason. Obviously, highway driving will be easiest on the tires’ lifespan as this piles on the miles with less friction from braking, cornering, and accelerating to wear them down.

We’ve had to rotate ours, as the fronts – now the backs – did wear them enough to be visibly noticeable in 15,000 miles. Tread depth when new is 12/32 of an inch, and in the deepest center part, they’re now at about 9/32 for the rear (formerly primary front drive tires, now rotated to back), and 10/32 (rear, usually not engaged in propulsion, now rotated to front). Further from the center, they’re a couple 32nds shallower, and a tread depth of 2/32 is typically considered minimum legal.

As for whether this is acceptable, it appears so. One might surmise that at a wear rate of close to 3/32 per 15,000 miles, they could be worn out by 50,000 miles, but it’s not as simple as that.

According to Continental’s Joe Maher, product manager Passenger & Winter Tires, tires do not wear at a linear rate.

“A tire wears faster with near full tread depth and slower when at lower tread depths. This is caused by tread ‘squirm,” Maher said. “Tread blocks distort the higher they are, this distortion causes heat and increased wear rate. Less distortion when the tread blocks are close to the tread base, less wear rate. This is why, adding additional mileage to a tire is not as simple as adding additional tread depth.”

Our miles further were accrued in a lot of winding backroad driving. Highway miles or otherwise driving scenarios easier on the treads would skew the mileage higher.

Maher added that a little known fact is that as a tire tread wears down, rolling resistance improves making it more fuel efficient.

“A good rule of thumb is that for every 1/32-inch worn, rolling resistance can improve by about 5 percent to 7 percent,” he said. “Therefore, just removing tread depth on a new tire can give significant rolling resistance improvement, although in most cases, this is not a good option for consumers.”

Noteworthy is a 5-percent reduction in rolling resistance does not mean your fuel efficiency improves by the same, he added.

“Tires are only a small part of mechanical and air resistance for a vehicle,” said Maher. “Typically, a 5-percent lower rolling resistance tire translates to less than 1-percent fuel efficiency improvement.”

Not uncommon is their tendency to pick up small stones that wedge in the treads. These typically are slung away sooner or later.

Having gone through an East Coast winter, we can also report they are fair in light snow, but not outstanding as all-seasons go. A prior set of Bridgestone Ecopias were more confidence inspiring in heavier snow, and it would appear Conti placed the priority on wet traction, which may be OK for most drivers.

This is because all-season radials are not really meant for heavy snow. Where that’s likely, we recommend winter tires. These provide far better snow and ice traction, and can even be bought mounted on or along with aluminum or steel wheels so a handy person could swap them seasonally without incurring shop costs and the trouble of mounting/dismounting. This scenario increases the respective life of the all seasons and the winter tires, while providing best traction in conditions for which they’re made. The only drawback is buying the extra set and storing the alternate set – not always an option.

Coming back to the LX20s, they’ll do the trick in lighter snow of less than five inches depth. As a final note on the pros and cons of AWD operation: as is true of any tire, this does not help cornering or braking, just acceleration, which can be deceiving. Many are the tales of drivers speeding in AWD vehicles emboldened with a sense of confidence for their vehicles which may make light work of getting them moving, even in heavier snow with only all-season tires.

As a word to the wise: Be so, as AWD may let you get up to speed fine, but if you are concerned about factors like slowing down and steering in the slippery white stuff, take it easy! Better yet, invest in winter tires where needed.

In Sum

Although many people may view tires as a commodity item, and indeed there are many good choices out there, it bears stating the obvious that they are all that’s between you and the road in that vehicle of yours. A matched set of the best round black Os you can afford to meet your driving needs are a good investment.

Overall, Continental CrossContact LX20 with EcoPlus technology are outstanding tires suited for all on-road driving conditions except trying to be a snow tire in really snowy conditions. Their better-than-average rain traction, low noise, and all-around ride comfort and control help them deserve the “premium” title.

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